Field Notes #95: Christopher LaMarca, Award-winning filmmaker
The truth is stranger than fiction.
We chatted with award-winning filmmaker, Christopher LaMarca, about his belief in the raw beauty of documentary-style film, as well as what inspired him to spend two years living on a small Southern, Oregon based goat farm capturing footage for his recent film, BOONE.
Without interviews or narration, BOONE documents the raw emotional and physical experiences of three goat farmers as they face an uncertain future brought upon by the hardships of the transitioning seasons. Filmed over the course of two years, this viscerally experimental film shares a deeply human perspective of the heart and soul of a farmer.
LaMarca will be premiering BOONE in Portland at the Portland Art Museum this Wednesday, July 20th -- we'd highly recommend. For more information about the screening, visit the NW Film Center website.
Tell us your story. How did you get into filmmaking?
Christopher LaMarca: I had my directorial debut with two films in 2016. BOONE premiered at SXSW, my other film THE PEARL, which I co-directed with Jessica Dimmock had its premiere at True False Film Festival. I come from a photojournalist background where my focus has been on environmental issues. I transitioned into filmmaking in 2010, while still working as a photographer, and began making two features simultaneously over the course of the past six years.
In your opinion, how is storytelling through documentary film different than narrative?
CL: I tend to adhere more to the saying "truth is stranger than fiction." I believe the beauty and strength of the medium is capturing unscripted events and bringing the viewer into other people’s worlds in the most visceral way possible.
Why are you drawn to documentary style film?
CL: The best and most difficult thing about documentary film is that you never know where the story will lead once you commit. All good stories take you down roads you never thought possible, roads that make you look at yourself in different ways, as well as the subjects and story they inhabit. I'm drawn to this art form mostly because of the inherent chaos and challenge it takes to create a body of genuinely intimate work without a script.
How did it feel to have BOONE premier at SXSW?
CL: Having BOONE premier at SXSW was very exciting and a great way to launch our film into the world. We premiered in the Visions section, which is a mix of documentary and narrative films that push the boundaries of contemporary cinema. Because BOONE isn't an advocacy, issue based or celebrity driven film, we were nervous about filling seats at our world premiere. We were delighted to have three sold out screenings, great Q&A sessions and rave reviews of the film.
What drew you to this particular story? Why was it an important story for you to tell?
CL: I visited Boone’s farm where the film takes place at a time in my life where I was questioning my work as a photojournalist and the impact it was having. I was witnessing things that were shaking my foundation as a person and my outlook on humanity. I came to this farm with visions of spending the weekend tending to cute animals and getting my hands in the dirt, but I quickly realized my perception of this way of life was based on the romanticized feeling of attending Farmer's Markets -- not the gritty reality of actually farming. I was so inspired by the way these farmers moved through their days with such competence and heart that I knew I had found something special. I feel that often farming and "sustainable living" gets romanticized, or politicized into the current green movement that is mostly centered around consuming green products or buying organic food. The reality is that farming is complicated and often times unrelenting.
I felt this was an important story to tell because many of us have become very disconnected -- not only from the food we eat but the way one lives in order to create the wholesome foods we rely on for survival. When you live like this, the human being becomes a part of the larger natural system. The land, weather, animals and people are deeply intertwined and dependent on one another for survival. The visceral elements of this cycle are what drives the story; this is a character driven film but the humans are not the only principal characters. I knew the film I wanted to make was not a small farms advocacy film but a film about the heart, soul and grit of a farmer's journey.
How much time did you spend filming BOONE? Do you feel that the story evolved throughout the filming process? If so, how?
CL: At first, I planned to film one or two weeks out of every month. I quickly realized by doing so I wouldn't be pushing my own comfort boundaries, and the true emotional and physical experience of this lifestyle would not translate into the film. How could I say I'm making a film about the unrelenting experience of living close to the land if I wasn't willing to have that experience myself? I decided to uproot my life and moved to the farm where I lived, worked and filmed for two years. The story evolved through the filming process as the farmers struggles and obstacles increased to the point where their farm’s future was at risk.
Did you find yourself up against any challenges due to the changing weather conditions? If so, what did you do to overcome them?
CL: The weather was always a challenge on the equipment and myself while filming often 10 hour days or more throughout the seasons. The biggest challenge while making this movie was being a one man show. Because of the geographical isolation of the farm, I was the Director, DP, Sound person, Post work-flow manager, Intern and Coffee boy. Thankfully Katrina Taylor, who edited the film, would come down to the farm once a month to help organize footage, and began crafting the structure and overall tone of the story very early on in the creative process.
Do you have a favorite scene in the film? If so, what is it and why?
CL: The film was narrowed down to 75 minutes from hundreds of hours of footage. Inherently, every scene in the film was raked over many times having to prove itself to serve the overall story emotionally, visually and intellectually. If I had to choose one, it would probably be the morning milking scene that occurs in pure darkness before the sun comes up. Darkness is something we don't deal with living in urban environments; we just turn on a light. We seldom if ever have to navigate darkness using our other senses in order to make up for what our eyes can't see.
Is important for you to connect with those featured in your films? If so, to what degree before it takes impedes on the reality of the story? What steps/precautions do you take to prevent this from happening?
CL: Connection is the most important element in my films. Achieving trust in documentary filmmaking, in my opinion, has no set formula -- no direct answer or concrete action plan that one uses each time. This art form deals with real life. In real life people are unpredictable, our words say one thing while our actions may mean another. What works one day falls flat the next. Trust is always being tested as filmmaker and subject continue to move through their relationship. The minute a camera comes out the story and a person’s actions change in one form or another. The steps that I take are watching myself and the subjects actions and learning from each moment when I didn't push far enough and when I pushed too far. Documentary filmmaking is about trust, without trust you have nothing.
What’s coming up next for you?
CL: We are currently traveling quite a bit with two films on the festival circuit, and will continue to promote the films over the next year or so. I'm now taking work as a Director of Photography, shooting editorial/commercial photo assignments and developing a docu-miniseries.