Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.
Preston Barta // Editor
While she has many film and television credits to her name including RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, STARMAN and ANIMAL HOUSE, Karen Allen has been exercising her creative mind for some time. Whether it’s writing stories or directing theatre, it’s clear she’s made to do more than light up the screen and dazzle us with her charm and strong characters.
After directing theatre for the past decade, many began to ask the question of when Allen would dip her toes into the filmmaking pool. Like anyone making his or her first feature, it was a big deal to Allen. She didn’t want to direct the first script that landed in her lap. It had to come for a deep, profound and personal place.
The story follows a 12-year-old paperboy (portrayed in the film by newcomer Jackson Smith) who decides to stop in a local coffee shop before finishing his early morning route. When the boy enters the streetcar café he notices some soldiers, some laborers from a nearby mill and a curious old man (Jeffrey DeMunn) drinking beer alone.
After the café owner (James McMenamin) pays little attention to him, the boy decides to leave. But before the boy makes it out the door the old man declares that he loves him. This statement, of course, causes the boy to be taken aback. Embarrassed and unsure of what to do next, the boy sits down with the old man who offers to explain what he means.
“I read McCullers’ story when I was in my early 20s and it took a hold of me and hasn’t let go since,” Allen said during a recent phone call before the film’s regional premiere at the USA Film Festival. “It’s a very ordinary story about a mundane morning in a café, but McCullers wrote this beautiful exchange between a young boy and an older man that we know nothing about, a vagabond in away.”
Allen said she never grows tired of hearing about the nature of love. In her mind, the way in which our culture today teaches love as being something outside of ourselves, how it must be something grasped onto and held, and when we lose it we suffer, was something that needed to be explored more through storytelling. By adapting McCullers’ short Allen saw an opportunity to take an already heartfelt story about finding love within yourself and expanding its reach.
“Even in the times that we are living in right now, it’s such an important message to hear. I feel it more today than I did when I first read it. I think at the time I was very intrigued that this 25-year-old woman from the South sat down and wrote this rich story. Short stories are so extraordinary because it can send the reader through a whole world of experiences, and this story does just that.”
While A TREE. A ROCK. A CLOUD. may not feature many characters or take place in more than one location, it was the simplicity of the story that allowed Allen to bring more to the table as a filmmaker.
“People handed me many feature-length scripts before I decided to do this film. I know many directors who started their film careers by directing features. For me, however, it wasn’t something I wanted to subject myself to, because I observed the sheer level of panic on many of those director’s faces,” Allen quipped. “So I wanted to start quietly and delve into something that I loved already.”
The idea of falling in love, allowing someone to be loved or understanding how love can exist is individually unique. Each person has their own introduction and definition. Allen’s definition came from a rather surprising place.
“Not to speak ill of my parents, but they were very limited in that department. So I had to seek places outside of my own family,” Allen said. “I watched a lot of old films on television growing up and read a lot of great literature. They were all wonderful teachers, but I had a deep love for trees. I grew up always having trees as a place to go to for solace. They were very parental in nature and would absorb all my sorrows and disappointments.”
Allen’s connection and admiration of trees comes through in her directorial debut. At the film’s opening sequence, the boy can be seen with a tree. It was a little element from Allen’s life that she worked into the narrative.
A TREE. A ROCK. A CLOUD. reveals much about the weaknesses and strengths, victories and defeats that accompany life’s journey. Sometimes sharing simple, short stories can yield the most incredible results.
Allen’s short film will play Saturday, April 29 at 7 p.m. at the Angelika Film Center in Dallas as part of the USA Film Festival. Tickets can be purchased one hour before show time. More information can be found on usafilmfestival.com.