Britni West’s Tired Moonlight, a tender portrait of life in small-town Montana, is a selection of the 44th annual New Directors/New Films Series (March 18-29), hosted by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). In her comments to FilmLinc about her deeply personal film, West touches on telling a story in a nontraditional way, with a focus on the connections between the characters rather than a strict plot. Tired Moonlight screens March 19 and 21.
Britni West, USA, 2014, 76m
Description: Britni West’s directorial debut, which won the Jury Award for Narrative Feature at this year’s Slamdance, discovers homespun poetry among the good folk of West’s native Kalispell, Montana. Kalispell is a small town populated by lonely hearts engaging in awkward one-night stands, children with starry eyes and bruised knees, stock-car drivers, junkyard treasure hunters, and bighorn sheep. Rarely has Big Sky Country ever cast such a sweetly comic and tender spell. Photographed in Super-16mm by Adam Ginsberg and featuring a mostly non professional cast (with the exception of indie favorite Alex Karpovsky) in semi-fictionalized roles, Tired Moonlight is a sui generis slice of contemporary naturalism.
Responses from Britni West:
On filmmaking as a tool for exploring human nature:
I don't know that I am necessarily drawn to filmmaking in general. I have always been an annoyingly incessant learner of things. My mom says that as a kid I would just ask questions all day, every day, about how things work. So I think filmmaking is just another avenue I can use to examine the world. It lends itself to a lot of questions about human nature, the environment, the effects and meanings of our possessions, relationships, and personal spaces. It's also great, at least in the way Tired Moonlight was made, that I have this little group of friends and people I am close to. We get to go into this other world of small-town Montana—a world that I feel comfortable in, and meet a lot of new people. We wonder about the impact of the outside world on their lives.
On creating an untraditional narrative structure:
I grew up in Montana and have always had a deep fondness for the place. For this film, the purpose of the story is difficult to define, but I think it was important for me to capture this very distinct culture in a natural way, and to let it sort of wander. Rather than trying to convey some sort of message, I think I was more interested in capturing a natural portrait of longing, sadness, excitement, childhood wonder, and a study of mother/daughter vs. romantic relationships. I have always watched films and read books in bits and pieces here and there, which I find leads me to a lot of strange connections between unrelated topics. I don't know if it’s good to do things that way, but it has always made a lot more sense to me than a typical story arc. I think Tired Moonlight is a clear example of those thought patterns. The story element isn't at the forefront, it's more about making connections between the children and the adults in the film, and watching relationships unfold that are not straightforward and simply laid out.
On maintaining a natural feeling in the film's story and performances:
The film was fully scripted. However, since I was working with a lot of non-actors, and looking for natural performances that sort of blended real life with a fictional narrative, I knew that things would be flexible from the beginning. The way our shooting days would typically go is that we would take the script and the knowledge of everything we’d shot before, and go to a location I had previously scouted with a scene in mind. We would see what was happening, who was around, and try to figure out if there was something more interesting that we should be focusing on. It was loose, but also held together by the thread of my experiences, care for the environment in which I grew up, and love of the people I was working with and meeting along the way.
On learning to prioritize the needs of the narrative over personal relationships:
One of the biggest challenges in the creation of Tired Moonlight was the amount of communication that had to be done with people that weren't familiar with the filmmaking process. It was a strange experience to become very close with everyone involved in the film, and then try to create something that was true while maintaining those relationships. There's a sort of barrier I had to put up as I started editing to create space between the footage I had, and the personal relationships I created along the way. I think I just care a lot about the people that I meet, and I want to make them happy! So it is always this thing where I am questioning my motivations, and trying to hold myself accountable for the decisions I make.
On telling new stories:
I am starting pre-production on another feature. I hope to be able to work in a similar way to Tired Moonlight; a sort of narrative/non-narrative hybrid, but with a completely different tone and atmosphere that serves the story in a different way. It's in the very beginning stages, which is always mentally tough, but I am looking forward to doing research as well as finding new ways of exploring the impact of humans on their environment and vice versa.