A few words with writer/director CHRIS SMITH on his latest film, The Pool. Which took five years to get from Sundance to here.
You would think that the man responsible for American Movie – that seminal 1999 documentary about the struggles of smalltown horror filmmaker Mark Borchardt and his stoner buddy Mike Schank – would have little trouble finding a distributor for his latest Sundance hit, right?
It’s not as though Chris Smith hasn’t proven himself in the intervening years, with both Home Movie and The Yes Men also proving to be critical and commercial successes.
Which makes it all the more strange and strained that his first foray into fiction, The Pool, should sit on a shelf for five years. After winning the Special Jury Prize at Sundance in 2007, a worldwide release for this sweet Goa-set drama seemed assured. Instead, the likes of Slumdog Millionaire have been, got their Oscars, and gone again, and Smith himself has completed and released another two more documentaries, 2009’s Collapse (about cop-turned-reporter Michael Ruppert and his early predictions of our current financial crisis) and 2012’s The Jeffrey Dahmer Files.
PAUL BYRNE: Five years is a long time to wait for a film’s release – have you made your peace with that? Or are you plotting revenge?
CHRIS SMITH: I’ve made my peace. By the time you finish a film like this, you’re just happy to have made it to the other side.
Sweet film, and one that deserves to find an audience, but the climate for smaller films is pretty rough out there – unless you’ve got a Harvey Weinstein on your side, chasing Oscar glory. Do you despair for filmmakers like yourself, working outside of the mainstream?
I thought this film was mainstream.
So, if you got the call from Jerry Bruckheimer, looking for some indie cred for his next big attack on all four quadrants, would you jump?
I am open to any adventure.
You co-wrote the script with young old buddy Randy Russell, the two of you having worked together back in 1996 on American Job. How did The Pool come about? What were the inspirations?
I had helped some friends shoot a film in India and loved the experience, so I always thought it would be great to film there again. A few years later I was looking for the next project when I read Randy’s incredible short story, The Pool. It was one of those things that stays with you – so it seemed like a good sign that there was something there. His story was set in Iowa, but the more I thought about it, it seemed like it could be moved to the little town we stayed in India. I thought we’d go for five weeks and ended up being there five months.
One of you main actors, Bollywood legend Nana Patekar, has said that the script for The Pool reminded him of “what we used to do before we got corrupted”. Did he talk to you about that?
When we met with Nana about playing the part of the father, the first thing he said to us was that he wasn’t going to do our film. Although we were a little perplexed at why he wanted to still have a meeting, we decided to go with it and drank tea and hung out for the evening. We had already shot and edited half the film at this time – so before leaving Nana asked to see what we had put together. He watched the cut – then closed the laptop and said he would give himself over to us. It’s hard to imagine that the film could have worked without him.
When you won at Sundance back in 2007, and garnered such rave reviews for The Pool, you must have felt that the film was now officially launched. When did you realise that it wasn’t, and would you lay the blame anywhere?
I think we made the right film at the wrong time. Sometimes things just slip through the cracks, but someone once told me that everything good gets its day – so we just have always hoped that the film would get its chance to find an audience one day, so we’re thrilled it’s finally getting released in Ireland and the UK.
You since made Collapse, and executive produced The Jeffrey Dahmer Files. Do you feel documentary is your natural home?
I started in narrative filmmaking and had always planned to stay there. It wasn’t until I met Mark Borchardt from American Movie that I considered making a feature documentary. After The Pool I swore off making another independent film, but while researching our next narrative we came across Michael Ruppert (from Collapse), and it was a similar experience to AmericanMovie where we just felt like we had to follow that through.
Like so many other handsome, debonair film lovers out there, I adore American Movie. Do you still keep in touch with Mark and Mike? Mark is finally directing again, with Scare Me due out next year…
Yes, I usually run into Mark when back in Milwaukee, and it’s always great to see him. Nothing would make me happier than to attend the premiere of Scare Me.
Words: Paul Byrne
The Pool is in Irish cinemas now