“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.”