Friday, April 13 at 3:30 PM
Saturday, April 14 at 8:30 PM
Shorts Block: Acts of Vulnerability
O.K. Keyes & Alexis Stratton | Clinton, SC | 10 min
Genre: Narrative Short
Fragmentary and intimate, this experiment in retelling memory follows the queer romance of two high schoolers as they race into the perils of first love—and run into the anxieties of being watched versus being seen.Buy Tickets 04/13 Buy Tickets 04/14
We asked our filmmakers some questions about them and their work. For further questions, join us at the designated post-screening Q+A!
1. What is your connection to the South?
My co-director/cinematographer buddy O.K. Keyes and I have long and deep connections to the South. Keyes was born and raised in the small town of Clinton, SC, and spent a lot of his young adulthood in Columbia, SC, where he attended university and graduate school. I was born and raised in rural Illinois, but my family moved to North Carolina when I was in eighth grade. Since then, I’ve spent most of my life in the South, including about 12 years in Columbia, SC, and a brief stint in New Orleans, LA, and while I know I’m a kind of geographical mutt, I’ve grown to consider myself a Southern artist and writer.
More importantly than our geographical experiences, though, I know Keyes and I are both committed to Southern storytelling and making art about a South that most of the world doesn’t know or see. Both of us have worked in the LGBTQ rights movement in South Carolina, and whenever we’d go to national LGBTQ conferences and say we were from the South, folks from other regions would act like we must have awful lives and experiences–like they couldn’t imagine anything worse than being LGBTQ in the South. I wanted to remind them that over 30% of the country’s LGBTQ population live in the South–and we make good lives here. And I wanted to tell them that people of all stripes live, build community, and make art here in the South every day. So I know Keyes and I both want to make media that reflects these stories and experiences, and we think it’s important for Southern filmmakers and artists to be the ones doing so.
And, of course, GHOST_GIRL was conceived, written, and filmed in South Carolina (mostly shot in Clinton and Columbia), and all our cast and crew lived in and/or are from South Carolina. So we’re excited to have it premiere in a state that so many of us consider home.
2. Where did you get your inspiration for this work?
Though this project has seen many iterations, the story was originally conceived as part of Keyes’ master’s thesis project in 2014. He was planning to do a series of media art installations on his failed relationships, and he saved this–the story of his first love–to do with me. We’d worked together on the short film “Crosswalk” in 2013 as part of Jasper’s Second Act Film Festival, and he thought I’d be a good fit for his story as a writer/director.
Part of his pursuit of this project was also an experiment in storytelling–particularly the oral traditions of folklore–so Keyes was particularly interested in retellings of retellings and what happened to the story as it moved through different hands. In other words, he proposed to tell me his story as he remembered it, which in some ways was still hazy, and then I’d write it as a fictional short screenplay, infusing my own interpretations. And then we’d leave room in the script to improvise certain scenes so the actors could bring in their own interpretations.
So one day, Keyes and I met in Cool Beans, a coffeeshop in downtown Columbia near the University of South Carolina campus, and Keyes told me his story. I went home and wrestled with it for a few months. I was immediately inspired by the concept and the conflict, but I wondered how I could to connect to the story, especially since my adolescent experiences were so different from his. But I kept thinking about memory and loss and story and how, after a loss, we constantly go back to our memories, we chase after them, and we try to grasp what the story was, what it meant. We try to tie it up, to fix it up–but still, it so often eludes us. So I wanted to capture those attempts in the script so that as I was writing it, I wasn’t just trying to retell Keyes’ story; instead, I was more interested in the story of him trying to make sense of his story–and what that process looks like for all of us. As Judith Butler writes, “We’re undone by each other. And if we’re not, we’re missing something.” Perhaps this story was an attempt to reckon with the inevitability of that undoing–and the ways we try to piece ourselves back together.
3. How did you start making films?
Keyes started making films at a very young age, and as a child, he took over the role of making his family’s home videos. When he was still pretty young, he got a camcorder for a present and ended up documenting a large swath of his childhood/adolescence on DV tape (hence GHOST_GIRL’s aesthetic). Although he’s struggled sometimes with his relationship to the camera because of the ways it was used against him as a teenager (as represented in GHOST_GIRL), doing this project has allowed him to reconnect with the camera and remember that his real first love was making movies. After taking a break from the camera for a few years after filming GHOST_GIRL, Keyes thinks he finally might be ready to return to it.
I started making films in 2013 when Keyes suggested we submit an application for Jasper’s Second Act Film Festival–with me as writer/director–but I’d long been interested in writing for stage and screen. I wrote my first play when I was in fourth grade, which my class somehow got hoodwinked into performing, and I continued to write and direct my own plays in the years that followed. I took a step back from dramatic writing after high school to focus on prose, but my minor in Film Studies in college was probably just an oblique way to better understand the craft. So when Keyes suggested we team up to make “Crosswalk,” something compelled me to say yes, and I haven’t looked back since.
4. Did anything interesting or funny happen on set during the shooting?
I think one of the most interesting parts of this film is the way the collaborations allowed everyone’s best work to shine through–and shape the story into this amazing, unexpected thing. For example, one of the most heartbreaking moments in the whole film is improvised. We were setting up the fight scenes, and our poor actors were giving their all in take after take. We gave them frameworks and lines to get to, but working up to that and carrying it through was all them. So, our actors were creating this final argument, and I don’t want to give it away, but–the most heartbreaking line came totally out of nowhere and was maybe an accident. One of them says something very genuine and loving in this fight, and the other just throws it away, and you can see the absolute shock on Jamie Boller’s face (who plays T.K.) when confronted by this response. You can almost sense the shock in the camera movement, too–we were all taken aback and needed a couple moments to recover. That said, Jamie totally took the line in stride, and it became one of the most moving moments of the film and of Jamie’s performance.
5. What do you look forward to the most during Indie Grits?
Keyes and I both left South Carolina a couple years ago, but it’s a place that has shaped us both so much, that brought us together, and that lives and breathes through this film. So I’m super psyched about having our South Carolina film premiere in South Carolina at a film festival that we both always loved.
6. Why should someone see your film?
I think this film can be so many different things to so many different people. It’s a queer love story. It’s non-linear and experimental. It’s Southern. It’s about loss. It’s about memories and stories. But more importantly, it’s about lacing up and going on. So even though it’s heartbreaking in some ways, in the end, we want folks to know that there’s a little hope at the bottom of the box. And despite having written it, I think when we at last got the final, final edit, I was surprised by that. Like, there was something about it that made me feel okay. That made me feel it was going to be okay. I don’t think we get many queer love stories that are like that.
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