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Filmmaker Spotlight

Award-winning independent filmmaker David Lowery just goes with his gut

Dallas filmmaker David Lowery
David Lowery's Ain’t Them Bodies Saints was selected for the U.S. Dramatic Cinema Competition at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Photo courtesy of David Lowery
St. Nick the movie by David Lowery
Tucker and Savanna Sears in St. Nick, Lowery's first film. Photo courtesy of David Lowery

Editor’s Note: To shine a light on the local filmmakers paving the way for the future of Dallas film, CultureMap is introducing a series called Filmmaker Spotlight. For the inaugural article, new contributor Jessica Tomberlin sat down with man-to-watch David Lowery.

David Lowery’s star is on the rise. Last year, the writer-director was named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces,” and just last week, his newest feature, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, starring Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck, was selected for the U.S. Dramatic Cinema Competition at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.

We caught up with Lowery in the editing room, where he was putting the finishing touches on Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, to talk about the film, how he got started making movies and the Dallas independent film community as a whole.

 Lowery’s newest feature, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints was selected for the U.S. Dramatic Cinema Competition at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.

For Lowery, becoming a filmmaker was never a conscious decision. “I’ve been involved in independent filmmaking since I was 8 years old — even if it was just trying to borrow someone’s camcorder to make a movie with my brother,” he says.

This natural inclination grew into a powerful instinct, which he says largely drives his approach to filmmaking. “It usually guides you in the right direction — and that goes from everything to making movies to ordering food at a restaurant,” he says.

So far, Lowery’s instincts haven’t failed him. In 2009, his debut feature, St. Nick, premiered at SXSW Film and was later picked up for distribution by Watchmaker Films in 2010. It then made its theatrical release in the spring of 2011 to critical acclaim.

That same year, his follow-up short film, Pioneer, was selected for more than 30 festivals worldwide. The short won several awards.

Texas-set St. Nick is the story of a brother and sister on the run who live in the woods, hide in barns and sheds — essentially do what they can to survive. (Watch the trailer above.) It was made on a small budget, so the goal was never a monetary one for Lowery and his team. “We just wanted people to see it,” he says.

“Lots of people saw it, and lots of people liked it, so it opened a lot of doors. It was sort of a nice introduction for me and my collaborators to say, this is the type of film we want to make, and here it is.”

 Although he’s jumped back and forth between Dallas and LA throughout his filmmaking career, it’s the comfort of the community that keeps him coming back.

Those collaborators are filmmakers James Johnston and Toby Halbrooks, the other two members of the production company Sailor Bear.

“We’ve always been a tight-knit group,” Lowery says of the trio. “As a result of having the desire to make films, you make friends with people of like minds. Eventually you step back and say, ‘Oh, there’s a scene or a community, but you never perceive it as that from the beginning.’”

Texas ties
Lowery grew up in Texas, and although he’s jumped back and forth between Dallas and LA throughout his filmmaking career, it’s the comfort of the community that keeps him coming back to Dallas.

“Everyone’s just really nice,” Lowery says. “I might not have the same taste as another filmmaker, but we’re using the same type of equipment and we’re getting our gear from the same place, so if I have a problem I know I can call someone who has had that problem before. ... I think that’s what the community is about, beyond anything official.”

Like St. Nick, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is set in Texas. Reminiscent of Bonnie & Clyde, the film tells the story of young outlaws Bob Muldoon and Ruth Guthrie, who are brought down by the authorities in the hills of Texas.

Although much of the film was shot in Louisiana due to budgetary reasons, Lowery says he was glad to be able to come back to Texas to shoot the real Texas scenes. “It’s about Texas, so it had to have some Texas in it,” he says.

 Lowery says Ain’t Them Bodies Saints was heavily inspired by Robert Altman’s 1971 Western McCabe & Mrs. Miller, one of Lowery’s favorite movies.

The film came to fruition much sooner than expected. This time last year, Lowery was working on the script for Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, unsure about when he would actually make it. Since then the film has gone from being a distant possibility to almost complete.

“I didn’t really know what to expect because this is a lot bigger than any of my other films,” he says. “You show up on the first day wondering what it’s going to feel like, and all of a sudden you realize that it’s exactly like all the smaller films you’ve made.

“There are a few more people, a few more bells and whistles, and you’re going to shoot on film because you have enough money to do that now. But, by and large, it’s pretty much the same.”

Lowery names filmmaker Robert Altman as an influence and says Ain’t Them Bodies Saints was heavily inspired by Altman’s 1971 Western McCabe & Mrs. Miller, one of Lowery’s favorite movies.

“It’s a Western set in the 1800s, and Ain’t them Bodies Saints is set in the 1970s, so there are a lot of differences,” Lowery says. “Nonetheless, that was the film we tried to keep in the back our heads while making the movie.”

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Ain't Them Bodies Saints premieres in January at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Stay tuned to CultureMap for updates about where and when you can see Lowery's film as it makes its way through the festival circuit.

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