BY DEAN MOSES
Tales of bank robbers and gun-toting Robin Hood-esque folk characters such as John Dillinger, Jesse James, and Bonnie and Clyde have adhered themselves to American culture. The factual memories of these real-life figures have, over the years, been marred by countless fictional accounts that have transformed into hazy dreams lingering on the edge of the country’s consciousness. Some of us see these individuals as heroes, rebels who fought back against a flawed system while others among us know them as nothing more than criminals and even murderers. This thought process is as old as the bank robbers themselves, and that’s what Dreamland explores.
Debuting at the Tribeca Film Festival (TFF), Dreamland is set amidst the Dustbowls of the 1930s, which also happens to be during the Great Depression and the hay day of the most famous bank robbers in American history. Home-stead owners of this era were stricken by violent storms and poverty, reducing their already hard lives to incomprehensible struggles. It is here, in the direst of these times that we meet Eugene Evans (Fine Cole of Peaky Blinders fame) a teenager who lives with his mother, sister, and stepfather on a farm ruined by the elements of the time. In an effort to escape the hardships of everyday life, Eugene loses himself in dime novels: short stories that tell of bank robbing escapades—these were the superheroes of the time. It is clear on some level, even if it is somewhat subconscious, that Eugene admires these gunslingers, so when an actual bank robber by the name of Allison Wells (Margot Robbie) is said to be hiding somewhere in the vicinity he decides to go in search of her.
Initially he sets out hoping to capture Allison and turn her in for some much-needed reward money, that is until he meets her. It turns out Allison had been hiding out in his family shed all along. Dripping with blood from a bullet wound to the leg, she convinces Eugene to aid her, lying low from the law, gathering food, clothing, etc. From here on out we travel down a rabbit hole of fantasies for Eugene beginning to come true, straight from the pages of his dime novels. The feature soon becomes a race against time as he cares for her while she heals and the law creeps ever closer. Slowly the pair develop a deep friendship—almost to a magical degree. Their relationship almost resembles that between Elliott and E.T. This may sound absurd, yet Allison gives off an almost ethereal aura, a super-natural being that is not from Eugene’s world, which in fact she isn’t. The teenager is an everyday farmer’s son caught up in a drama he would only have experienced through books or the radio.
There is something enchanting about Dreamland. Like this young man, we are swept up in the adventure, for we all can relate to the childhood-like wonder of yearning for fantastic exploits. Still this feature pushes things even further. Through excellent writing, startling visuals, and a well-matched sound-track, we are shown that every choice, whether it is good, bad, well thought out or spontaneous, has a consequence. But, above all else, it is the relationships that carry us deep into the final act where we truly root for those we have fallen for.
After a TFF screening of Dreamland in the School of Visual Arts Theatre, Director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte and Cinematographer Lyle Vincent took time to speak with a moderator and the audience about the film’s production.
Moderator (M): How did you go about achieving the period look of the film?
Director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte (MJP): Through a really incredible production designer, Rose Meredith Lippincott, who kind of took what most production designers couldn’t do without a large budget and made it work. Production designers and even cinema photographers who’ve I spoken to about this project said that this film is not possible, and you are going to fail because there wasn’t enough money. What it came down to was really finding people who would go deep into the research of the time period. Lippincott’s grandmother lived in Texas during the Dustbowl, so there were objects in her house that belonged to her. It was about finding people who were going to do really important research and creating a visual language that felt representative of the time but not archaic.
M: The shower scene between Margot Robbie (portraying Allison Wells) and Finn Cole (portraying Eugene Evans) is so powerful, can you tell us why you decided to shoot it that way in one long shot?
MJP: From the beginning it was always written in the script as one shot, and we went through a few different variations. That was actually a scene when I had first received the script that I had spoke to Margot about my intention with it. I don’t like sex scenes or shower scenes in movies; it’s creepy a lot of the times. Very rarely is it actually on the merit of the performance and on the tying the two characters together who are earning each other’s trust in this moment. So, from the beginning there was this rule setup that when we see violence in Eugene’s life or when he experiences sex for the first time, a lot of these things will happen in real time. As oppose to fantasy movie time, which is sort of when he is sitting in the barn thinking. It’s the highlights. We want [the viewer] to sit in the reality of this kid being naked with a person for the first time in his life, and show how long, weird, and unsure the whole thing would feel. The shower scene was seven pages of dialogue. The whole thing was over the course of seven and half minutes.
M: Why did you choose to shoot some sequences in 16mm film?
MJP: This was something that would cut the landscape and make us feel both like something was memory and future projection. It felt like it brought us into Eugene’s head.
Cinematographer Lyle Vincent (LV): Yeah, I think because we shot digital 65mm for [a large part of the] film. You have such a different format with 16mm film on a Bolex camera that the differences are very striking. You see the grain and the softness of it, and the colors. I think it’s very effective.
M: In the credits it says that Miles Joris-Peyrafitte contributed to the score. Can you tell me about this process and what your inspiration was?
MJP: When we were shooting, we had a bunch of music on set. We wanted it to feel really handmade. We wanted it to feel like a lot of the textures and sounds that you were hearing were things that existed in Eugene’s ear space. So, there was a piano on set, and pianos were usually the first thing families bought during that time when their farm was [flourishing]. There were sounds of the piano, wooden sounds, and really percussive sounds; we really wanted [viewers] to feel the dust and sort of the grittiness and the decomposing of all of the elements in the film.
Photo by Dean Moses