CCA Cinema Visionaries: David Lowery
Join us for an evening with David Lowery on Thursday, Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. A screenwriter and award-winning filmmaker, Lowery will be in conversation with Brook Hinton, CCA’s Film Program co-chair. Both MFA film and BFA film school students are encouraged to attend and ask any burning questions about Lowery’s three feature films: A Ghost Story, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, and Pete’s Dragon.
Characters with a Cause
A Ghost Story, Lowery’s most recent film, is about loss, the absurdity of time, and the impermanence of materiality. Casey Affleck’s character, listed simply as “C” in the film’s final credits, dies tragically and becomes a literal ghost in the machine, imprisoned in a defined space that is ever-shifting through time. He is compelled to watch and wait (For what?) as people move in and out of the creaky, single-story suburban house he once shared with his partner, played by Rooney Mara.
The idea of a parallel existence—silent and lonely—is not only unsettling, but also profoundly sad. Long, unbroken takes that mirror C’s dogged fixation with the physical world, combined with the film’s “nearly square aspect ratio, with rounded corners,”¹ imbue each scene with transcendent yet familiar nostalgia. The visual logic of the film is just as much a character as C, who is the keeper of a perplexing secret beneath a white bedsheet with two eye holes cut out.
Mastery of Mood
Part meditation, part aesthetic experiment, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Lowery’s first independent film, luxuriates in Texas landscapes and harks back to a “bygone Americana and a period of filmmaking.”² Powerful western tropes—beauty in solitude (idealized romanticism), an anti-hero and his foil, and high-stakes shootouts—populate the film’s core cinematic moves.
Interestingly, Lowery never took landscape or the possibilities of physical space seriously until he saw David Gordon Green’s George Washington when he was 20 years old.³ He talks about this early inspiration in a flash interview for American home video distribution company The Criterion Collection:
Want to learn more about Lowery’s wellspring of creativity? He’s been keeping a blog since the early 2000s about the ideas behind his projects—an invaluable practice students in film school should seriously consider.
The Art of the Remake
Lowery’s career trajectory makes him an interesting addition to this year’s series. Sandwiched between his two art-house films is Pete’s Dragon, a multi-million dollar reimagining of the 1977 children’s classic. While Lowery saw the film when he was six, he never felt the urge to watch it again.⁴ An objective, fresh take was exactly what Disney wanted.
“What really got me interested in it was when I was told that the studio had no interest in remaking the original. They wanted to use the title and tell a new story with it,”⁵ Lowery said in a 2016 interview. Instead of singing, Lowery gives us powerful non-verbal moments. Instead of a dragon with pink hair, he creates magic grounded in believable emotion.
(Weta Digital is the visual effects company behind the CG dragon)
About CCA Cinema Visionaries
Each year, our Film Program hosts a lineup of renowned filmmakers for a series of public conversations. MFA film, BFA film, and other art school students have a chance to interact with guest filmmakers during hands-on master classes. Laura Poitras, journalist and director of the Academy Award-winning Citizenfour, was this year’s first fall speaker. Read about her groundbreaking documentaries, including My Country, My Country, and Risk.
1. Alissa Wilkinson, “A Ghost Story was one of Sundance’s most buzzed-about films. It earns the hype.” Vox Media, July 14, 2017, https://www.vox.com/culture/2017/7/7/15925272/ghost-story-review-rooney-mara-casey-affleck
2. Nick McCarthy, “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” Slant Magazine, August 12, 2013, https://www.slantmagazine.com/film/review/aint-them-bodies-saints
3. “Under the Influence: David Lowery on David Gordon Green’s George Washington,” The Criterion Collection, August 1, 2017, https://www.criterion.com/current/posts/4782-under-the-influence-david-lowery-on-david-gordon-green-s-george-washington
4. Meredith Woerner, “How Disney outsider David Lowery turned ‘Pete’s Dragon’ into a hit,” Los Angeles Times, August 9, 2016, http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/herocomplex/la-et-hc-petes-dragon-david-lowery-20160809-snap-htmlstory.html
5. Drew McWeeny, “Director David Lowery explains why his ‘Pete’s Dragon’ is so intentionally gentle,” Uproxx, August 10, 2016, http://uproxx.com/hitfix/director-david-lowery-explains-why-his-petes-dragon-is-so-intentionally-gentle/