Fall River is a low income town in America loved by it’s residents
29th November 2019 by Will Stewart
MadeGood – Please tell me a bit about how you both got in to filmmaking. Do you always work together, and how do you divide the work? Is Fall River a typical film for you guys? Please tell me a bit more about your working dynamic.
Jamil – I come from a photography background and always had a love for wanted to know the frames before and after the picture that was actually developed. Growing up, I used to listen to the myriad of stories my mother and father had to share. Them having such different upbringings, my father growing up in the inner-city of Cleveland, Ohio and my mother a first generation child from Turkey, raised in Germany, they truly never got old. The memories were vivid. There truly is no other medium that has the storytelling capabilities as film does.
For every project so far, we’ve worked together. We both have different styles but it blends well in a partnership. Meeting Pat in 2015 is actually what pushed me in becoming a student in film and actually wanting to pursue it.
Pat – I got into film while I was high school. My theatre teacher, who was a mentor, would recommend all these films from the ’50s and ’60s for me to watch and I would eat them up. I ended up going to film school in Boston, then moved to New York after graduating and got a low-level assistant job at a production company. Jamil and I met in 2015 and we both sparked each other’s interest in directing, and since then we’ve made four films together. I wouldn’t say we have a “typical” film—we try to let story and characters dictate form. For example, with Fall River, we had never made a documentary before… but given the personal nature of the subject, it felt like the right approach.
As far as our working relationship, we’ve developed every film we’ve made together from the ground up. We tend to split workload evenly. Like Jamil said, we have different approaches to filmmaking, which is wonderful, and we share commonality in the kinds of films we’d like to see out in the world. We have a deep respect and admiration for each other’s strengths and acknowledge each other’s blindspots, which I think is what makes us great partners. Jamil is an incredible artist and I feel very fortunate to get to make films with him.
MadeGood – I’m guessing that’s you in the film, Pat?! And is that your Grandmother’s voice (I guess by the credits, though your surnames are different so not 100% sure!)? This was obviously a very personal film to make. It’s a sad story but a happy one too, was it a difficult process? Are these conversations you’ve had with your [grandmother] before?
Pat – Yes, that’s my grandmother and I. The different last names come from a second marriage, the “Frank” she speaks of in the film. This is a bit of a non-answer, but it was difficult sometimes and sometimes not. Mostly, I felt a great deal of responsibility to make a film that represented the most important person in my life honestly. I really did not want to be a character in the film at first… the initial idea was to let my grandmother narrate a film about the good and the bad and everything in between of Fall River, a town we both grew up in, and shoot it almost like a home movie of someone searching for something in a familiar place. But when we interviewed her, the conversation kept coming back to us and our family. I realised then that yeah, of course, she’s not a historian. She’s a human being with a life of her own. So, we realised we needed to pivot to the film being more personal. We’d had versions of conversations like that before, but to have it all out there at once felt different.
We tried early cuts where my voice wasn’t in it, but it wasn’t resonating emotionally because the point of view of the camera is really mine (as a character). So yeah, I got over listening to my voice over and over for the betterment of the film. I had to step back and take an omniscient perspective on the whole thing. There would definitely be these seemingly arbitrary moments in the editing room where I’d feel really emotional… but it would be something small, like a freeze frame of my mom staying on the monitor and making eye contact with her.
But yeah, that sad-but-also-happy thing you describe is my grandmother and I’s relationship in a nutshell. We laugh at things we should cry about and vice versa. That little tag in the credits is probably the best example of that—us laughing at the idea of crying together. God, I love her. I am my grandmother’s grandson.
MadeGood – I’m a sucker for shorts shot on film, I’m guessing this was shot on 8mm? I think it works really well with the home video footage, and looks great. What was behind this decision? Do you usually shoot on film?
Jamil – This was the first project we shot on film, and it was actually Super 16mm. We both love the medium though and had been itching to shoot film. It brings a nostalgic quality triggering memory and we thought it would be fitting to use since it was a place Pat spent his childhood. We’d shoot on film if we have the necessary resources in being able to do so. If the difference between shooting digitally and film is minimal, film it is. For the better, usually which medium to shoot on is dictating first, by story, then secondly and more realistically, the resource in which to make that happen.
The VHS tapes held the ethos of the film. When Pat’s grandmother mentioned she had those all VHS tapes on the call, immediately my mind went to finding a structure to where it could fit in the film. I was blown away once I saw the footage. Aside from the film, I know it was a personally hitting moment for Pat to stumble on something that reconnected him with a past that he had never seen in that way. To never think something like that existed and to stumble across it, truly holds no words. It’s unbelievably brave to open up a deeply personal story for the world to see and connect to. It ended up setting the tone of how the film unfolds.
Pat – The 16mm choice came after we drove up to Fall River to scout and took a bunch of 35mm film photographs. Once we saw how those came out, we decided film was the only way to go. When I think of growing up in Fall River, I think about the muted blue/white/brown/tan color tones, the emptied-out mills, the way the sky almost feels like a blown-out gray glow… it all just made emotional sense to shoot on 16mm. I can’t imagine it shot on 0’s and 1’s digitally.
It’s funny you bring up the VHS home movie footage in relation to the 16mm, because that was actually the last puzzle piece to fall into our laps. After we’d shot all the 16mm and interviewed my grandma, she mentioned that she’d found a bunch of home movies of us while we were already editing. We got them rush delivered and I was blown away on both a human level and as a filmmaker. That was the first time I’d seen my mom move since she died. We were very thankful that they cut together so beautifully with the stuff we’d already shot and the telephone recording of my grandmother’s voice.
MadeGood – It’s great at the end when she say’s ’no’ to, is Fall River a special place! Did you initially intend this to be a film about your childhood, or more about the place?
Pat – Yeah, I wanted her to sweetly say “Of course Fall River is special!” when I asked the question, but her response was perfect and exactly what I should’ve expected. We initially intended it to be about Fall River as a place, but through the process of making the film, it became a framework to explore my grandmother’s life and my own childhood. In the end, it’s about both though, because they are ultimately impossible for me to separate.
Jamil – It’s funny, I never expected her to say no as bluntly as she did but never really thought it was old of the ordinary because of how honest of a person I’ve gotten to know her to be. It made me laugh when she first said it. Genuinely laughed. When she went on to say “it’s not about the place, it’s about the people,” it resonated with me deeply because I moved 12 times in my childhood and longed to call a singular place, “home.” It made me think about all the places I had an attachment to and realized how that feeling of community was baked with the experiences and people who occupied those spaces as opposed to the physical places themselves. My home was associated with my parents and sister while the physical home constantly changed. That winter after shooting, I went back to a lot of my childhood places and it was melancholic. I felt a sense of emptiness because all the military bases I lived on were closed, vacant or occupied by another wave of people. I became unattached with the places and began thinking about the people, essentially what Pat’s grandmother was getting at.
MadeGood – What are you working on next?
Jamil and Pat – We very recently wrapped post-production on a narrative short called Gramercy, which about a young black man returning home to New Jersey. It explores his battle with depression in both his inner and outer worlds through impulse, memory, and day-to-day interactions. We’ve been developing it for years, so it’s really exciting to be on the cusp of sharing it with audiences. We’re planning on screening at festivals hopefully beginning early next year.