Alec Tibaldi’s coming of age film ‘Spiral Farm’ examines family dysfunction with a unique spin
Alec Tibaldi’s “Spiral Farm” 9:45 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 26, Treasure Mountain Inn Gallery, 255 Main St. 7:45 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 29, Treasure Mountain Inn Ballroom
Alec Tibaldi’s “Spiral Farm” examines family dysfunction with a twist: it’s set in a commune.
“Everyone who lives on a commune, which is about to 20 people, are really living as one large family, so how does that alter the relationships of the smaller, more immediate, families living within that setting?” Tibaldi said. “What would it be like to come of age in this very unique setting?”
Audiences will see Tibaldi’s answer when his narrative feature debut, “Spiral Farm,” screens on Saturday, Jan. 26, and Tuesday, Jan. 29, at Slamdance.
Although the film is a fictional account of a young woman coming of age in a communal setting, Tibaldi immersed himself in research while writing the script.
“I visited several communes in Southern California, and I interviewed people who grew up on communes during the ‘70s and ‘80s,” he said.
The main commune Tibaldi visited was a spiritual one.
“They grew hallucinogenic (cacti) and they would drink the juice for their summer solstice shamanic ceremonies,” he said.
The filmmaker also noticed how earnest the residents were in their desire for enlightenment and self-actualization.
“They tried to live in a utopia away from the world and the violence in the world,” he said. “I thought there was something admirable and brave in doing that.”
Tibaldi also felt a cult-like undercurrent during his research, and that furthered his determination to make the film.
“I had experiences as a child living in a cultish environment, and I think that’s what drew me to explore this concept,” he said. “I think family dysfunction is normal and exist in all families, but I think the commune does impact the relationships that do happen.”
“Spiral Farm” is about the impact two outsiders have on a commune, especially on 17-year-old Anahita, played by Piper De Palma.
“I thought that it would be interesting to tell the story of a teenager coming of age in the context of free love, and the ‘60s hippie lifestyle,” Tibaldi said. “I wondered what that would do to a young person who was rebelling and trying to find their own sexual identity in this culture.”
Tibaldi chose De Palma, daughter of prominent filmmaker Brian De Palma, to play his protagonist.
“I had worked with Piper on my first two short films, which were first times for both of us,” he said. “They were her first time acting and my first time directing.”
Tibaldi wrote the role of Anahita specifically for De Palma.
“She was influential in creating this character,” he said. “She and I had conversations about what she could bring to the role before the script was written.”
Tibaldi enjoyed the filmmaking because of the callaboration with De Palma.
“Because this is her first feature, it felt like she was taking a chance with me and I was taking a chance with her,” he said. “I really had to trust my instincts, which told me she would be great. But there were moments when I would doubt myself.”
“Spiral Farm” also features seasoned actress Amanda Plummer as Anahita’s mother.
“It was an incredible privilege for me to work with Amanda, who was so technically sharp and experienced in film, stage and television,” Tibaldi said. “I was grateful she would take a chance on a first-time (feature) filmmaker like me.”
Theo, played by Teo Halm, and his father Mau, played by Cosimo Fusco, are the outsiders who affect the commune, and their arrival adds to the tension between Anahita and her family, Tibaldi said.
Halm, known for his role in Dave Green’s 2014 science fiction adventure, “Earth to Echo,” is De Palma’s love interest in “Spiral Farm.”
“It was important that the character of Theo would be 18,” Tibaldi said. “We had read a lot of actors who were in their 20s, but you can see a physical difference between 18 and 22. So when Teo walked in a week after his 18th birthday, and you really felt his age. You knew he wasn’t faking it when he read his lines.”
Fusco, who had a recurring role in “Friends,” is a friend of Tibaldi’s parents.
“I’ve known him since I was a baby, and I just asked him to do this,” the filmmaker said. “He did me a favor to come on board.”
The mixed cast was rounded out by extras, some of whom grew up on communes, according to Tibaldi.
“The hope was the characters would feel authentic and the performances would feel inhabited,” he said.
The shoot lasted 13 days, and was done mostly with handheld equipment and available light.
“We shot with all natural light, because it was important to me for us to go through with the micro budget aesthetic as part of the look and feel of the film,” he said. “I think that limitation expanded the artistry. I wanted to work within the limit to push ourselves.”
Tibaldi is thrilled to screen “Spiral Farm” at Slamdance.
“I went to Park City last year as a movie fan to watch movies, and it was honestly one of the most transformative experiences I have ever had,” he said. “There doesn’t seem to be a cultural desire to see independent films in places like L.A., but you get to Park City and the entire city is shut down, and everywhere you go people are talking about independent movies. It’s the most empowering environment for a young filmmaker, and I can’t believe I get to show my film there.”
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Sundance schedules 11 screenings for its 2019 summer series, and the public can vote on one.