It's 2010, Matt Benning 24, has returned from Afghanistan to a wrecked economy. Demons of war haunt him, a romance blossoms, all as he drags his unwilling soul to normalcy. But for him, destiny is no cookie cutter house. A vortex of drug use and violence corners him into working for a psychopathic meth dealer. His only escape then becomes surrendering to the majestic and unforgiving isolation of the American Desert.
American Desert is an award winning feature film, directed by Adrian Bartol. The film was an official selection of Seattle Film Festival and Montreal Independent Film Festival in Canada. It is our pleasure to interview Adrian Bartol for Toronto Film Magazine.
How did you start making films and what was the first film project you worked on? I started making films in Middle School. Later, with the guidance and motivation of a great teacher of mine in High School, Mark Byrne, I continued to make short films with the great technical limitations of the time. Some though, made it into local festivals.
What was the inspiration behind the making of “American Desert"? About five years ago, Will Brandt, lead of American Desert and co producer, and I were moved by the silence surrounding returning US Veterans troubles reintegrating into society. Will is from a multigenerational military family, and I grew up in San Diego CA, a town deeply imbued with the US military experience. Will drew from his family experiences, and I drew from my many interactions with US veterans I encountered, many of them homeless, to inform the story. What is the most challenging aspect of being an independent filmmaker in the film industry? It is extraordinarily difficult to be taken seriously by established members of the industry. You really must be persistent until you finally find those risk takers, those visionaries willing to take a risk on your teams talent.
How difficult is it to fund indie feature films? There is a direct correlation between artistic independence and difficulty in funding your projects. Thankfully, technology has advanced in such a way that a films budget can be microscopic without the technical shortcomings becoming too distracting. I had been awaiting a technological breakthrough to be able to make a beautiful looking micro budget film. That moment finally came about five years ago when motion picture cameras with great image quality but manageable came into the market. Please name three of your most favorite directors. How have they been influential in your work? Agnieszka Holland, Alfonso Cuarón, Spike Jonze. These directors have an admirable capacity to take the stories of characters that live in the outskirts of the social mainstream, and manage to engage the audience in such a way that they completely forget about the characters outsider status. Their remarkable storytelling envelops the viewer in deep empathy for these character’s predicament, no matter how unusual, how unorthodox, how alien their life story may be.
How did "American Desert" go into production and how did you finalize the cast and the crew? Casting turned out to be much more difficult than first thought. Will and I persisted with agencies, acquaintances, actor friends, but were disappointed with many dead ends. Unrelenting, we decided to start filming the scenes that only featured Will, hoping that someday a cast would materialize. Years of persistence paid off, and before we knew it we had assembled a cast that just a short while before had seemed like an impossible miracle.
How was the film received by your audience and film festivals and what is your plan for further distribution of the film? Because of the current pandemic, we held off for quite a while submitting to festivals. We have started hearing back from festivals about one month ago, and so far we have received or been nominated for the following awards: Nominated - Grand Jury Award Best Feature Film Seattle Film Festival Honorable Mention - Montreal Independent Film Festival - Best Actor (Will Brandt) Honorable Mention - Montreal Independent Film Festival - Best Director (Adrian Bartol) Won - Montreal Independent Film Festival - Best Editing (Adrian Bartol) We are currently submitting to festivals and are in talks with distribution companies What do you recommend to other filmmakers regarding the making and the distribution of independent feature films? You must be incredibly persistent and dedicated. Work with people that will not lose sight of the often impossible seeming goal of finishing a film that has tremendous budgetary limitations.
What is your next film project and what are you currently working on? Currently working on two scripts Why do you make films? In my view, art in all its forms is the only lens by which true meaning can be given to life.