• First Film Competition  
  • GNCR Award


Rob Rice

We all know the United States of the fringes, the second-class citizens, the “white trash”… Rob Rice sets up his camera here, attentive to this small community gathered round one family. The family gets by as best it can, in a shack surrounded by all kinds of junk, stuck between a road and the desert, the railway track nearby, outside Los Angeles in a place with no redeeming features. We’re immersed through fiction, with Rice taking it upon himself to give the initial couple an invented daughter and to make this the starting and the pivotal point of the tale. The story follows in the footsteps of direct cinema with its moving camera and sketches as though caught on the fly. In this well-known setting of poor, white America, with games of pool and broken down cars and dismantled caravans as décor, the drama weaves a generous tale before our eyes, giving substance to this society of the invisible so often represented in clichés. Far from being judgmental or sensational, Rob Rice takes care of each of his characters. Assisted by this little troupe, a community united by the film, Rice portrays destinies caught in the ordinariness of life and its pitfalls. Illness – the father’s very real disease – is a tragedy that haunts the movie and takes it to an unexpected conclusion. Between epic drama and the construction of visibility, this début is borne aloft by the sumptuous, melancholy beauty of its twilight images.(Nicolas Feodoroff) Robert Rice

Interview with Rob Rice

For your first feature film, you choose to shoot in a remote area around Los Angeles. How was the project born?

I used to work as a scientist, on the East coast, which ultimately I grew to hate, and when I changed my direction, became a filmmaker, I took a very personally significant drive across the country, in 2017 when it felt very significant anyways to be in The Interior. The last place I stopped, just for gas, after a million small towns, was in Daggett, and so some foreboding and romantic mixture marked the place in my mind. Soon I was starting to split my time between my apartment in LA and Mark and Tracy’s couch in the desert, learning their world, bringing it into mine.

A first film is your one opportunity to be a “non-director.” We speak all the time of non-actors, but we miss this important, horizontalizing, built-in solidaristic opportunity to truly make a community film together. Especially because I was just approaching filmmaking, something I had loved but held at a distance for my whole life until that point, the inherent opportunity to focus on the politics of process as much as the poetics of story, was a gift and a welcome boost.

The characters are playing themselves, except one character, played by Nikki DeParis, actress. How did you work with them? What part did they play in the script?

Over the course of about six months I would split my time between Daggett and LA, living with Mark and Tracy there and writing back in the city. Each time I would write I would think I was finished, and then I would return to present it to them and a thousand new things would happen and I’d say to myself well maybe I’ll wait another week and add some of this in.

The central point of the process was to hybridize our biographies, meaning to mix my life story with Mark’s, Tracy’s and eventually, to a certain extent, Nikki’s. I had found Daggett while leaving my home, heading thousands of miles away from my parents, conflicted about my 82-year-old father’s mortality. Mark was dealing with the extraordinary psychic effects of having a terminal diagnosis, of having someone give you a life expectancy quote on the phone, and at that time it was really central and disturbing in his mind. He would say things, kind of unprompted, like, “I feel like I’m in a bathtub and it’s just slowly filling up with my death.” (It’s worth knowing, thankfully, he’s doing much better as his health is contingent on how well he takes care of himself.)

Anyways, the idea was that we would put together our lives and make something elevated away from the false objectivity of a portrait to something that stood as a testament to who they were, who we were, and the unlikely friendship we had built. To that end, many actors play versions of themselves, but some do not, some play characters quite far from themselves, because it was important for people to be agents, not objects, and to be looking for insight into people’s condition through their creativity.

The action takes place in an “intermediate” area, and the landscape appears as a character in its own right. Is this important to you?

Intermediate is a great word. Daggett for me felt like a key out of many American binaries. It’s on the threshold of “the urban/rural divide,” some third space between The Interior and The Coast, and importantly it’s that massive invisible political space beside Republicans and Democrats known as Non-Voters, people who the political system has so long ago abandoned that there’s no way they’d be as naïve as the rest of us and believe there is anything to be gained in voting the national political affiliations.

There was something hopeful about that intermediacy, it seemed like a way out of the bind of false, homogenous choice between Trumpist fascism and Hillary’s financial imperialism with a smiling face. I found power in this third, organically left-potentiated subaltern – especially as, at that time, working class white people were constantly cast by the wealthy whites as irredeemable, yet these people I met hated Trump and had an unbelievable amount to gain from aligning with anti-racist abolitionist movements. They had suffered endless indifference and aggression from creditors, employers and police, and their material interests fell strictly along lines of class solidarity. Of course, it is a complicated place, and people around Mark and Tracy were everything the coasts thought of them and worse, especially to an inexplicable jew with a camera, but these ignored and invisible American contradictions allow for the false sense that the zombie neoliberal order exists “with no alternative.” Most importantly, if the right-wing is the only voice speaking to these communities, which they are doing with more energy every day, then it’s going to be a smugly self-fulfilling prophecy for the Hilaries of the world, which I guess is maybe the point.

You mix sequences of everyday life with dreamlike moments. How did this come about?

As I said above, the town was marked for its own beauty, but it was also marked by my romantic state of mind when I arrived, and so from the beginning it was essential that we acknowledge and work with the many subjective perspectives that were making this film. Realism is a stylistic choice, and so is Objectivity, and both are false – like enlightenment rationality almost always appears as rationalization – that aesthetics distort and protect hierarchies of power behind the scenes. Instead, I wanted for us to explicitly collaborate on surreal, acted, fantasies, because I didn’t want to make another one of “these films.” I wanted to do something new, for political and aesthetic causes, that would render new possibility into this complicated landscape that has been constantly flattened and simplified.

There is this weird sequence with the altar. Its meaning for you?

By the end of the process, reflecting on all of the differences we had transcended to come together, I had to honor the fact that the everyday objects of their lives had become almost ceremonially potent symbols of my own. The alter brought everything together, his mortality, our process, our politics, our undeterminable, obscure, mythological, Kabbalistic intentions, and presented them in a perfectly vulgar American arrangement.

The film is carried by a kind of melancholic beauty. Is this an important dimension for you?

America is a crumbling empire, rotten by decadence, where people who are desperate for social programs instead labor pointlessly all day to survive, while irrelevant and blindingly expensive military vehicles zoom by with no known purpose, off to commit atrocities for no reason. This is a place where you have to find a way to mourn!

Interviewed by Nicolas Feodoroff

  • First Film Competition  
  • GNCR Award

Technical sheet

United States / 2022 / Colour / 88’

Original version : english
Subtitles : french
Script : Rob Rice
Photography : Alexey Kurbatov
Editing : Rob Rice
Music : Colyn Cameron
Sound : Rob Rice
Casting : Nikki DeParis, Tracy Staggs, Mark Staggs

Production : Matt Porterfield (Hamilton Film Group), Rui Xu (Independent)
Distribution : Rob Rice.