Back in 2007, Rooftop showed a short meta-doc by Michael Palmieri called How To Build a Better Rocketship. Later that year, I followed up with Mike to see what he was working on, and he showed me a 30-minute assembly of a feature-length documentary he was co-directing with Donal Mosher. I immediately fell in love with the stunningly beautiful footage, the intimate and evocative story, and the daring filmmaking style. After a trip out to Portland, OR, to check out the final edit (and give tiny little bits of advice), in September of 2008 Rooftop Films held the first ever public screening of Mike and Donal’s documentary October Country. Since then, the film has gone on to dozens of festivals and won numerous awards. Now it’s coming out in theaters, and of course I can’t recommend a film more highly. (And it goes without saying these days that for independent films, every ticket sold counts, particularly the first weekend!) I’ll be there on Saturday, and hope to see you there.
323 6th Ave. at W3rd St.
New York Theatrical premiere
Fri., Feb. 12 through Thurs., Feb. 18
The family will be in attendance at the 7pm show on Fri Feb 12; Mike and Donal will be in attendance at the 7pm shows from Feb 12 – 14.
Here’s what I wrote about the film back when we showed it, helping the film gain much-needed finishing funds and attention:
A beautifully filmed portrait of an American family struggling for stability while haunted by the ghosts of war, teen pregnancy, foster care and child abuse. This vibrant and intimate documentary examines the forces that unsettle the working poor and the violence that lurks beneath the surface of American life.
Every family is haunted by ghosts–some metaphorical, some literal. The Mosher family has more than most. Based on the essays and photographs of Donal Mosher (the family’s eldest son), and shot and edited by acclaimed director Michael Palmieri (Garry Trudeau’s Duke2000; videos for Beck, Belle and Sebastian and The Strokes), the filmmakers have crafted a deeply personal documentary with broad social significance. Shot over a year from one Halloween to the next, October Country hums with rich visual metaphors–distinct but subtle motifs illuminate each character like a revealing costume. The film paints a realistic portrait of a unique family that is sadly representative of the struggles of America’s working class.
Dottie married Don when they were teenagers, but he was shipped off to Vietnam at age 19, and came back, in his own words, “an asshole,” plagued by visions of dead friends and nightmares he can’t bear to describe, which burst and linger like 4th of July fireworks, resonating through generations. Still, with his dry wit, strong moral character, and tough love, combined with Dottie’s caring advice and eternal hopefulness in the face of inevitable despair, the two of them form the precarious source of stability for the family. “Family is the one thing,” Dottie says, “the government, or a bill collector, can’t come and take away from you.”
Don’s sister Denise, a practicing witch and lifelong outsider, has been painfully estranged from Don ever since he went to war. Her favorite place is the cemetery: “Some of my best friends are ghosts.” In this family, where the government and bill collectors are working to split the kin, relatives are sometimes eerily similar to distant and anxious spirits.
Don and Dottie’s child Donna also grew up too fast, and as a teenager she gave birth to Daneal, who was raised essentially without a father. Daneal weeps when she learns a sad new truth about her father, begging to be lied to. She’d rather live with her fantasy of a father than deal with the real thing. And so the cycle continues, as teenage Daneal is already a divorced mother, falling into yet another violent relationship with a man who thinks it’s funny when she’s mad. Still just a kid herself, Daneal wonders, “If you can’t take care of yourself, how can you take care of a baby?” She fights to keep her child from becoming yet another ghost, but you can see her drifting like the concrete river she stares at, sinking like the shots of liquor she downs all too often.
The last hope to break the cycle could be Donna’s whip-smart pre-teen daughter Desi. “Ain’t I a sweetheart,” she croons. “Not really. I wasn’t raised by the perfect family.” Standoffish but as sweet as Halloween candy, Desi seems poised to transcend the mistakes made by the older women in her family, despite a horrific revelation about her own history which has her ready to disappear at the count of one-two-three.
Struggling to hold it all together, Dottie organizes a Halloween party, because at least then folks can come in costume and pretend to be someone else. But everyone in the family knows you can only hide behind an apparition for so long. “Sometimes you wonder is this the real me, or is this something that’s been created,” Don says. “And you’ll never know.”