Call Answered: Bryan Powers: "Time is the Longest Distance"
Bryan PowersLast week I went to NewFest, NYC's premiere GLBT film festival, because I wanted to see Sam Greisman's film Dinner with Jeffrey. What I discovered during the "Boy Shorts" viewing were some other remarkable movies such as Time is the Longest Distance, a film about an estranged son’s journey to reconnect with his Alzheimer’s-stricken father, and the teenage boy he meets along the way.
As someone who's gay and lost a grandparent to dementia, I connected to this film on many levels. Bryan Powers wrote & directed a powerful short that rightfully so is getting rave reviews at film festivals around the world. Time is the Longest Distance was accepted into over 20 film festivals and so far has won "Best LGBT Film" in the Toronto Independent Film Festival" and "Best Student Film" in the West Virginia FILMmakers Festival.
Time is the Longest Distance will next be screened at the following festivals:
Kansas International Film Festival (All In The Family Shorts) on November 5 at 2:45pm
Yonkers Film Festival (Westchester Shorts 1) on November 8 at 6:30pm
Rome International Film Festival on November 10 at 4:30pm
Monarch Film Festival (Student Block) on December 2 at 2:15pm
1. Who or what inspired you to become a filmmaker? My father managed movie theatres when I was growing up and I spent countless hours watching, and re-watching, whatever he was screening. The cinema was my babysitter and the movies my playmates. Dad was also a journalist and progressed from theatre management to film critic. We attended many films together and I would accompany him back to the newspaper where he’d type up his reviews. Discussing, and sometimes arguing over, films with my dad gave me an appreciation for movies as not just a form of entertainment, but as a form of art.
I originally pursued acting, but had to pay the bills and ended up in retail sales, which led to an unexpected career in retail visual merchandising. However, my love of cinema never diminished and I was always watching whatever I could and constantly reading about film and filmmakers. It was my long-delayed discovery of the films of Francois Truffaut, specifically The 400 Blows, that led to me returning to school to pursue my BA in Film. Something about the humanistic approach of Truffaut’s storytelling really inspired me. Additionally, Truffaut's own story, of growing up with a love of film, becoming a critic, and then choosing to make films also influenced my decision. Although I initially thought I would just pursue editing, which I still consider my favorite part of fimmaking, completing a thesis film that I had written and directed was required for my MFA studies at City College of New York. It was a big challenge, despite having made some previous, smaller shorts, but I am so happy I was forced out of my comfort zone or a dark editing room and forced to be the one making all the decisions — from conception to production, to post-production. It resulted in my film, Time is the Longest Distance and I am now anxious to tackle new projects as a writer/director/editor.
Claudia Murdoch, Bryan Powers, and Andreas Damm NewFest NYC 2017, Photo Credit: Emilio Seri2. I just saw your latest short film, Time is the Longest Distance at NYC's NewFest. It was so powerful and beautiful. The film is based upon your own relationship with your father. When did you initially have the idea to make this film? How long did it take you from idea to completion? Thank you for the compliments. I am so pleased you were moved by the film. The script’s inception arose from applying to grad schools and trying to come up with ideas for what would make a good thesis film. Many grad schools want to know from the start that you have a viable concept for what might become your thesis. As with most films I’ve made, the script started with images. While some of these where too complex and didn’t end up in the final film, they mostly concerned the passage of time, the change of seasons, and the transient nature of life. From there, I took narrative elements from my own life to develop characters and potential situations where those characters would be in conflict, or would somehow influence one another.
Originally, the character of "Xander," the teenager who finds himself pulled into the story of a stranger trying to reconnect with his Alzheimer’s-suffering father, had a story line of his own. He had his own issues with his father and the chance encounter with "Jack" in the film also worked to help him though his issues. But it’s a short. I had to focus the story and narrow it down a bit.
As part of my MFA studies, the first draft of the film was completed in December of 2014 and then workshopped for months. After casting and pre-production work, we shot on location in the Bronx in the fall of 2015 and the final version of the film for City College was finished by May of 2016. After that, we spent additional post-production time on color correction and an original score, both of which were done pro-bono so I had to wait until those artists had the time to make their contributions. Our first festival screening of the final version of the film took place in April of this year.
3. How did you partner with Cup of Joe Film for this release? What did they get about your film that perhaps another film company did not? I placed an ad, seeking a producer on Mandy.com, a job listing site for film professionals. I had very limited funds to offer, but hoped to find someone that was looking for experience and believed in the script — connected to it deeply enough to dedicate long hours on the project without any expectation of real financial reward. Surprisingly, I had a good amount of applicants. A couple meetings with a couple of them were rescheduled, for whatever reason, and Claudia Murdoch was the first producer I was able to meet. She was also the last. We had an immediate connection — Claudia having switched careers around the same age as myself, and having a personal connection to the storyline of caring for a loved one with dementia. She was also very organized and outgoing. I’m organized, but am more reserved. I needed Claudia’s fearlessness to make the connections, to find the locations, to deal with all the "wheeling and dealing," for lack of a better phrase, that gave me such anxiety. I must say, finding and choosing Claudia was the best thing that happened to the film. I’m confident that it wouldn’t have had the success it’s had without Claudia and Cup of Joe’s unending dedication.
Time is the Longest Distance4. What was the hardest part of the film for you to write? The encounter between "Adam" and his father was tricky. I didn’t want it to be too predictable or too melodramatic, but I also needed it to pack an emotional punch. Getting the dialogue right and dramatizing the moment visually — the awkwardness of "Adam" in trying to get-up his courage and his dad "Jack’s" business with the radio, turning up the volume, which leads to "Adam" taking action. That whole scene was difficult to edit as well — finding the right rhythm and knowing when to to cut to the reaction shots of each character when the encounter goes south.
5. What did you learn about yourself from making this film that you didn't know going through these events? If you mean what I learned making a film based on aspects of events from my own life, I’m not sure. That’s not something I think I’ve really considered. I guess I’ve learned that I need to try to take advantage of time in my own life. It’s cliche, but there really is no time like the present. And the present is all we have. I may say that I’ve learned this, but I can’t say I’ve fully embraced it or put it into action. I’m still great at procrastination. I’m trying to improve. I’m trying. Maybe tomorrow I’ll improve.
6. Time is the Longest Distance has been accepted into over 20 film festivals. It has won "Best LGBT Film" in the Toronto Independent Film Festival" and "Best Student Film" in the West Virginia FILMmakers Festival. What is it like to have your film not only accepted into these festivals, but then to win these awards? Do you need these accolades to know you made a good film? Did I make a good film? Just kidding...but not totally. I, like most artists, I think, tend to focus on what could be better. I still see all the imperfections in the film — most that are probably not even noticed by the average viewer, especially if the narrative works and they are drawn into the story of the film. Is there such a thing as a confident artist? Aren’t we all plagued by insecurities? Or is that just me? I imagine Tarantino doesn’t doubt his own brilliance. But all joking aside, I was happy to get the film into one festival — being accepted into so many and winning awards? That has been amazing. I was confident in the story I was telling and in most aspects of how we told it, but I could never have imagined that the film would have been embraced and praised by so many others.
7. What has been the most heartbreaking story you've heard from viewers after a screening? What has been a comment that just made your whole face light up and you still think about today? It’s been very touching to hear so many stories from viewers who themselves have been touched by Alzheimer’s and who tell me how much the portrayal of the father in the film rang true to them. After the film’s second screening at NewFest, I had a lovely gentleman come up to me and tell me how he loved how the film demonstrates some of the family’s resistance, conscious or not, to letting the father live in his own reality and how the film’s resolution comes from a moment when the family does allow the dad, without interruption, to live out what is real to him.
If I can share his story of his own mother who had Alzheimer’s, he told me he eventually came to the realization that it wasn’t productive, it didn’t help his mother or provide her any comfort, if he constantly tried to correct her. He realized she was much happier when he participated in her misconceptions, her perception of reality. One day (and I may not have the story exactly right) she asked him, "Who’s your mother?" He replied enthusiastically, "Who would you like to be my mother?" She responded, "Well, I’d like to be your mother." That broke and warmed my heart at the same time. I was so happy he took the time to find me and share his experience with me after the film.
"Time is the Longest Distance"8. As someone who lost a grandparent to dementia, watching your film, Time is the Longest Distance, brought up so many memories of my grandmother, especially when her memory was going. What was the toughest part for you, watching your dad's memory decline? Being that my dad was an avid reader and writer, it was hard to see him lose those abilities. With the loss of his short term memory, he could no longer hold the thoughts of what he has just read and couldn’t make it past a paragraph or two. The same was true of films, which he loved. He began to like simpler films, where the moments of each scene as they happen could provide him some joy, but where he didn’t have to comprehend the film as a whole. As far as his writing, I have a journal of his, written over several months. I’ve never been able to read the whole thing; it’s too heartbreaking. In addition to the frustration expressed in his writing, in not being able to put his thoughts into words, you can see the frustration in his actual penmanship; the writing becomes larger and more erratic. It’s tough to see that — a physical document and demonstration of his thoughts and emotions.
9. What is the fondest memory you have of your dad? I have so many. I get my height from my dad, but he was a bit stockier through most of his life, until the final years. He gave great hugs. I miss his hugs. Towards the end, despite him losing so much of what made him who he was, despite me never being sure if he recognized me or other members of my family, his love for my mom only grew stronger. That never went away. He never forgot his Betty and seeing her always brought him the most joy. She may have grown irritated at times by his constant declarations of love for her, but it was beautiful. They met in high school and were together for 60 years. I tried to show that love between the parents in my film.
10. After this round of festival screenings is over, what are the next steps for this film? Do you want to expand it to full feature? Or do you feel it's meant to be a short and you will focus on new projects? There’s definitely a feature in there. As I mentioned, I have a whole story for "Xander" and would love to explore his story before and after it intersects with "Adam’s." If I could find the time, and the financing, to expand it into a feature, I would love to take on that challenge. I’ve written two new shorts over the last few months, one that deals with the generational differences between the men who survived the AIDS crisis and the current generation of gay men who no longer see AIDS as a real threat. I would love to get that film into production. Traveling to several LGBTQ film festivals with Time is the Longest Distance, I’ve become aware of how a large percentage of the festivals’ audiences are men of a certain age. I think they long to see their stories on screen. And I think they deserve to be represented.
Bryan Powers at NewFest NYC 2017, Photo Credit: Emilio SeriMore on Bryan:
Bryan’s informal film education started early, as the son of a cinema manager and film critic. In 2016 Bryan obtained his MFA in film from the City College of New York. Previously, Bryan graduated Summa Cum Laude with a BA in Film from Hunter College where he received a scholarship from BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) and was nominated for Marshall and Fulbright Scholarships. In addition to being the editor on many projects, Bryan has also written & directed several shorts and has worked as an Assistant Director, Sound Recordist, Boom Operator, and Sound Editor on numerous others. Bryan’s past jobs in post-production include positions at DCTV and Tribeca Film Institute.