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Vanessa McMahon


Vanessa is a novel writer, screenwriter, rep and a film producer. She shares her discoveries and film surprises. :-)

 


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Interview with Director Ari Gold for 'Song of Sway Lake' (2017) at AFM

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Actor/director/writer Ari Gold's latest film “The Song of Sway Lake” (2017) is about nostalgia, obsession and grief experienced by two unlikely soul friends Ollie Sway (Rory Culkin) and quirky Russian Nikolai (Robert Sheehan) and the retired Charlie Sway (Mary Beth Peil) during a summer on Sway Lake in upstate New York. Gold wrote the film with Elizabeth Bull, as well as produced and directed it. The film is being distributed by The Orchard and was being sold to international market at the 2018 AFM.

 

In a recent interview with Ari about his film, here is what he had to say: 

 
How did you come up with this? Is the story inspired by real events? 

ARI: Sway Lake isn’t a real place, though it's inspired in part by my love of the Adirondack region of New York state. My co-writer, Liz Bull, and I felt we should do a story about memory in a place that has rich history. But so much of the film is about projection and obsession: the obsession for old music, of a young man for a woman in her seventies, of the idea of perfection. We love French and Swedish movies of the 60’s and 70’s and wanted to capture a kind of American version of that: a small group of people play out a tight adventure in one beautiful location.

 

Where did you film it? 

ARI: We shot on Blue Mountain Lake in the Adirondacks, six hours north of New York City. Given the class-warfare undercurrent in the story, we wanted the lake to seem like it could have been a private lake for a very wealthy family, a kind of American royalty.

 

Rory was great and all the cast seemed so natural together. How did you go about casting? 

ARI: Rory is a very sensitive, gut-feeling type of actor, who also carries his own weight, so he was perfect for the role of the young Sway heir, trying to shake off his inheritance. Once we cast him, we had to fit the pieces around him - particularly his grandmother, Charlie Sway, who had to be as elegant as Rory’s character is sloppy - but who still had to seem like kin. And Robert Sheehan, playing Rory's charismatic Russian friend, was cast to create the most extreme counterpart. They are that kind of odd-couple of male friendship that you often see: the sensitive young man without role models seeks a wild-man to teach him, but the wild-man has his own hunger for soulfulness and meaning, and risks devouring his disciple.

 

Do you think America has lost some part of its national identity, of which you try to capture in the film?

ARI: My grandparents were of the generation that came back victorious from World War 2, and had a distinct sense of America’s grace, its meaning to the world, its responsibility. After his naval service, my grandfather became a passionate scholar of history in his spare time, and, I found out, late in life he dropped out of the Republican Party because he believed that selfishness was being turned into a virtue there. He was of a generation that had been forged in sacrifice, and the celebration of the individual above society as a whole was something he found abhorrent. Of course, it was this heroic sacrifice that also made the Baby Boomer generation so antsy - they couldn’t live up to it. The shadow of a heroism you can’t match is what hangs over the characters in The Song of Sway Lake.

 

Is this film a kind of love song/tribute to a bygone past?

ARI: Nostalgia - for music, grace, youth, a way of life - is what infects all the characters in the film, young and old. Nostalgia is both intoxicating and toxic. So the film is both a tribute to the past and a story about letting the past go.

 

How did you begin your career as a director?

ARI: I made short films for a while, and won a lot of prizes, but it was hard for me to figure out how to get into the business - I think I admired independent artists too much! But by now I have the friendships to get new things off the ground, and that took a long time.

 

Is it tough being an indie director today with all the changes in distribution modes?

ARI: I honestly don’t know how independent films survive now. There is little audience or even critical support for small films - the world has been infected with a love of adrenaline at the movies. Some of the movies I love most create dream space, in a way that no series will ever be able to do. Things change, but it is sad that quiet movies end up on people’s phones, when it’s the quiet movies that have the greatest impact on big screens.

 

You recently screened your film at TIFF. How was that experience?

ARI: Actually I didn’t screen at TIFF - we’ve played 45 festivals, and won a bunch of prizes - list is here: SwayLake.com/see

 

How have audiences reacted to the film?

ARI: We’ve won Audience Awards, and my composer/brother Ethan and I are getting a lot of “thank you’s” from people who say they haven’t seen a movie that’s felt like this in a long time. It takes people back in time - it’s rich, like a dream. I also have a lot of older women thanking me, hugging me, and winking! - for giving a deep and sexy role to a woman in her 70’s. The response has been so powerful - “favorite movie in years” kind of thing - and helps mitigate my sadness that so few people will hear about it. But articles like yours help! SwayLake.com is where people can find it. 

 
What will you be working on next?

ARI: I’ve got an action-adventure TV series with environmental themes that I’ll be pitching in coming months. It’s very exciting, and I couldn’t be more passionate about it. Maybe I’m Mrs. Sway!

 

Interview by Vanessa McMahon

 

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