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Interview with Monte Hellman (Road to nowhere)

ROAD TO NOWHERE (2010) premiered at the 2010 Venice Film Festival and since then has screened in prestigious festivals around the world, its latest at the Copenhagen Film Festival, CPHPIX, 2011. Monte has won numerous awards throughout his career and was recently guest of honor at the Palm Springs International Film Festival in January 2011.

When I went to interview Monte at his home in Los Angeles, tucked in the sundrenched hills of Laurel Canyon, not only did I have the privilege of screening the film in the filmmaker’s private screening room, but he made me his ‘famous’ (and one of the best I’ve ever had) margarita, which was a treat, being my soul beverage (I am from southern California) that I rarely get to indulge in being based overseas.

ME: How did you come up with the title, ROAD TO NOWHERE, and what does it symbolize for you?

MONTE: During World War II the U.S. Government built a dam in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, which displaced hundreds of people living there. In 1943 they started building a road in order to give these people access to a number of cemeteries that were cut off from them. By 1969 only six miles of the promised thirty-two miles had been built, ending with the tunnel seen in our movie. There has been no further construction. The road is now called the "road to nowhere." This was the inspiration for title and story.

ME: What gave you the idea to make this film about making an independent film? It made me think of Altman’s THE PLAYER or Lynch’s MULHOLLAND DRIVE. It also reminds me of Polanski’s CHINA TOWN in some ways. I really enjoyed this film for its noir-ish qualities and feeling of nostalgia.

MONTE: Steve Gaydos dreamed the story one night. He told me the idea, and I encouraged to write the screenplay. Any possible similarities to other movies were thought about after we made the movie. The only thing I remember about MULHOLLAND DRIVE is Naomi Watts doing a screentest.

ME: I noticed that there were characteristics in the film that are personal to you, like the margarita ingredients, the dog, etc. How much would you say does the main character perhaps reflect you? Or is he inspired by someone else?

MONTE: The original idea was to make a movie detailing some of our experiences shooting independent pictures. The characters were originally named after Steve and me. We incorporated some details from our lives. We later decided to give the characters fictional names, and my way of directing is to get the actors to use as much of themselves as possible, so the Mitchell Haven we see on the screen is much more Tygh Runyan than Monte Hellman.

ME: What kind of impact has your film had in USA? How has the film been received abroad?

MONTE: Our only exposure in the U.S. so far has been three film festivals, so the impact has been minimal. We're having our L.A. premiere on May 14, and our New York premiere on June 8. We open in New York and then nationwide on June 10. The U.S. reviews we've had were from our premiere at the Venice Festival, and they've been extraordinary, especially Film Comment and Variety. You can see the quotes on our web page, . The reviews abroad have been mixed -- people either love it or hate it, with not much in between. Fortunately the raves have been from the most influential media like Le Monde, L'Humanite, and La Furia Umana.

ME: Your film has been to many festivals and you have been recognized as an exemplary director in the independent/World cinema spectrum. How does this make you feel?

MONTE: I'm grateful just being alive, so to be validated by my peers et al. is beyond my wildest dreams. Especially meaningful was a recent statement by Olivier Assayas, one of the world's greatest directors, saying he was "charmed by the troubling poetry" of ROAD TO NOWHERE, and that it was a "coup de coeur" -- a blow to his heart.

ME: How difficult was this film to produce? How long did it take and how many countries involved?

MONTE: It was the easiest shoot I've ever had, mainly because my daughter Melissa produced it, and she protected me from any problems that might develop. We shot in six main locations in three countries, with many moves within each location. It looks like a James Bond movie, even though shot on a Monogram budget.

ME: How did you go about casting the film? Was this difficult?

MONTE: Casting always takes a long time, since it's the most important part of the process. But I can't say it was difficult. Many times an actor would walk through the door, and I'd say "you've got the part -- now let's talk."

ME: You have been an asset to the making of many films. Can you speak about your involvement in other people’s films and also about your own vision as an auteur director? Does working with other people on their vision inspire you for your own?

MONTE: I have no idea what any other person's vision is. Sometimes working as a second unit director for another director I've been given detailed instructions which I found limiting. But working as executive producer on RESERVOIR DOGS was a joy. I felt my job was just to keep out of Quentin's way, which I did.

ME: Congratulations on your success for ROAD TO NOWHERE. Can you talk about some of your future projects?

MONTE: Don't want to jinx them by saying too much. LOVE OR DIE is a ticking clock supernatural romantic thriller, and CODY AND FAROL is a romantic comedy noir.

ME: Is there anything you would like to express about your film that you haven’t been able to? Anything you would like to add?

MONTE: It's difficult to make a personal movie for an intelligent audience in today's world of homogenized cinema, so we need all the support we can get from that audience. Even if you're thinking you'll just wait and see it on TV or DVD, it's really important to go out and see it in a theater, and quickly before it disappears. Otherwise ROAD TO NOWHERE and movies like it will cease to exist.

Interview by Vanessa McMahon on April 30, 2011

ROAD TO NOWHERE:“There's a murky tenuous balance between reality and fiction; particularly when it involves a beautiful young woman, murder, a powerful politico, a missing fortune and suicide. A passionate filmmaker creating a film based upon a true crime casts an unknown mysterious young woman bearing a disturbing resemblance to the femme fatale in the story. Unsuspectingly, he finds himself drawn into a complex web of haunting intrigue, obsessed with the woman, the crime, her possibly notorious past and the disturbing complexity between art and truth. From the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina to Verona, Rome and London, new truths are revealed and clues to other crimes and passions, darker and even more complex are uncovered.”IMDB SUMMARY

director Monte Hellman on the set of ROAD TO NOWHERE (2010)


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