Seattle moviemaker David Russo is making his third trip to Park City this year, having had two of his experimental, pseudo-animated shorts, Populi and Pan with Us, premiere at the festival in 2002 and 2003, respectively. His first foray into features, The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle seems no less risk-taking than his previous work and was invited to screen at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.
The movie takes place in a market research facility where Dory (Marshall Allman) has started working as a night janitor. He and his fellow janitors soon discover that the research involves experimental, self-melting cookies that, in addition to causing mood swings and hallucinations, seem to impregnate men with small blue fish. Before the movie premiered in Park City, Russo took some time out to speak with MovieMaker about the miscarriages and misconceptions surrounding his movie.
Andrew Gnerre (MM): How did this wild-sounding (and awesome-sounding) idea germinate?
David Russo (DR): I was a janitor for 11 years. One night, early in my janitorial career, I found a miscarriage in a lady’s room toilet. The experience changed me. Later that same night, I found more of the usual porno magazines in the men’s room; porno in the men’s room, a miscarriage in the women’s. Along with newfound respect for the tough biological realities that women quietly cope with, it made me wonder how men would deal with the loss and loneliness of such a personal experience. Male miscarriage; from an allegorical standpoint alone, the subject seemed interesting fodder for an art work. Years later, the script bloomed.
MM: Coming from doing somewhat experimental and what seem to be painstakingly constructed shorts, what were the challenges (or pleasures) of moving to a narrative feature?
DR: My artistic process is all about trial and error because I’m an experimental filmmaker in the literal sense. When shooting a 126-page script in 19 days (graveyard hours) as we did, for a production that had less than three weeks to prepare, without me ever having been on an actual film set before… well, errors were bound to abound. The biggest difference from the way I worked before was no trial and error. Production floods passed in a giant wave and a month later you realize that you’re strapped permanently to all your mistakes: No learning from your errors, no re-shoots and no do-overs (one investor in particular made sure of that).
On the good side, that overwhelming cascade of production chaos strips you down to pure instinct. Having no time to over-think or over-control was a wonderful new way to live and create. By the end of production, like Pacino taking all the bullets at the end of Scarface, I was craving more chaos, more chaos! I’ll take all your fucking chaos!
MM: Your shorts are all visually arresting and the unique animation seems to always have been at the forefront of the projects. How did your approach differ on Little Dizzle?
DR: I love special effects. (There, I said it.) I think of all of my short films as “special effects movies.” It’s just that I go out of my way to try to create effects that actually are special. That said, if I just went on a self-indulgent, 98-minute, audio-visual art trip, I would wear folks out by the fifth minute. The challenge here was to create a story that could serve as an armature to hang a few dense, visionary moments upon, as well deliver a new world to the audience, complete with interesting characters, poignant moments and some non-shrill social commentary. So, the animation and artwork—for once—had to serve as augmentation to the feature meal, not its main course.
MM: As someone who has screened previous work at Sundance, what does this festival really mean for independent moviemakers?
DR: Redford gives you a very earnest spiel during the Director’s Brunch, encouraging all the invited filmmakers to call Sundance home. That same speech made me cry two years in a row. Whether anyone else buys that rap, I think filmmakers do need a place where they’ll be treated with a bit of respect, get a genuine shot at showcasing their work to industry folks and audiences that won’t just watch their movies, but pay heightened attention to them. Sundance does that like no other festival.
MM: What sort of hopes do you have on the eve of your first feature premiering at Sundance?
DR: The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle has a penchant to grow wild misperceptions about itself through synopsis and description. Honestly, I hope my film can overcome such prejudice once it is finally experienced. It has such good intentions.