I recently went to see Michael Wright's Unfamiliar Faces. It played at the Hearts and Minds Film Festival on Saturday, April 10 at 2 p.m. at the Schwartz Center in Dover, Del. It's the story of two friends, Kyle and Sam, played respectively by Kyle Walters and Daryl Embry. Over the course of a campfire and a few beers, some secrets about both are revealed. The film confronts fears that many of us share about others, and ourselves- even others to whom we're close.
Wright submitted it to the Hearts and Minds Film Festival because it intimately tackles such phobias that aren't realistically tackled in most major motion pictures. In this example, the phobia in question is homophobia. Wright says he's always been interested in controversial topics and has strong opinions when it comes to various issues. Wright wants to continue to make films that address these topics because he believes that it's ignorance and lack of exposure of such topics that lends to problems.
Wright says he was ignorant and had a lack of exposure of a certain, controversial topic himself. He was born and raised in Sudbury, Mass., a middle to upper middle-class suburb just west of Boston. Just one year prior to graduating from NYU, Wright became involved with a scholars program.
That scholars program took him to East Kentucky where he would do a documentary on heroin addiction. Coming from where he came, Wright had some preconceived notions about drug addicts, who they were, what they were, and how they came to be where they were. It wasn't until he got to Kentucky and met an actual heroin addict did his notions change. Wright told me that he learned a lot of things that really opened his eyes, like in some cases not all of a drug addict's problems are solely his fault.
Obviously, everyone is ultimately responsible for his or her actions, but there is a lot of contributing factors that are sometimes out of our control that add to the problems. Coming from where he came, Wright didn't necessarily see that. If this is a revelation that he can make, one wonders how many others are like him who have these preconceived notions that are based on ignorance and lack of exposure to the other side, and specifically not knowing the people affected by the problems.
It's one thing to talk about drug addiction. It's quite a different thing to actually talk to a drug addict in person, face-to-face, getting to know him or her, to understand them. When it comes to Wright as a director, I think that also goes to the heart of who he is. Wright says that for him movies are all about character development, and what does that mean?
I could quote or even explain the intricacies of character development as displayed by the great works of such amazing screenwriters as Billy Wilder, Paddy Cheyefsky, Ingmar Bergman, Woody Allen, and David Mamet, but no need! What character development means is basically what I said. It's talking to someone in person, face-to-face, getting to know him or her, to understand them, dropping all preconceived notions. It's essentially making unfamiliar faces less unfamiliar.
That's the kind of filmmaker Wright is and/or wants to be. But, it was Wright's experience in Kentucky that probably had the most profound effect on him. It spurred him to create his next project Hiding Games, a 15-minute short that was loosely inspired by Wright's Kentucky visit and the doc he made about the heroin addict. Hiding Games centers around a single mother and her drug addiction. She relapses due to her boyfriend being a drug dealer, leaving her 11-year-old daughter to raise her 4-year-old brother.
Wright has been researching since September. He left his New England home to live in West Virginia while he completes this project. He says he'd love to turn it into a feature-length film. He stresses that it isn't a documentary. He loves the realism of documentaries but he prefers scripted narratives.
He wrote both this as well as his Unfamiliar Faces and, as a director for both, Wright's all about sticking to the script, but he feels that "director" isn't an exalted title. It's just another job on set. He says he hired the best actors and technical crew, and felt all their hands, every hand in fact, deserved a say. He wanted the film to be collaboration. He says it's everyone else's film too. Yes, he's the writer but he separated himself from that initial vision to allow for collaboration.
For more information on Michael Wright, his current and upcoming projects, go to www.newlensproductions.com.