“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” Could this passage from Henry David Thoreau’sWalden be any more relevant to today’s independent filmmaker, who struggles to realize the dream of cinema while also, increasingly, having to build for himself or herself the distribution apparatus to support it?
Walden, a mixture of philosophy, satire, religious yearning and introspective self-help, appears prominently in writer/director Shane Carruth’s new Upstream Color. Early in the film Kris (Amy Seimetz), a VFX quality control technician and one of our two protagonists, is forced to study Thoreau’s 1854 book by a con artist who keeps her drugged while he liquidates her life savings. And by the film’s dizzying finale, lines from its conclusion — “The sun is but a morning star…” — are, in voiceover, the only words we hear. But when in the interview below I ask Carruth — a defiantly individual filmmaker who has developed his out-there features entirely away from both Hollywood and independent-film power centers — whether he realized any affinity with the Transcendentalist poet and philosopher, he pauses, just for a second, before shaking his head no. “I’ve always thought ofWalden as a non-narrative narrative. It’s hard to connect to. When I think of a book that I would like somebody to read that would leave them in a comatose-type state or open to suggestion, I think of Walden.” (Scott Macaulay)