One of the more talked about and highly reviewed efforts of Fantastic Fest is Jason Banker’s follow up to Toad Road, the story of how one woman copes with past trauma and the burdens of an aggressive masculine culture in FELT. Banker’s technique is unlike anything else happening today as it uses embedded filmmaking to craft a narrative story instead of a straight forward documentary. For Felt, Banker collaborated with artist and performance artist Amy Everson, following her with his camera for a period of three months and filming her daily interactions. The result is often stunning, not because of any overly dramatic event, but because of the simple thoughtless ways the people around her expose their misogyny and make completely harmful and aggressive statements with all the thought that would go into ordering one’s morning coffee.
This past week I had the opportunity to sit down director Jason Banker, lead actress and co-writer Amy Everson and supporting actress Roxanne Lauren Knouse to talk about the conception of the film and whether or not there were any surprises when filming.
|From L to R: Jason Banker, Amy Everson, Roxanne Lauren Krouse
How did you and Amy get together to decide to make this project?
Jason: I met Amy three years ago and saw the art she was making and was immediately taken by it. I wanted to make a film with her and her art and with me trying to figure out what it means and what kind of story we can make. The imagery was just so strong I knew I wanted to work with her.
One of the most striking things is the costuming Amy comes up with and the look of the film with her art. In the process of creating this you said you just followed her around shooting everything you could. Do you have an idea of the story you want to tell as it happens or does it come in upon reflecting back or in the editing process?
Amy: We had a lot of ideas going in on what ideas we wanted to explore but it was difficult to come up with a story. We had several script ideas but what ended up working more, and what I didn’t believe was working at the time, was Jason just got a camera and started shooting my interactions with people and it really did come down to the editing of how the story manifests in interactions and with my art and how it all ties together.
Everything from the film is either a reenactment of something that has happened-in an exaggerated way of course, since you’re not sitting in a prison cell- or something that is happening right off the cuff. Do you find people were more guarded on camera because of that? Or did you find yourself thinking as the film is rolling that you couldn’t believe you were capturing some of the things people were saying or doing? The OK Cupid guy jumps out.
Jason: To me everything was kind of a discovery. The beginning of the movie with the Australian guys, the way that organically happened, these guys were acting like typical…
Amy: It’s not hard to find douche bags. It’s really not.
Roxanne: (laughing)That’s the underlying them of the film.
Amy: That’s the magic of this king of filmmaking. This is the reality I face everyday and these interactions do not have to be staged. These kind of remarks, offenses, interactions happen organically and I have to deal with that. He got a lot of footage and highlighted the parts that stuck to the theme. It’s really not hard to find assholes. It’s just reality.
It’s like people don’t think they have anything to be on guard from?
Amy: Exactly. They’re just speaking their mind.
Roxanne: Specifically even the people you see in all those things, I’ve had those specific comments made to me. I’ve had men joke about roofie-ing me. Even now I don’t know why someone would do that. I think a lot of people, both female or male have had that happen. I think that if you’re a female and you’ve gone to a bar at one point you’ve had that happen.
Amy: The conversations are real and they’re so embedded in culture and rape culture.
Coming away from the film, it reminded me that I am lucky that I don’t have to experience this in my day to day life. It wasn’t until I had a daughter-which is something I’m sure you’ve heard as well form men, for better or worse-that I became more aware of what women go through every day. The other thing about the film is it wasn’t just the obvious assholes that are guilty of this behavior, but even the “nice” guys are guilty of it as well.
Amy: I love that you took that away. It’s that you’re never safe and don’t know who to trust. It’s that there are overtly offensive remarks and offensive acts but there are also micro aggressions and it all builds to a really harmful place.
Can we talk about the ideas behind your costuming that you create through your art-I apologize if I’m asking this awkwardly- but is that your mechanism for coping with PTSD?
Amy: I think that’s what the film explores as a form of healing but one that can also become destructive if you start to alienate the people you love and the things you’ve been harmed by. You become the monsters that you’re trying to fight in yourself. The violence becomes consumptive. The character becomes consumed by her experience and it’s a process of taking power over the things that have hurt you in life.
Roxanne, what was it that drew you into the project?
Roxanne: I’ve survived things and aggression as well. Knowing what Amy has gone through and how she coped with it I found it very empowering myself. Just as a person, I really love Amy. What you saw on screen, that’s how I met Amy and what you see on screen is very organic. It’s two people that have been through trauma finding one another and supporting each other, which I wanted to show the other side of that apart from the other women in the film who were kind of offended or taken aback or intimidated by her pain without them having to experience anything. I wanted to showcase support for her and let her know there was someone in her corner.
Jason, you have a specific and unique way of going about and shooting your movies. What is it about this style that attracts you? Toad Road was you with your friends, correct?
Jason: They were a group of friends I had met that opened up their world to me. For me it’s the most exciting way to make a film I get an adrenaline rush when I don’t know what the end is going to be and I just want to explore. That’s how I want to make films I am trying to grow and try different ways to make films but I know I’m going to continue to make this style of film one way or another.
Do you ever see too much and want to cut away when filming?
Jason: As much as I love embedding myself I am very sensitive to the people I’m working with. If something seems this should not be taped I will not shoot it. There were a couple times when taping Amy where if I was a different kind of filmmaker I would have run out there with my camera and got something but that’s not how I work I have a good barometer of what’s too much, or what could be destructive.
Amy: He needed to earn the trust of the participants themselves and he was respectful in moments where things were happening and he wouldn’t want to film. I would tell him “Just film. These things are happening either way, just capture it” but he would not want to because he felt uncomfortable. I really appreciated that.