Filmmaker Focus: Anthony (Chusy) Haney-Jardine and Anywhere, USA

chusy-directs-anywhere-usa.JPGBy Darroch Greer

Sundance wouldn’t be Sundance without firmly keeping its foot in independent cinema. When the festival is literally overrun by Hollywood each January, and mainstream fare such as a Barry Levinson film has its premiere there, it is gratifying to see a film shot on video with no actors (save a 10-year-old) and edited in a garage competing in the Dramatic Competition.

Such is the case with Anthony (Chusy) Haney-Jardine’s Anywhere, USA, co-written with his wife, Jennifer MacDonald, starring their daughter, and shot in their hometown. Chusy, who is Venezuelan-American (his name rhymes with juicy), set out to make a subjective portrait of what he saw as his America.

“The presumption was that that take on America would somehow hold water, or at least other people would find entertainment in that portraiture,� Chusy says. “It’s not to me an all-encompassing portrait, it’s just a very personal portrait.�

Chusy and Macdonald formed a company called Found Films, and Anywhere, USA is very much a part of their gestalt. “Our strategy in making this film was to use what was available to us – what we found. What we found was on the streets. The cast was all from the streets, so to speak, in Ashville, N.C., where we made the film. Locations were found. We used friends. Whatever we could find, we used to make the film.�

The film is a triptych, three stories with interlacing themes, with the titles “Penance,â€? “Loss,â€? and “Ignorance.â€? Chusy and MacDonald wrote out different scenarios, then hit the street looking for their cast. They’d scour the Wal-Mart Super Store or the local Subway Sub Shop. “If we found someone particularly interesting, the cadence of their walk or their voice, or they seemed interesting to us–it was purely a visceral inner reaction–we’d say, ‘Hey, that’s an interesting person. Maybe we’ll call on them later.’ We’d fashion these stories, then approach people and say, ‘Hey, you’d be perfect for this.’ Sometimes we’d cast it the night before.

“A lot of the film was created in situ,â€? Chusy says. “So, the scenarios were fleshed out, but because we were using non-professionals of the most part, 98 percent–my daughter was the only professional in the whole cast–these people had other lives, other jobs, other situations, so sometimes somebody wouldn’t show up so we’d have to refashion the story. But we used a discipline of waiting for hours before shooting–sometimes minutes or seconds before shooting to write the film. And so there was no rehearsal, but there was no improvisation either. Every word in the film is scripted. It’s kind of an unusual modus operandi.â€?

Perla Haney-Jardine, the filmmakers’ daughter, was cast by her father in a commercial a few years back when he couldn’t find an unstudied child actor. She has since acted in Kill Bill, Volume 2, Spiderman 3, and just wrapped Michael Winterbottom’s Genova, with Hope Davis and Catherine Keener in Italy.

To capture these unusual acted moments, Chusy decided to shoot on Panasonic’s AG-HVX200 at 720. They had tried the Varicam, but it was too bulky for their run-and-gun style. When they heard the HVX was coming out, they actually delayed production to give it a try.

“We chose that camera because it was unobtrusive to actors,â€? Chusy says. “These are non-actors. So, it was a small camera, yet it delivered a pretty extraordinary punch. I also love the fact that it had–because you couldn’t put prime lenses on it, the close-ups have this incredibly strange deep focus, so it creates its own aesthetic, this plasticity that I’d never seen before. I kind of fell in love with that look. There’s something very odd about it. That oddness is a great combination for this film that was very personal–and odd, in a good way. By odd, I’m saying it’s peculiar in the sense that it’s perfectly personal. … I was just astounded by its results, and I said, ‘Yeah! Let’s go with this.’â€?

The DP was Patrick Rousseau, who helped give each of the three stories a decidedly different palette and look.

“In the first story, when you see the film, you never see the camera move–ever,” Chusy says. “And it’s shot from the perspective of if a 12-year-old were standing in front of me, and they could only move their head one way or the other. How would you frame it? In essence, the first piece is the sophomoric, puerile person in me–that pays penance! The visual obligation we set for ourselves was, How would a 12-year-old look at this and frame it–literally, if they had a still camera? Also, the first story is a little more lurid, the colors are more lurid, and it had that visual aesthetic.

“The second story is the story of my daughter. I call it the heart of the film. The camera moves a lot, it’s very visceral, there’s a great deal of hand-held photography. It veers over toward a blue palette.

“The third story, I like calling it Masterpiece Theatre gone awry. It’s shot in a long master sequences with no edits–wide shots with some subtle camera movements. Again, the visual vocabulary just fit each milieu. All three are in different socio-economic settings. The third one is more posh, and is reminiscent of a bad BBC production–though entirely American.â€?

When I asked Chusy for any touchstones that might have inspired his eccentric approach, I expected to hear Harmony Korine or, perhaps, Werner Herzog. Instead, Chusy mentioned a sculptor who works in molten gold in the minute while it’s cooling, and a chair made from found wood, named for shantytowns in Brazil. “I ran into this chair, called the ‘favela chair,’ done by these Brazilians called the Campana Brothers. They’d fashioned this chair, that looked just like a chair, but they’d given it a skin, and the skin was made out of discarded pieces of all shards of wood. It was a remarkable thing to look at, and I found that really interesting–that my films could be a chair.â€?

Chair or no, Chusy’s film interested the jury at Sundance.

“It’s a shock to us that we’re in the festival,â€? Chusy says. “The shock is even exacerbated by the fact that we’re in the Dramatic Competition, a little film like ours. On a personal level, it ranks behind kissing my wife for the first time or seeing my children born–but close! It’s amazing! What it means for our film is it’s a validation for the idea that you can make a film that’s pretty polished, but done in a way that’s completely homemade. Because of the democratization of the equipment, the relative low cost of entry, you can pull off a film like this, and the film can also make it into Sundance with films that, though I haven’t seen them, I suppose they have considerable budgets behind them and stars and all that stuff. And, it’s kind of neat that a film like ours would get validation. When you make a film intimately with a small crew and then you spend time editing yourself, you start thinking, ‘Are these suppositions as presumptuous as you think they are?’ And, ‘What am I doing? Who’s going to find this entertaining or moving?’ And I guess Sundance, who are ultimately arbiters of taste in a way, have said, ‘You know what? We suspect you may be right in that little cave of yours in the garage where you’ve been editing.’ Maybe, in essence, the film is more than just chewing gum for the eyes and ears.â€?

Click here for a podcast with Chusy

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The editors of Digital Content Producer and millimeter post live from the Sundance Film Festival as the news happens. Check back several times a day for the latest industry news, reports from press conferences, and product introductions.

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