Interview: Kelly Reichardt on her radical ‘Night Moves’

Kelly Reichardt’s career has thus far seen a string of characters interacting – for better or worse – with the natural landscapes of the Pacific northwest. Whether they be settlers in the mid-19th century or two guys on a weekend road trip, Oregon in particular has proved both a comfort and an obstacle for her characters, and does so again in latest offering Night Moves (2013). The film examines an act of terrorism on a hydroelectric dam and the resulting effect on the three activists that perpetrate the crime. “At the very beginning,” Reichardt explains in our interview with the director, “John Raymond [the screenwriter] and his partner spent some time on this farm – the farm we actually ended up shooting on. He was getting pretty fascinated with the small world polities that surround the community.”

From there, Raymond began to form the kernels of an idea. “He originally wrote this short story of someone who was hiding out on the farm after some kind of radical act. It was all one location and very dialogue driven, so it wasn’t something exactly that I wanted to make a film of – but we took the idea of hiding out on the farm and kind of moulded into in the Night Moves script.” Within that context, the film seeks to examine the philosophies of environmental radicals and the grey areas of our ecological responsibility within the confines of a thriller. As with all of her films, however, Reichardt is not interested in spoon-feeding or preaching to her audience: “I don’t think art can tell you something. I don’t think it’s supposed to massage the things that you already know and feel. I think the goal is more to maybe refigure that.”

“We were interested in this character,” Reichardt continues, referring to Jesse Eisenberg’s lead activist, Josh, “that was going to be a fundamentalist and overly confident in his ideology and in his perspective. That person could easily have existed on the far right or on the left. On the right, making a story about a tea-partier just seems like the lines are little too clean, so we took this other direction.” Naturally, there was no desire to present the actions of this band of fanatics as admirable or positive, but at the same time Reichardt recalled her own response to real-life events. “When I used to read about the things that the [Earth Liberation Front] did in the paper you’re excited. But you watch a bunch of twenty year olds go to prison for a decade and it hardly seems worth it in terms of what is achieved.”

Indeed, it was all about raising important questions. “There’s a lot of [potential positions] in the world and I just wanted the film to ask the question; if none of these things are the right thing to be doing right now, what the fuck should anybody be doing?” Fortunately, the lead actors – Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard – were ready up for the challenge. “I ultimately found three people that responded to the script and that were three people I was really interested in working with and felt comfortable working with. It’s getting easier for me to get through the wall of agents, but you still have to find actors that are up for the experience of what this is and are up for going out and making a film for some reason that is not going to be monetary. These three people were all just super gun-ho and that’s spectacular and awesome when that happens. All three of them were great. When you’re not on camera, Peter still needs to drive the boat and Jesse still needs to drive the truck and fortunately they were all up for that.”

And what of Eisenberg playing against type as the quiet, intense, Jesse? “Well,” Reichardt laughs, “that’s just what Jesse’s like. He came out and he is just a very inquisitive person, and a really fast thinker. You can’t bullshit him – he’s going to ask everything so you have to know everything, and it really keeps you on your toes. He went out and lived in the yurt and worked on the farm and was thinking about it. Then every day for the rest of the shoot, in between every shot, was like that. You can get addicted to that yourself because you feel like someone else it really holding the script up the light and looking for cracks.” Fortunately, there aren’t too many on display in Reichardt’s Night Moves which hits all good UK cinemas this Friday (28 August).

Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves is released in cinemas on 28 August. To read our review of the film, follow this link.

Ben Nicholson

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