I was lucky enough to meet Mark Thiedeman at last year’s film festival after seeing his incredibly nuanced short A Christian Boy and have tried to follow his filmmaking career ever since. His films are like nothing you ever see coming from this state although I was told by one of his actors that his new film, Cain and Abel, playing at the festival this week was primarily shot in his apartment. Mark’s films are obviously influenced by some very great foreign films and it’s easy to tell that he has an obsession with the Criterion Collection catalogue like myself because his films echo a timelessness and beauty that is both subtle and grand. I wanted to talk with Mark about his film featuring this year that is a sort of retelling or rephrasing the biblical story of Cain and Abel.
Where did you grow up and what lead you to becoming a filmmaker?
I grew up in New Orleans, and luckily, my parents were very receptive to the fact that I was an artsy kid from early on. They put me in oil painting classes when I was three, let me sing in choirs, encouraged me to audition for productions at local theaters, and to write. Eventually, I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to be a visual artist, a writer, or an actor, so I decided to be a filmmaker. It lets you do a bit of everything.
Tell me about your film featuring at the 6th Annual Little Rock Film Festival?
CAIN AND ABEL updates the Old Testament story to the world of a contemporary small Southern town. It tells a story we’re all familiar with–the first murder–but there’s a bit of a spin. Cain, as a character, is largely regarded as one of the Bible’s great villains, along with Judas or Lucifer, but his struggle is very human and quite personal to me. He feels unloved by God, disregarded. That’s a horrible feeling, to feel that God loves some people more than others. And its a feeling that’s made all too possible by our present-day evangelical Christian environment.
Who or what made it possible to make your film?
This might seem to diminish the process a bit, but Samuel Pettit, Keith Hudson and I just decided to make a movie, and we did it. You really don’t need a lot of money to make movies, or a lot of crew members or even equipment. In fact, I find all those things to be a bit stifling. We worked from a loose outline and built the film out of images that spoke to us that we found over the course of a long, scattered shoot. We shot based on feeling and instinct, the way still photographers shoot, rather than by pre-producing the movie to death or copying pre-conceived storyboards. And I hope the images that you see are powerful. If they are, its certainly a tribute to the natural beauty of Arkansas, and to the multiple talents of Sam and Keith.
What do you hope audiences get out of seeing your film?
When I left New York to make films in Arkansas, a handful of good friends told me it was a really good decision. I was told, “the last thing we need is another New York filmmaker.” I think that’s true. I also think it’s true that the last thing we need is another Hollywood filmmaker. Being in the film community in Arkansas–which is still growing and finding its place in American cinema–is a liberating thing. We can be pioneers. Sam, Keith and I went a little wild with this movie, breaking a lot of traditional rules about storytelling and visual style–in short, breaking away from what’s expected of American filmmakers. I hope that, if people like the movie, they’ll see some potential for individualism in Southern filmmaking, to see that we can have our own voice, a new voice, and tell different kinds of stories in a different way.
Cain + Abel plays at 8:20pm on Thursday night at Riverdale and again on Saturday, June 2 at 11:00 am.