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“THE MISSING PERSON” writer-director, Noah Buschell

[PREMIERE SCREENING: Friday, Jan. 16, 6:00 pm — Library Center Theatre, Park City]

For me, “story” is the most overused word in the film world these days. I hear actors saying, “I just wanna tell good stories.” I hear producers saying, “I have an intense passion for storytelling.” Jerry Bruckheimer is in some commercial calling himself a storyteller. Maybe he is.

I don’t understand when indie movies became synonymous with storytelling. When did this extreme emphasis on narrative take place? As if a movie doesn’t lend itself equally well to being a poem or a painting. But we don’t hear leading ladies saying, “I’m looking for great paintings to make.” This is probably one of the hardest things facing independent filmmakers like myself today. If one wants to make a film that’s not plot-driven, one has to disguise it. I wrote a script that was in the costume of a noir film. In reality it was much more of a “lucid dream” script than a “detective whodunit” script.

It’s funny that Sundance is celebrating the art of storytelling for its anniversary. To me independent film was always a place where movies could be anything. When I think of A Woman Under the Influence, I think of it as a portrait. Terrence Malick’s Badlands seems as much a haiku ballad as it does a story. Robert Altman used to say he saw his films more as paintings than stories.

I can’t help but feel that when a lot of people are talking about storytelling in movies today, what they’re really talking about is the homogenization and dumbing down of film. Everything is articulated, everything moves along, you’re told all the answers, and nothing is left up in the air. There’s no time for breathing, morphing, strangeness, or wildness. It’s movies as a narrow intellectual activity, made to go down easy on a laptop. Basically it’s academic and numbing. The catering to people’s brains, as opposed to their bodies, their guts.

We have our own stories about ourselves and others. We all are real good at telling stories. The brain does it all day long. But there’s an experience and a vision beyond stories. And that’s what has brought me to movies in the first place. Those moments where your mind gets blown open. Concepts vanish. Judgments give out. Watching Miyazaki’s Spirited Away in a dark theater is like listening to Charlie Parker or reading Emily Dickinson. The small, rational mind gives way to something beyond thought.

So that’s the battle these days for a filmmaker like myself. I’m interested in going beyond stories, but the indie world is more and more story driven.

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