Husband-wife team takes Half Nelson to screen
For Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, their film, "Half Nelson," marks a return to the Sundance Film Festival. Two years ago, the couple came to Park City with their short, "Gowanus, Brooklyn." They came away with the Grand Jury Prize in Short Filmmaking.
This year, the pair is set to return, this time with a feature-length film in the American Dramatic Competition.
"Half Nelson’s" story begins early in 2002, when they developed the script for the film.
"We wrote the feature version started writing it in May of 2002," Boden said.
The two attended the 2003 Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab, refining the project, and then, in May of 2003, re-fashioned the script into a short form, which became "Gowanus, Brooklyn." The momentum produced by the film’s 2004 Sundance win helped propel the project into its full-length version, which is written by both and directed by Fleck.
"I don’t want to say that it never would have been made without Sundance," Fleck said, "but it would have been harder."
The film tells the story of Dan Dunne, an idealistic inner-city junior- high teacher who works with intensity and enthusiasm to teach his kids history, while at the same time showing how events occurred and how his kids can institute change. Away from school, however, he lives a different life, with a major drug habit and serious problems.
He manages to keep his two lives separate, until one of his students, Drey, discovers his secret. But that discovery leads to a friendship that proves key for both.
Fleck said making the film proved different than their experience with "Gowanus, Brooklyn."
"The biggest thing for us was making a feature with a lot more money and a lot more people involved," he said.
"Here we had the full machine in effect," added Boden.
While the short focused on Drey, played in both films by Shareeka Epps, limiting itself to just a few scenes from the feature, "Half Nelson" focuses on Dunne, played in the feature-length film by Ryan Gosling, and his transformation with Drey.
The name of the film, according to Fleck, comes from a Miles Davis song of the same name.
"Anna and I loved the way the song’s title worked as a metaphor for being stuck in an uncomfortable position," Fleck said in his director’s statement.
"Though the story isn’t literally about wrestling," he continues, later in the statement, "’Half Nelson’ depicts characters who are ‘wrestling’ with various aspects of themselves and their roles in the larger world around them."
Boden said the idea for the script was inspired by their neighborhood for which "Gowanus, Brooklyn" was named and a fairly basic idea.
"Four or five years ago, when we started writing the script, we wanted to write something about friendship," she said, "and in the process, weave in some political stuff."
She and Fleck worked from there, expanding upon that basic motivation.
"The movie is a lot about somebody who wants to make a change in the world and who is kind of frustrated in an attempt do to that," Boden said.
At the same time, she and Fleck said their work on the movie was influenced by the music the band Broken Social Scene.
"When we were writing we listened to it a lot," Fleck said.
"What strikes us about the music is how much it evokes a feeling and how human it is," Boden said.
"If we could evoke the same kind of emotions with the film that I feel when I listen to the music," Boden added, "the movie would be spectacular."
Fleck and Boden met making a student film in New York City after he had recently graduated from the New York University film school and she was studying at Columbia University.
After collaborating on that project, the documentary short "Have You Seen This Man," which aired on PBS and the Independent Film Channel, the couple eventually married, and since then they said working together on their projects has seemed natural.
In conversation, the two will finish statements, speaking for each other, as a team.
"The process is pretty fluid with us," Boden said. "We work pretty closely on it."
"It’s a unique situation," added Fleck, "because it’s a film by Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden."
While Boden’s main credit is for her writing, she and Fleck said she was on the set during the filming and had a significant role in the film’s production and editing.
The couple said they are happy to return to Sundance, although with their previous award, they said they do feel some added expectations.
"Yes we’re excited and yes there’s pressure involved," Fleck said. "Now we have people’s money; and they want to make their money back."
But Boden noted that the movie fits in with the film festival quite well.
"It’s the perfect place for this movie to premier," she said, "because Sundance was so involved with the making of this film."
"The plan was to hopefully go to Sundance, and we were excited when we learned we were going back," Fleck said.
"Half Nelson" will premier on Jan. 22 at 2:30 p.m. at the Racquet Club Theatre as part of the American Dramatic Competition in the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. For a complete list of screening times, go to http://www.sundance.org.
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