The AFI FEST Interview: FELT Director Jason Banker – American Film Institute

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The AFI FEST Interview: FELT Director Jason Banker

Jason Banker, the director and co-writer of the film FELT, uses the real-life experiences and artwork of co-writer and actress Amy Everson to craft a feminist tale that blurs the line between narrative and documentary. FELT, an Official Selection at AFI FEST 2014, is now in theaters. We talked to Banker about the film.

We love the feminist perspective of FELT. Did working with artist Amy Everson (the film’s co-writer and star) inform this perspective on the film? How did you discover her?

I randomly met Amy at a club called Popscene in San Francisco. She was dancing around like Michael Jackson and generally being a provocateur. It was hard not to be curious about what made her tick. After that night, my friend Jesse and I shot an impromptu music video with her wearing her custom naked woman costume in a graveyard by her house. That experience inspired me to want to dig deeper and make a film that explored the motivations behind her art. I was open to the film being whatever it naturally wanted to be, and that her specific feminist message be heard. Amy was excited about that opportunity.

jasonThis is your second feature film to use elements of real life woven into the narrative. What draws you to stories that occupy a space between reality and fiction?

Actually TOAD ROAD was made with a very similar reality-driven approach. I prefer to start with a person or a group of people and build the fictional story around their lives. Normally I begin by simply documenting. Then I slowly introduce fictional elements that expand on the story that is already there – but taking it in a much darker direction. By doing that, something uniquely honest and complex begins to happen. I feel like this is the best way to work with non-actors and it allows for unexpected elements to creep into the narrative. This approach is very compelling to me and allows me to work outside the box.

What was your experience like taking this film to various film festivals?

The festival experience with FELT has been great. When I started shooting, I told Amy that it would be a difficult process but, if she trusted me and let herself be vulnerable, audiences would connect with the film. It was a promise that I’m glad I was able to keep.

What were some of the more unexpected reactions you received to the film?

You truly never know what viewers will think, but in this case I’ve been surprised with the deeply positive reception. Several people have come up to Amy and me thanking us for telling this story. They’ve even shared their personal stories with us and have gone on to be huge supporters of the film.

What are some challenges in being an independent filmmaker?

I think other than financial issues, which are an obvious problem in the independent filmmaking world, I’ve been most challenged by the process of working with non-actors. It’s both a blessing and a curse they haven’t made a film before. Usually at some point during the shoot there comes a time where it feels like I’ve hit a wall with my actors and that they’ve had enough. Because of that, with both of my films, I’ve come very close to having them both fall apart and almost not get finished. But after a break in production, and the understanding that all the hard work will result in something special, they realize that it’s important to finish what we started. At this point, it feels like a certain amount of chaos is a necessary ingredient in the films I make.

FELT is now in theaters and will be available via VOD on July 21, 2015.

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