Blake Wil­liams

National Post (Latest Edition) - - SATURDAY FEATURE - Week­end Post

“There’s no story. There’s no cast. It’s not a doc­u­men­tary that ad­dresses a fash­ion­able is­sue. There is noth­ing about this movie,” ex­plains Blake Wil­liams, di­rec­tor of PRO­TO­TYPE, “that makes it saleable.”

PRO­TO­TYPE is a 63-minute ex­per­i­men­tal fea­ture about the dev­as­tat­ing Galve­ston Hur­ri­cane of 1900, a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter that, as Wil­liams de­scribes it, “rad­i­cally al­tered the way the south­east re­gion of Texas was mapped cul­tur­ally and in­dus­tri­ally and wiped out a third of a city.” But the film med­i­tates on more than in­clement weather: the evo­lu­tion of ra­dio, the dawn of mo­tion pic­tures, ad­vances in me­te­o­rol­ogy, the in­tro­duc­tion of the au­to­mo­bile, mon­u­ments and icons as place­hold­ers for his­tory. It may have started as a movie about a hur­ri­cane. “But it be­came this in­ves­ti­ga­tion into tech­nol­ogy and cul­ture and catas­tro­phe and trauma,” he says.

Wil­liams un­der­stands that such a log­line does not ex­actly au­gur main­stream suc­cess and that the eco­nomic di­men­sion of the fes­ti­val doesn’t make it easy to ac­com­mo­date films with­out ob­vi­ous money-mak­ing prom­ise. “I don’t re­ally take that part of TIFF se­ri­ously,” he ad­mits. “I’m not mak­ing the kind of film that has any se­ri­ous com­mer­cial prospects. Per­haps a small dis­trib­u­tor, feel­ing adventurous, could con­sider giv­ing my film a week-long run at a small theatre in New York. But, in gen­eral, it feels like I’ve just made another short film — one that just hap­pens to be a lit­tle longer.”

The ten­sion between the fes­ti­val’s com­mer­cial as­pect and the staunchly non­com­mer­cial movies it screens on the pe­riph­ery can make the ex­pe­ri­ence for an avant­garde artist like Wil­liams some­what in­con­gru­ous. Dis­trib­u­tors with no idea what PRO­TO­TYPE is still ring Wil­liams up to see about buy­ing it as a mat­ter of course – last week he got a boil­er­plate email from The We­in­stein Com­pany in­quir­ing about ac­qui­si­tion – and the ma­chin­ery of TIFF still whirs its un­wieldy way around him. Mostly he just ig­nores this stuff: he doesn’t have to worry, as high­er­pro­file di­rec­tors do, about se­cur­ing world­wide the­atri­cal dis­tri­bu­tion or mak­ing mil­lions on a deal. “It re­moves one layer of dis­ap­point­ment,” he says.

Nor has he had to worry about the or­di­nary back-end drama: no red car­pet, no af­ter-party. He doesn’t even have a pub­li­cist drum­ming up hype. “A pub­li­cist costs a thou­sand dol­lars. That’s more than I’m will­ing to spend to get a few more re­views or in­ter­views,” he says. “I’m not send­ing out press re­leases to all at­tend­ing me­dia say­ing you have to see this movie, here’s the pitch. I don’t know that my movie would ap­peal to many peo­ple who wouldn’t al­ready be cu­ri­ous enough to see it. If you need an email from a pub­li­cist to see this, you prob­a­bly aren’t go­ing to stay for the whole thing any­way.”

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