Chris Brown takes film-goers on a journey through high school life that remains realistic and authentically unique.
By Jacob Engels
Dark-horse indie filmmaker Chris Brown is exceeding expectations as usual. His latest film, The Other Kids, is billed as a daring mix of documentary and fiction – telling the stories of several high school aged teenagers. It can been seen at this year’s 25th Annual Florida Film Festival, competing in the narrative category. The Florida Film Festival is hosted by the South’s preminent arthouse cinema, Maitland’s Enzian Theater.
The Other Kids was shot in Sonora, California and reminds us Floridians that California is quite possibly the second best place to live in the United States. This film follows Brown’s Sundance award winning film, A River Changes Course, which Brown edited and helped produce.
Brown was first at the Florida FIlm Festival in 2011 with his film Fanny, Annie & Danny.
The vivid cinematography and genuinely interesting take on the tired and overdone “high school drama” shtick is a welcome change of course. Brown’s latest is competing at the Florida Film Festival and having its East Coast premiere on Sunday April 10th, at 6:30pm at the Regal Winter Park Village (TIX HERE). It will show again on Friday the 15th at 2:15pm. (TIX HERE).
The Other Kids trailer.
As one of many films we have screened in preparation for the Florida Film Festival, The Other Kids is one of the best out of A LOT of amazing films (GET TICKETS HERE). It is certainly a top-tier contender for the Audience Award. Our Q&A with dark-horse indie filmmaker Chris Brown is below.
First, tell us a little about yourself and what intrigued you about the film making process.
First off, let me say what an honor it is to be back at the Florida Film Festival. I was here in 2011 with my last feature, FANNY, ANNIE & DANNY, and I’m thrilled to be back. I’m a San Francisco-based filmmaker and THE OTHER KIDS is my fourth dramatic feature.
I work in both fiction and documentary, and with THE OTHER KIDS, I wanted to combine my favorite aspects of both forms to create something exciting, real and new. I call it a “fictumentary.” Basically, we used raw materials from real life to create a fictional universe. Unlike my previous films, THE OTHER KIDS was made without a script, without a conventional crew, and without professional actors.
The cast was composed entirely of real teens who based their characters and their stories on elements and aspects of their own lives and their own struggles. Although I loosely guided everyone through the improvisational process, set up the scenes and situations, etc, I tried my best to “direct” as little as possible.
My non-direction naturally frustrated the actors, but at the end of the day it forced them to find their own voices and discover their own dramatic solutions. What they ended up discovering had a force beyond anything I could have written. My main goal every day was simply to help the performers achieve a level of authenticity that felt like real life, which I as the cameraperson then tried to capture as best I could.
Your most recent project The Other Kids focuses on the lives of several teenagers – what makes it different and what was your hardest hurdle to overcome?
The typical high school movie often seems like a clever pastiche of a million other high school movies. And oh my god, I love a lot of these films! Some of them are among my favorite films of all time. But THE OTHER KIDS is a different thing entirely. It’s certainly unlike any film I’ve ever made, and probably unlike any film I’ve ever seen.
This sounds like hype, but it’s true. Audiences will see characters and moments in this film that they may never have seen in any movie before. I’m not talking big, melodramatic, daredevil stuff, I just mean basic, small, revelatory, human moments…a young girl teaching her friend how to use a rifle, a mother shaving her daughter’s head, a young man wrestling with a very rough situation…I don’t want to give too much away.
Audiences are so smart. I think that we filmmakers need to be smarter and bolder; we need to take more risks. Let’s face it, we’ve all seen a lot of movies! We know all the plots, we’ve memorized and metabolized all the genres and formulas. And we can’t help but draw from these sources when it comes time to make our own movies.
But in turning over these same stories, I feel like we’re rooting around in the same, tiny corner of an otherwise vast, beautiful and uncharted terrain. We don’t seem to realize that we’re limiting ourselves not only in the stories that we choose to tell, but in the ways that we choose to tell those stories. To me, the potential of film is crazily exciting. And there are characters and stories out there that have never been told. Stories have power. The stories we tell each other inform us about the world as it is today and our reactions to these stories in turn help to influence the world as it evolves.
Still from The Other Kids.
Storytelling isn’t just about entertainment and diversion. Storytelling is necessary to our development. And there’s a lot at stake here. I actually think that we’ve done damage to ourselves, that our junk-food film diets have made us intellectually bloated and passive. When we repeatedly reduce the world to simplistic systems of good and evil, when we devalue empathy and understanding, we systematically create a gullible and infantilized audience that begins to perceive the real world strictly in terms of heroes and villains, Goodies and Baddies, winners and losers.
Reality is more complex. As viewers, I think that we are hungry to see something real, something that relates to life as we know it — in all its messiness and turmoil, joyfulness and silliness. Show me something new, show me something about life as you know it, show me something that you truly care about, show me something urgent and necessary. And if you can, show me something specific. In making THE OTHER KIDS, we wanted to create an authentic, specific film about the high school experience as lived by this particular group of students in this particular small American town.
Had we selected a group of kids from another town even 10 miles away, the film would have been completely different.
The challenges?! Oh man: No script, a cast and crew of unpaid minors, a shooting schedule that lasted 18 months, and a location that was 140 miles from my home. I won’t even mention our nonexistent budget. Yeah, the challenges were many! But in the end, all of these challenges turned out to be powerful assets that insured that the film would be honest, fresh, and (above all) not just another high school movie.
I should probably add that one of the biggest challenges was to make a film about teens that wasn’t hopelessly distorted by my middle-aged perspective! Here once again, the teen cast kept me totally honest. They were in charge of quality control. They drove the process. Whenever I started to set up a scene or situation in a way they felt was unrealistic, naive or just plain stupid, they would instantly intervene, come to my rescue and suggest an alternate, more accurate approach — thank god!!
Besides narrative or feature length, do you do any commercial work?
I do. I tend to move freely between fiction and documentary worlds, with commercial and industrial work sandwiched between. I try to work in as many genres and modes as I can so that I can keep learning more and more about this vast filmmaking craft, which is really a lifetime project.
Since becoming a filmmaker, what has changed for you and what has stayed the same?
Well, I started making movies when I was ten, so…I’ve been doing this for a while! And the funny thing is that I’ve never lost my excitement for filmmaking. Being on the set, working with actors, playing with the camera, cutting two pieces of film together…I love it. It’s my sand box, my happy place. But I will say that what excites me about making movies today is slightly different than what excited me when I was a kid.
When I was starting out, it was all about polish and technical virtuosity and zippy camera moves, all of that. These days, what excites me most is the thrill of capturing something specific and truthful, something funny and dangerous, something with heart and soul, something that connects me to people and to the world.
Where can people continue to follow your work?
Buy your tickets to this year’s 2016 Florida Film Festival by clicking here.
Jacob Engels, is the Founder of East Orlando Post & Seminole County Post. He is a seasoned political operative who has led numerous statewide political groups and has worked on several high-profile local, statewide, and national races. Jacob has been interviewed on national television & radio programs, with his work having been featured in the Orlando Sentinel, New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald and other publications nationwide. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org