Anne Hamilton, director of the opening night regional masterpiece American Fable discussed her creative vision, inspiration, and Wisconsin upbringing with Submissions Director, Catherine Woods.
C: Many people have likened American Fable to Pan’s Labyrinth. Variety Magazine referred to it as the “haunting backbone” of your film. What, if any, inspiration did you draw from del Toro’s masterwork and how did it influence the storyline as well as the visual style?
A: The storyline of a girl in a fairytale that tracks a real-life political struggle is I think what people mean when they compare American Fable to Pan’s Labyrinth. In del Toro’s movie, it was the Spanish Civil war, and in mine it’s the 1980s farm crisis. The Dark Rider was an image I took from a 1930s painting of Genghis’ Khan’s mother – a royal, fearsome feminine silhouette. She’s not really a monster in the way del Toro’s Pan is – she’s death on a dark horse, and she’s female because she’s a figment of Gitty’s imagination, so of course she’s female.
As for visual style, Wyatt Garfield and I watch several movies for visual inspiration – Pan’s Labyrinth, The Spirit of the Beehive, The Night of the Hunter, A Very Long Engagement, and The Shining, among others. The colors and movement were partly inspired by del Toro, but the framing and lens choices are more like Kubrick’s style because I prefer wide lenses and strong centered frames/compositions, while del Toro’s choices tend to be more in the direction of medium lenses and fluid frames.
C: Tell us more about why you chose to write your main character Gitty as an eleven year old. What changes in maturity and character during the early stages of puberty do you feel helped to drive the plot in a way that a slightly younger or older character would not have been able to?
A: It’s important that Gitty is eleven in the film, and so was Peyton [our actor] when we shot the movie. I think those last years of childhood are very unlike anything that precedes or follows them – for girls especially. At somewhere between 10-12 kids are first able to understand abstract concepts, but they still possess the innocence and wonder of childhood. It’s a wonderful place to be – in the mind of a kid that age, and that’s why I wanted to tell the story completely from Gitty’s perspective. Had she been younger, she wouldn’t have been able to make the moral decision that the film centers around, and had she been older, she wouldn’t have been as open to becoming friends with Jonathan or as interesting to follow.
C: You also grew up in Wisconsin during this same general time period. Were there any experiences from your youth that influenced the story?
A: Yes, I was born in the 1980s very close to where we shot the film. The movie is nostalgic for that time period and so the design of the film – from the remote controls to the clothing — was very important to me. There are a lot of personal pieces in the movie that were taken from childhood memories – not the plot of course, but the details – like the way Sarah tapes her fingers for work at the factory – that’s something my grandmother did when I was little. Or when the kids catch fireflies and run around all day without adults to watch them – I did that. On some level, the movie is sort of a love note to my childhood.
C: When did you begin writing narrative pieces, and how has your previous study in law and philosophy changed the kinds of characters you write and the way that you develop them through a story.
A: I’m still very much a philosophy student at heart. Aristotle and Nietzsche are my favorite thinkers, and there is a lot of both of them in this movie. Character is destiny, and actions create character – I’m a huge believer in that principle in both life and fiction, and I think that’s largely because of my interest in philosophy.
I don’t think my legal background has had a much of an influence on me, but I do prefer to tell stories where you can argue both sides of a conflict successfully, which is what they teach you to do in law school. Abe and Jonathan both have very good reasons to do what they do, and Gitty’s choice is therefore an impossible one that’s very compelling and can carry a 96 minute movie.