Smith returns home to launch "The Pool"
Milwaukeeans all know Mark Borchardt as the face of "American Movie," but director Chris Smith isn't quite as high profile, even here at home. Unless, that is, you're passionate about film and especially home-grown filmmakers.
After that 1999 film -- Smith's second, the first was "American Job" -- the director went on to make the acclaimed "Home Movie" and "The Yes Men."
Most recently, Smith wrote the screenplay for and directed "The Pool," filmed in India. Some Milwaukeeans got a sneak peek at it last year during the final Milwaukee International Film Festival. This summer the respected Museum of Modern Art in New York presented a retrospective of Smith's work.
That film makes its debut theatrical run Friday, Oct. 31 at Landmark's Downer Theatre and runs for a week. On opening night, Smith will be on hand at the 7 and 9:30 p.m. screenings for post-film Q&A sessions.
We had our own chat with him via e-mail while he was traveling back to Milwaukee for the launch of the film.
OnMilwaukee.com: Are premieres of your films here different than elsewhere?
Chris Smith: There is definitely something special about screenings here. People seem very receptive and interested, so it's a bit of an advantage over doing screenings in other cities.
OMC: Are you eager to please, or nervous, in front of the hometown crowd?
CS: I don't get too nervous about screenings, but just hope people get to see the films in a theater.
OMC: Do you sense the city is hung up a little bit on "American Movie?" It certainly has a reputation here like no other movie seems to ever have had.
CS: I feel like they all have worked in one way or another. Of course in terms of reaction, nothing has compared to "American Movie" simply due to the local nature of that film, but the fact that I live here has helped each film find a good audience.
"The Pool" is the best film I've made, so I'm really excited to show it here. It played at the Milwaukee International Film Festival last year, sold out and was received really well so I'm just happy it's finally getting its run in town.
OMC: Tell us about how you came to "The Pool." Where did the idea come from?
CS: The film is based on a short story by Randy Russell. It was one of those things that just stood out and stayed with me as we were researching and looking at different projects. The story was actually set in Iowa, but the more I thought about it, it seemed like it could be adapted to this world I had experienced in Panjim, Goa a few years earlier.
In 2003 I went to India to help some other Milwaukee filmmakers -- Xav and Didier Leplae -- on a project called "I'm Bobby." They were staying at the hotel where we eventually shot "The Pool."
While I was there the city had a big impact on me creatively and I always thought it would be a great place to come back and film if it ever made sense -- setting or story-wise. So it was really just coming across Randy's story, then melding it with my some of what I had experienced in India.
OMC: Was it a challenge to make a film in Hindi? Was that the plan all along?
CS: We didn't set out to make a film in Hindi, but once we got over there and began casting we realized pretty quickly that most of the kids we were looking to cast in the film didn't speak English, or at least the ones that seemed the most interesting.
The language factor did provide a number of challenges. The two kids we ended up using both spoke five different languages, just not English. Directing them through a translator had its difficulties, but the two biggest obstacles were the fact that neither of them could read and that Hindi wasn't their first language.
So they were having to act in a second language, and because I wanted to shoot the film in sometimes 2- or 3-minute takes, they would have to memorize really long scenes without being able to read them. In the end they both did incredibly well and these challenges aren't really felt onscreen, but they just added to the chaos of everything else that was going on.
OMC: Can you tell us what you're working on next?
CS: To be honest the release of "The Pool" has been a full-time job. We are just getting through it and starting to look to new things. I started writing on a few different projects earlier in the year so will continue on those and see which one seems most promising as they progress.
Theaters and showtimes for The Pool
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