Michel Orion Scott has been documenting life, the universe and everything for a long while - this year his latest effort screened at Sundance - "Over the Hills and Far Away." But to understand an artist's work we often have to go...
BACK TO THE BEGINNING
One of his earliest films, "Beginnings and Endings" was an experimental venture into the death of his grandmother through the eyes of his mother - a compilation of 8500 hand painted frames, with a voice over of the story. Although Scott's "Beginning" may have been abstract, he sees any good film making as art. What really made this a learning experience for Scott was the joy he got from constructing a film - now he admits this is still his favorite part of making a documentary: the process. It must be something you care about and enjoy.
THE NEXT ATTEMPT
Funded by a film grant, Scott traveled to Bolivia to make a fiction film based on a South American myth. Scott said his experiences with the indigenous Bolivians were fantastic, but the film itself was a humbling experience. Being a student, Scott didn't cover as much as he needed to while in Bolivia, so the end product fell a bit short of his expectations. Even so, the trip prepared Scott for other rugged adventures he would have later like...
The Sundance film discussed above, "Over the Hills and Far Away" is about a couple who decides to take their autistic son to Mongolia and search for healing via horseback (the child responds to horses). Obviously, shooting on horseback doesn't seem like an ideal situation. The whole ordeal was very physically demanding.
What spurred the project was Scott's work on narrative films in Hollywood: after a particularly brutal job in an art department, Scott decided he didn't want to do film if Hollywood was all there was. Oddly enough, he met a man speaking about an indigenous African tribe at Whole Earth Provisions - he was the father of the autistic child mentioned above, and it was his suggestion that kicked off the project.
Although Scott doesn't usually use talking heads in his films, he felt that not including expert information on autism would be irresponsible. Autism is such a complex disorder, Scott felt that the audience needed some explanation of the child's condition.
The project was shot on HDV, and although many people knock this media's quality, I think the images are crisp and clear. Selecting HDV worked well for Scott, since the camera he used had to be rugged and versatile.
"Over the Hills and Far Away" is a recipe for successful documentary. The story is catching, the characters are unique, the images are beautiful and the personal impact is compelling. After only seeing a few extended clips, I already find myself rooting for the family, hoping that their son can be healed. I also think this documentary benefits from Scott's varied experience in his career - a respect for indigenous tribes, a dynamic shooting style, and a vitality eveident from scott's desire to produce quality film. I'm going to make my best effort to see the entire feature this spring break at SXSW film festival. Any fans of documentary should do the same.