SXSWORLD November 2012


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Th e Chair: Short Film Dazzles Audiences from SXSW to Cannes by Eric Kohn Southern Wild, a movie that is similarly dominated by a young pro- tagonist, vivid imagery and a hypnotic narrative. Beyond their thematic and plot similarities, the two movies also owe much to their popularity at fi lm festivals. While Beasts began its journey at Sundance before heading to Cannes, Th e Chair premiered at SXSW in March, winning the jury prize before also landing a coveted spot at the French festival, the only American short to do so. But while Beasts seemed destined to be a breakout hit from the start, David never thought Th e Chair would gain the kind of exposure it eventually received. A lyrical story about an African-American boy dealing with death and alienation in rural South Carolina, the poetic aspects of Grainger David's short fi lm Th e Chair call to mind Beasts of the the short form. "I think one of the strengths of the fi lm is that it con- jures this really broad, mysterious universe outside the frame," he said. "Th e challenge with making it a feature would be to fi nd a way to tell a satisfying longer story that gives the audience a bit more information about what's going on." David took inspiration from his family's return home in the wake of a hurricane that left their ceilings covered in mold due to the excessively humid weather. "I was really struck by this feeling that if you step away for a few minutes, the natural world will start creeping into your space and taking it over," he said. "It was a reminder of that constant battle between man and nature, and even man and other organisms, that's going on all the time and that we tend to forget about until it hits us where we live." Th e basis for the story was sublimated into something far more abstract, but David found that the seed of his idea came through for many audiences. "I was surprised that some people thought it was a true story," he said. "It's a strange little movie. I was worried that people wouldn't go for the voiceover, or that it would be boring, all the normal stuff you worry about. But people were really enthusiastic about it." David was especially happy to show the movie on a big screen. "My goal was to deliver something that was cinematic enough to live up to the movie theater experience," he said. The Chair Carolina native and NYU fi lm grad said, recalling the SXSW premiere. "I was happy with how the cut had turned out, but I hadn't seen the fi lm yet on a big screen or with an audience, so I was really looking forward to seeing how it would play." Short fi lm programs are often marginalized at festivals and tend to "I was mostly just happy to be screening at the festival," the South fi nd their audiences online, but David had a diff erent set of expecta- tions. Th e Chair, which stars Khari Lucas as a boy whose mother has died from an unspecifi ed mold that eventually affl icts his entire town, screams for the theatrical treatment. Unfolding with a gorgeous story- book look that draws out the protagonist's limited view of an ominous world, the movie maintains its surreal tone while rooting the boy's expe- rience in a set of credible emotions. For that reason, David felt that it fi t 24 SXSW ORLD / N OVEMBER 2012 buried in the chaos of the French Riviera, but David escaped unscathed. "It was grand and fancy," he said, "but also exhausting in that 'when is this glass slipper going to fall off ?' kind of way." So far, the glass slipper has remained fi rmly in place. In April, David was happy even before the fi rst screening. "Most of the time I'm just having a little war inside with my hopes and beating them back so they don't get too high," he said. Th e laid-back SXSW envi- ronment helped him mollify any lingering fears. "It was a little bit like a dinner party with your favorite smart movie buff friends you've known forever," he added. "It was welcoming and easy and there was lots of beer and BBQ. It was the kind of thing I would want to do every weekend." Th at description stands in sharp contrast to Cannes, a dense realm littered with black tie aff airs and droves of industry types from nearly every country. Some fi lmmakers fi nd themselves In that regard, he won a $50,000 screenwriting prize from the Tribeca Film Institute and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for a feature-length script entitled Penny Stock, which centers on a geologist who discovers a massive deposit of diamonds in Canada. For the time being, he has left the world of shorts behind. "I'm focusing on features now, but I love short fi lms," he said. "I have a few sitting in my drawer that I'd love to make one day." Which is enough of a reason to expect that he may one day return to SXSW. ■

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