david j. moore chats with Barry Hunt about The Further Adventures of Anse and Bhule…
Barry Hunt’s post-apocalyptic art film The Further Adventures of Anse and Bhule is a lightning in a bottle experience. Set at least a generation after an apocalypse kills off almost every adult on earth, it focuses on a band of young men who have been forced to survive following the catastrophic events that isolated them from other bands of human beings. Anse and Bhule – the two leaders of their tribe of boy-men – venture off into the wastelands with their superstitions and their violent rituals, and they encounter two women – one young and one old – and their world is forever altered as they realize with growing clarity that their culture is misinformed and misaligned to the truth: That men and women are meant to live together in harmony. Theater director Barry Hunt’s film is an astonishing motion picture for the ages, and infused with a unique language, stunning art direction, and vivid performances, it is an eye-opener for true fans of post-apocalyptic cinema. Recently released on Amazon in the streaming format, the film deserves accolades and acknowledgment, and director Hunt discusses the film at length in this exclusive interview.
This film is so unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s incredibly radical and it had me riveted from the start. I noticed that it was based on a play. Why don’t you say something about the genesis of the project?
Tania Myren is the author of the original play. Sowelu Theater Ensemble, our company, put it on. We’re a theater company, and we produced it as a play in 1998 as a piece of theater. Through the course of our evolution as a company, we had a lot of young artists that we trained. We have a unique aesthetic and training ground. Very young artists. We’re talking 12-year olds, 14-year olds. They were growing up within the company and were becoming filmmakers instead of theater artists. As we mentored those young artists into film, we found ourselves as a theater company in a position to consider films. We’d had a history of making original works, original pieces of theater. We’d work with the writer and we usually do small, unusual pieces. There are things that a larger company might not be able to tackle – because we’re a small company – because they don’t have an easy, ready to market odd project, but we’re attracted to those pieces. When The Further Adventures was produced in 1998, it won multiple awards for performances and production, and design in Portland, Oregon. Then this decade or more later, when we were considering film, we went to Tania and she was very excited about it. She gave us complete free rein to complete the screenplay. She didn’t want to write it. Myself and Jeb Pearson worked on the dialogue as much as we possibly could. As you now, the dialogue is extremely unique.
That was one of the many things that struck me about this film is that you created a really fresh and original language that I could understand and felt was a kin to the language the kids spoke in George Miller’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. It also felt in tune to the true spirit of post-apocalyptic cinema. It had this ingrained spirit. The actors did such a great job delivering the strange dialogue. Say something about your cast and how they just jumped right into this world.
Cool. We went back to Tania for the source of that language. She was a religion major. She is an accomplished playwright, and she’s written many genres and many short stories and novels. This particular piece, she was interested in a phrase she heard. Or a word. She was just taken with the word, and these characters Anse and Bhule started formulating in her mind. Her history with languages and her religion major came into it. There’s a lot of archaic language and rituals that she used. There’s a combination of French and Spanish and old terminology, Old Testament terminology. It bounced from there. And then how we tackled it in terms of putting it into film from theater … there’s a real poetic quality to the language. I have a funny feeling about poetry and film. I don’t think poetry likes film. I feel the language has to be deeply rooted in the story. You can’t just let it float as poetry. So, I needed it to be deeply rooted in the characters, where they came from and where this language originated. That was the idea: “Hey, what if these guys originated from a Jesuit orphanage?” That allowed them to come from multiple cultures, and allowed them to have roots with religious ritual, and then have them separated from the adults. The language then felt rooted in an amalgamation of these children’s’ varied backgrounds, cultures, and languages. The childhood fears we see are rooted in the cultures and pop cultures they come from. We know they’re living in a cave. They’re a diverse group. I needed a grounding in the language and I needed the piece to become literal and leave the land of poetry and become grounded in film. That’s the feeling there. We have a company with all these actors who’ve been with us for 20 years. We’re used to navigating and looking for that way to connect the abstract to the concrete inside the actor. Another thing I really like about the piece is that it’s about the connection between these four people. That is another cornerstone of our trademark: We tend to be very truthful, very grounded, very connected. The language was really awesome, but it was so up in the air that we had to work to bring it down to those characters and make it their language.
The movie has its violence. I wouldn’t call it a violent movie, but it has stark, startling violence, and yet the movie has a wonderful sense of innocence to it. That’s very rare to find in an end of the world film. Say something about the juxtaposition of the horrid violence in the movie … it’s ignorant violence, in a way … and the innocence of the film.
Right, yes, it’s an ignorant violence. It’s a naive violence. It’s misinformed violence. That’s part of the transformation … there’s this boogeyman that has these characters coming from a childlike perspective. When they meet the women, they realize that it’s an illness that you can actually survive. They do wander off, they do have hallucinations, but they do survive the illness. They haven’t held on to anyone long enough to discover that they can survive. They’ve created that as an “other,” as a scourge of the land, but the violence is extremely naive. I love the way that it surprises them. Persephone says goodbye to Bhule at one point, she says, “Drink not of the river, eat not of the vine, and let the wind watch your back.” They’re not a science culture, they don’t know that this is poison. There’s that naiveté, and we watch Bhule unfold in front of you, his understanding. Again, the innocence is rooted in the fact that these adult men grew up without other adults around. They grew up around children. That misinformation and fear that created their culture, but then the film unravels it a little bit. That’s how the innocence is allowed to stay there.
Where did you film it, and how long did it take to film?
It was filmed in Oregon and Washington. Some of the landscapes are in central, southern Oregon. A lot of the grassy landscapes are on the Washington side of the Columbia River. That particular landscape is at the Maryhill Museum. They were very generous. Oregon Bureau of Land Management was very generous. We came from a theater culture, and theater is a not-for-profit culture, and we have donors. Film is a for-profit culture. Because we had a not-for-profit status, we were able to access relatively high production values on a very low budget. A lot of that was because of those landscapes. It took two years to shoot. We had to keep the actors’ hair the same length and we had to make sure they didn’t gain any weight. They really stayed committed.
The costumes and set design of the film are awesome.
Cool. The budget, to have an idea, was $60,000 for three years, so we ended up with about $20,000 each year that we could work with. I’m including post in that. We used a studio in Portland, and the studio really liked what we were doing. They knew we were going to do something interesting. The studio was given to us for three months. We were able to work out of there. We were rained out several times and just used the studio. The sets were built by people just standing around with what we had available to us. The costuming and sets were divided up by a team of people – a team of artists – who worked as volunteers. We had a team designing the men’s culture, and a different team designing the women’s culture. A different team of artists created artifacts. We had some Afro-Caribbean culture there. The tents they carried on their backs were based on Native American Burden Baskets. We actually had seen smaller versions in the Maryhill Museum that we saw and we exaggerated them and made them larger. The only rule was that they couldn’t buy anything. We had 20 years of theater garbage. Anything that existed today, they could use. Bhule’s sleeves were the legs of jeans of an 8-year old. The other costumes were made from sheets and bedding. Those materials are what they had to work with, and they changed over time.
What are your personal tastes in post-apocalyptic cinema?
Well, I’m not a huge fan. I do like the Mad Max series. I like a good film, but I won’t watch everything. I’m much more into a variety of genres. I entered this film not because it was in a particular genre, but really for the characters and for the relationships and the story. The genre was just something that I was put with. The aesthetic of this film does have a lot of influences, but not necessarily post-apocalyptic films. It makes me laugh because of the way it crosses film genres. It has a lot of elements of silent films and westerns from the 1920’s. Warner Bros. films. I really love Bonnie and Clyde. Another thing we tackled in our low budget is not to emulate or look like any other independent film. We didn’t want to compete with other independent films. Each year, movies all look alike, and it does have to do with which camera of the day is used. They look like the technology they’re using. We wanted to make sure that this film did not land in a particular year. We didn’t want it to look like the year it was made. I also felt that we were making a low budget, indie film, and we didn’t know how high we could go in terms of sophisticated technology before we were judged too harshly. How low, how rough, how raw can we be, technologically? How high can we get before we go up another step, we’re going to be judged against other films that we can’t compete with? Our aesthetic choice in shooting was to really look at that ’70s film era. It’s a really an homage to a ’70s film, in a way.
I wanted to mention the score. It’s got a very interesting score.
Yeah, that’s Jon Clay. We were really fortunate with him. He has a classical, old-fashioned sense of music, but he’s a pop musician. He pulled that out of himself.
So you’ve got this completed film, what was next? What were you aiming to achieve by getting this film completed? What was the intent on its release?
It was really just to make a film. We wanted to take the journey. We weren’t from a film background. Our experience was mentoring filmmakers. We didn’t have a clear sense of a journey for this film. It wasn’t responded to the way you’re responding to it, as a post-apocalyptic film. Most people saw it as an art film. I’m really curious if the post-apocalyptic community will see this as a fringe piece.
I absolutely see this as an art film. It reminds me of a Guy Maddin movie. That was part of the appeal for me. But it absolutely belongs right next to the great post-apocalyptic films, though. I believe that absolutely the post-apocalyptic community would fall in love with this if they only knew it was there.
Our distributor doesn’t know what to do with it. They like having it, but they don’t know how to sell it. They’ve been trying to sell it as an art film. They’re the ones who put it up on Amazon, so thank God it’s at least up there where people could find it.
Say the world were to end in the way this movie portrays and you find yourself a survivor in that world. Do you think you’d make it as a survivor in that type of setting?
Hm. My first impulse was no, but then I actually thought about it again because I can’t bear being told no. The fact that this film came to exist is through a sheer strength of will. It was improbable, and every obstacle becomes a challenge that I am driven to overcome in some way, so maybe I would survive in some way.
Who is the audience for this film? I certainly am, but who do think is the target?
That’s a really hard thing for me to do. I don’t always think of things that way. I just tried to tell a story with as much truth and detail as I could muster. That’s my goal. From our history, I’m always surprised by who are audience is. It’s a relatively diverse audience. If people see it, there’s usually a point of impact. It becomes very personal to them, so it makes it hard for us to pinpoint who it’s for.
david j. moore
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