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AFI Dallas: St. Nick


by Stephen Becker 26 Mar 2009

With most wide-release films, you’ve been told by countless commercials and trailers how you’re supposed to feel about what you’ve yet to watch. It’s an invitation for you to sit back, relax and just let the film wash over you. Then there are films like St. Nick, which requires your attention and thoughts to help […]

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With most wide-release films, you’ve been told by countless commercials and trailers how you’re supposed to feel about what you’ve yet to watch. It’s an invitation for you to sit back, relax and just let the film wash over you.

Then there are films like St. Nick, which requires your attention and thoughts to help tell the story.

It’s not that David Lowery’s film is built on an ultra-complex, Charlie Kaufman-esque plot. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The simple story revolves around a pre-teen boy and his sister trying to make it on their own. St. Nick opens with the nameless boy and girl moving from a little campsite in a field to what looks to be an old abandoned house.

Did they run away from home? Did their parents die? How long have they been on the lam?

stnick-400Those are all questions you find yourself asking during the first 20 nearly wordless minutes of the film. And that was the intention, Lowery says.

“I’m not a fan of dialogue for dialogue’s sake, at least in my own films. I get more excited by the spaces in between dialogue, and by long silences and just watching people do their thing,” Lowery said in an e-mail interview this week. “But specifically with that first 20 minutes, I think it was important to hold off on any talking because it really gets audiences in the right frame of mind to appreciate the film and its particular rhythm and pace. I don’t think it’s a challenging film, but it requires a different sort of attention, and there’s no better time to break that to an audience than right from the get-go.”

Lowery made the film with his producing partner, James M. Johnston, owner of the Spiral Diner in Fort Worth. It was shot primarily in the Fairmount neighborhood of Fort Worth, as well as in Annetta (near Weatherford) and on a ranch north of Denton. He says that shooting the film in North Texas allowed for a diverse visual landscape.

“I love the way you can drive an hour down the highway and the topography completely changes.”

As St. Nick rolls on, some of those blanks are eventually filled in. But just as many questions are left unanswered. Some may find the idea of watching two kids wander boring or frustrating. But those willing to use the film as a starting point onto which they can project their own ideas will be rewarded.

Lowery says he realizes that he is asking for a level of dedication from his audience. But in exchange for that attention, he provides a higher level of intimacy.

“A lot of audiences probably expect to be given a certain amount of information, and by denying that I’m sure I frustrate some people. That’s not my intention, of course, but I’m aware of it,” he says. “But I think that what it really does, if one is open to it, is inform the way the film is viewed. Without a lot of expositional baggage, you’re forced to be in the moment with the characters; you’re not applying what you already know about them to their situation.”

St. Nick is part of the Texas Competition. It screens Friday at 4:15 p.m. and Sunday at 12:30 p.m. at the Magnolia.

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