It's rare that a first-time feature director can make as competent a film as Brooklyn-based Daniel Patrick Carbone with Hide Your Smiling Faces. New York Times critic Stephen Holden compared him to the philosopher-turned-filmmaker Terrence Malick, and it's not a stretch. His film follows two young brothers who do not look unlike the kids in The Tree of Life. The film's scenes are also associatively patched together (Carbone also edited the film), evoking a series of vignettes rather than a straight narrative. Carbone, a graduate of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts with several cinematographic credits to his name, also knows how to shoot pretty pictures.
The film follows two brothers in their teen years. Eric (Nathan Varnson) and younger brother Tommy (Ryan Jones) indulge in their summer vacation by swimming in a lake, wrestling with their friends, and breaking into an abandoned house. Their summer break is upended when a friend of Tommy's suddenly meets a violent death. With its distinctive and subtle style, the film explores feelings of loss while life insists to relentlessly move forward.
Ahead of Carbone's visit to South Florida, where he will personally introduce the film at exclusive screenings at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, culminating in a conversation with this writer and noted New York film critic Amy Taubin, Carbone answered a few questions about his obtuse yet brilliantly expressive debut feature.
Cultist: Where does the story of these two brothers come from?
Daniel Patrick Carbone: The story within Hide Your Smiling Faces came from my own memory of childhood. The film isn't autobiographical in the traditional sense, but the relationships between the characters and the emotions explored are all inspired by specific moments from my own childhood. It was also shot in the locations and homes I grew up in, so it is very personal in that sense. The script began as a series of loosely connected vignettes. I was more interested in creating a series of moments that informed one another through a common set of themes, than I was about sticking to a classic structure.
You don't seem to reveal time or place. I didn't even notice a cell phone. There's a generic sort of atmosphere that places the film out of time and place. Why did you do this?
I wanted the film to have a sort of timelessness to it. There are some details in the film that point to an early '90s time period, but it was always intentionally vague. I knew that I wanted to exclude technology, and show youthful interactions during a time when cell phones and the Internet were not a factor in communication. A lot of small American towns feel sort of frozen in time, like nothing has changed since the '50s. I've always found that very interesting. I didn't want to give this film a specific time or place because I wanted the audience to be able to place themselves in the world -- to fill in the gaps with their own memories and experiences. I found that by being less specific, the film causes a more active viewing experience. I've shown the film in dozens of countries and at nearly every screening, someone tells me the locations look like the place they grew up. Having that sort of universally-relatable atmosphere was important to me, and making it clear that this was New Jersey in the early '90s would have immediately alienated a large part of the audience.
How did Kickstarter help you with making this film?
We used Kickstarter during pre-production to help spread the word about the film and develop a solid group of supporters. The money raised was only a small fraction of the budget, but the ability to share information with hundreds of people who were literally invested in the film was invaluable. I think it's a powerful tool for artists, and the social elements can be even more beneficial in the long term than the financial elements.
Do you have any tips for aspiring filmmakers who want to use a Kickstarter for funding?
If I could do it again, I would have run my Kickstarter in postproduction. For a first time filmmaker, its hard to get financial support from anyone outside of your friends and family, especially with no footage to share, and no proof that the film will even get made. If I had waited until after I shot, or even after I had participated in a few of the labs and other programs I took part in, I'm pretty sure I could have raised quite a bit more. If you aren't a recognizable name with a solid track record, postproduction is likely a better time to ask for money from the public.
This film premiered at Robert De Niro's Tribeca Film Festival and was picked up by its distribution company. How did you feel about that?
The Tribeca Film Festival was an incredibly experience. We had just come back from the Berlinale, and I was thrilled to carry that momentum into a hometown North American premiere. We had great audiences, lots of word of mouth, and some really strong press. It also led to the eventual deal with Tribeca's distribution arm, Tribeca Film. It's been a dream come true having a great distributor pick up the film and get it out to a wider audience. Having my first feature open theatrically in multiple cities and get such strong placement on VOD was simply not something I ever imagined could happen. This was a tiny film made by a group of my close friends. Top-tier festival premieres and distribution was not even on my mind while making the film. The response has been amazing. It's been surreal and wonderful.
Did you hear from De Niro at all?
Not yet, but I'm waiting by the phone!
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Hide Your Smiling Faces opens today at 7 p.m., at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, 1130 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. 305-673-4567. mbcinema.com. The director will present the film on April 26 and 27, at 7 p.m. On Tuesday April 29, at 7 p.m. New York film critic Amy Taubin and Miami-based film critic Hans Morgenstern will share the stage in the first installment of the Knight Foundation-sponsored series "Speaking In Cinema" to discuss this film and others.
Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter @HansMorgenstern.