Blood Brothers (Short Film)

25 May

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Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Blood Brothers” is a half-hour-long short film with an interesting backstory. The main question I had to ask myself while seeing it (at its Little Rock Film Festival premiere) was whether or not the film turned out to be as interesting as how it was made. Before I get into the actual review of “Blood Brothers,” I feel an obligation to share what I know of the backstory:

Two young, independent filmmakers—Jason Miller and Seth Savoy—met and associated with many different film projects in Central Arkansas (most of which made in association with the University of Central Arkansas’ Digital Filmmaking Program). The two, despite their differences in vision and directing (and age difference, as Miller is about seven or eight years older than Savoy), became very good friends and effective creative-partners. Savoy announced he would be moving to Chicago to attend Columbia University to further go into the art of filmmaking, and so the summer before he left, he and Miller co-directed a short film called “The Backland’ (which is still in post-production, due to complications). But as Savoy moved away, and he and Miller kept in touch online, the two came up with the idea to continue making films together. So they had an unusual plan to make two parts of the same film. See if you can follow this—the two would write their own stories and link them as two separate stories for one whole screenplay; then they would collaborate on how it would seem like they were really making the same film in a way; and whatever they film (Miller in Arkansas, Savoy in Illinois) would be sure to connect to an ending in order to make it whole, for sure.

So basically, what Miller and Savoy had here was an ambitious project that required them to collaborate from their own living environments. And so, “Blood Brothers” was the project that was created—two different directors, two different casts/crews, and two different parts of the country. Miller and Savoy put their heart and soul into this project and went all out to make it the best damn film they could make together, despite being separated from each other. (And reportedly, according to Miller, collaborating on this project made the friendship between him and Savoy even stronger—“I’d say we were good friends before he left for Chicago; we’re great friends now.”)

If I’m going to go into “Blood Brothers,” I suppose it’s important to present it with the two guys’ angles.

Miller filmed his part in all over Arkansas (one part Northwest AR, another part Southwest AR, other parts Central AR) with his own crew and his own style of filmmaking. Set in a rural Southern area, Miller’s story feels quite gritty in its surroundings. The environment gives it a sense of dark, deep perception, much like a Southern Gothic tale. (It’s also worth noting that Miller’s main strength as a filmmaker is the way he allows his scenes to flow naturally.) His story involves a troubled young man, Travis Ray (Jeff Fuell), who returns to his Arkansan hometown, long after he and his brother were driven out by the local drug operation. Living a life of shame and misery, he comes back to town to take action in an attempt to hopefully make everything back the way he wants it to be. He kidnaps the drug kingpin, Marty (Kenn Woodard), and runs his own show. However, things don’t really work out the way he hoped, as meanwhile, his brother is having his own troubles in Chicago…

And speaking of which, Savoy filmed his part in Chicago with his own crew and his own style of filmmaking as well. (And for among other things, give Savoy credit for casting an Arkansan actor—Kyle Wigginton—as his story’s protagonist.) Shooting in the Windy City gives quite an effective backdrop, particularly when Savoy plays certain scenes near large, glass windows in areas several stories high (and especially in a pivotal scene that takes place on a high rooftop). This piece is somewhat more action-oriented and has the sense of a crime thriller. (It’s also worth nothing that Savoy’s strength as a filmmaker is the symbolism he uses often—some subtle (like the use of color), others not so much (such as a heroic figure walking in front of a cross in slow-motion); all in all, he has a knack for this style.) This story (or rather, side-story) involves Travis’ brother, Michael (Wigginton), who has put his previous life in Arkansas behind him and is now leading a clean, successful life in Chicago. He proposes to his girlfriend, Laura (Jessica Serfaty, bewilderingly beautiful), she says “yes,” and it seems like life couldn’t be any better. And wouldn’t you know it—it instead takes a dark turn, as he is visited the next day by a thug named Tony (Sean Athy) and his gun-wielding henchman, both of whom work for Marty. They kidnap Laura and interrogate Michael, demanding to know why Travis is back in Arkansas and why Marty is missing. While being held captive and with lives at risk, Michael must think of a way to fix this situation.

There’s an interesting contrast between both parts of this story, which does ultimately add up and bring it all together at the end. That contrast not only comes from the surroundings of each of the two protagonists, but also in the structure, in that Travis is hoping for things to be the way they were and is now holding someone prisoner, while Michael is happier now that things aren’t the way they were and is being held prisoner because of Travis’ actions. The characterizations of the two men are both solid, as you feel the pain that Travis is going through, especially when you hear how much worse things have gotten for him after he left his hometown. As for Michael, he starts off as somewhat ordinary, but when his backstory involving his brother comes into place, you can see how complicated the character is. He too has been through a lot in his life, and while he would rather forget his past and move on, too many things get in the way that just won’t let him. Both actors—Jeff Fuell as Travis and Kyle Wigginton as Michael—do terrific jobs at playing these roles.

So back to the question I mentioned earlier—is this film (which runs about 32 minutes) as interesting as the story behind it? My simple answer is that as Jason Miller and Seth Savoy set out to make a film with this much ambition and skill (not to mention, distance), this is a hell of a film. Despite being of two different minds, locations, and narrative elements, it’s gripping throughout and well-crafted by both directors. To make a film like this would have been tricky, but Miller and Savoy were clearly each on the same track in making this film, and the results are just captivating. “Blood Brothers” is a solid success.

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