Clara | Thursday February 6th, 2014
Four years ago, director Matt Porterfield presented his film PUTTY HILL at the 60th edition of the Berlin International Film Festival (Berlinale). His film was shown in the Forum section, for riskier festival formats ranging from innovative feature films to unconventional video installations. The Forum is where you are most likely to find cinema mingling with art.
Despite the hundreds of films that go through the Berlinale’s billboard, PUTTY HILL got noticed perhaps because – as the film’s producer Jordan Mintzer pointed out – ‘PUTTY HILL is “guerrilla film-making in its purest state”. In only 12 days of shooting and working with an unbelievably micro budget, Porterfield brought to the screen a group of nonprofessional actors who played not only their film characters but also themselves. Even if the film’s whole underlying structure was pre-planned, the development of the individual scenes was mostly improvised.
In a working-class neighborhood of Baltimore, a group of people are preparing to attend the funeral of the 24-year-old Cody, a friend who died from a drug overdose. The film seems to be composed of independent sequences which are carefully connected together through a combination of documentary and fiction, creating an extraordinary, hyper-realistic narrative. The director plays a key role in the storytelling – while the film’s scenes unravel he interviews his characters from behind the camera. And, even if they resist talking about themselves, the interviews manage to open a tiny window into the inner lives of the actors.
PUTTY HILL incorporates many standard ingredients of North American independent films: a heavy touch of regionalism, an atmosphere that can suffocate us on the other side of the screen, and a sad, melancholic beauty. Gus Van Sant’s Elephant and Paranoid Park, or Larry Clark’s Ken Park and Kids show many parallels with PUTTY HILL; all are films in which even the most pleasant scene is darkened by sorrow.
Clara Rodríguez Arasanz