Dallas director David Lowery finished the movie St. Nick more than two years ago. But it’s just now starting to gain attention nationally. And it’s been chosen by the Texas Independent Film Network to kick off a new series of screenings around the state seeking to spotlight Texas filmmakers. Lowery talks about his special relationship with North Texas and how it plays out in his films:
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St. Nick is a simple story that allows its audience time and space to think. In the film, an elementary school age brother and sister run away from home and beg, steal and borrow their way to a life of freedom from adults. They take up squatters rights in an abandoned house and survive on sandwiches made from discarded scraps. As a clip from the film displays, even at such a young age, being a Texan is already part of the boy’s identity.
GIRL: “Why you talking like that?”
BOY: “Like what?”
GIRL: “Like you’re from Texas?”
BOY: “Because I am from Texas.
GIRL: “Like a cowboy?”
BOY: “I don’t know. … Why are you talking like you’re stupid?”
The rest of the dialogue is similarly sparse, as we follow the duo while they journey through spacious pastures under wide open skies. The Texas landscape becomes another character in the film. Its vastness echoes the grandness of the kids’ newfound freedom.
“I really like working off the radar, so to speak,” says St. Nick director David Lowery. “And so working in Texas – it’s a state that’s big enough to where you can sort of disappear inside of it.”
But Lowery says that letting Texas into a film is a balancing act. He doesn’t want to play into the stereotypes that were once ingrained in his own mind, before he moved to Dallas from Wisconsin as an 8-year-old.
“I was expecting it to be a dusty, desert state. Indeed, with horses walking down the street.”
Slowly he began to open his eyes to his surroundings. He graduated from Irving High School in 1999 and shortly after began making his own films while working on others. And he discovered that his adopted home state was much more than a collection of well-worn images.
“And I realized that Texas was actually a pretty amazing place and it has these landscapes that you don’t see anywhere else and a skyline that you don’t see anywhere else. And it doesn’t look like what people expect. If you take a North Texas landscape in the countryside in the winter, it looks like something out of a Grimm’s fairytale, with all these twisted trees and low hanging clouds. It’s really a dark and mysterious place. So if you mix the way it looks with the history that’s there – the rebelliousness and the individuality and everything that comes along with Texas, you get this very potent mixture that I love to let that just be latent in the work.”
St. Nick was filmed primarily in Fort Worth as well as at a couple of ranches. And while it does encompass a piece of the state’s identity, Lowery says it’s impossible to define Texas filmmaking. He says some of his favorite Texas films are Slacker, Dazed and Confused, The Whole Shootin’ Match and The Last Picture Show – films that cover a wide array of styles and subject matter.
“It’s impossible to say what makes a Texan, just because the state is so big and it encompasses so many creative individuals who have their own visions,” he says.
St. Nick has had a long road to visibility. It debuted at South by Southwest in 2009 and won an award at the AFI Dallas International Film Festival the same year. But it wasn’t until last month that St. Nick made it to New York. The New York Times reviewer wrote, “Decaying rustic interiors evoke Andrew Wyeth still lifes; pastoral long shots suggest a Southwestern walkabout. And Mr. Lowery seems ready for a bigger canvas.”
But even Lowery would admit it’ll be tough to find a bigger canvas than his home state.
St. Nick screens as part of the Texas Independent Film Network on May 11 at 7 p.m. at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and on May 13-15 at the Texas Theatre in Dallas.