Aspen Shortsfest: ‘Succession’ castmember Justine Lupe goes behind the camera in ‘South of Bix’
HOW TO WATCH
“South of Bix” is in Program Six of the virtual 2020 Aspen Shortsfest, available for screening through 11:59 p.m. on April 5.
Digital access codes can be purchased at aspenshowtix.com and 970-920-5770.
Individual programs are $10 ($7.50 for Aspen Film members) each, or the full nine-program festival pass for $75.
Viewers will receive via email a unique link to each program purchased for a one-time viewing on the Festival Scope platform.
Full program and more info at aspenfilm.org.
2020 ASPEN SHORTSFEST COVERAGE
Read the Aspen Times story on Shortsfest going virtual HERE
Read our “Ones to Watch” Shortsfest feature HERE
If you’re an actor going behind the camera to direct for the first time, you may as well do it with a friend. That was the genesis of “South of Bix,” co-written and -directed by “Succession” castmember Jusine Lupe and stage actress Briana Pozner.
The Denver natives have been inseparable since childhood, when they shared school play stages and became best friends, beginning when Lupe was in middle school and Pozner a freshman at the Denver School for the Arts, from which both graduated in the 2000s.
“I was in awe of her,” Lupe recalled, “and pretty much from the beginning of seeing her perform I was like, ‘I will make this person my friend.’”
Added Pozner: “It was a big sister-little sister dynamic for a bit.”
They’ve been performing and creating together ever since. As their professional careers have blossomed, they’ve continued to do so by writing and directing short plays together.
So it was natural that they’d make their cinematic directorial debut as a pair.
The result is the 14-minute “South of Bix,” which is screening at the virtual 2020 Aspen Shortsfest through April 5.
Lupe also stars in the short as Molly, who begrudgingly takes a road trip to visit her grandfather — played by the octogenarian character actor M. Emmet Walsh — who lives alone on a small pig farm and is in declining physical and mental health. She is quickly reminded, through a racist outburst, of her grandfather’s monstrousness.
And yet, he is suffering and needs her help and she — hate his bigotry as she may — feels bound to provide it.
Walsh has a long-established ability to be menacing and yet soft (“huggable” is how Pozner put it) across his five-decade career, most indelibly as the detective in the Coen Brothers’ “Blood Simple.”
“He can be dangerous and nasty,” Lupe said, noting that the kindly Walsh handed out $2 bills to the cast and crew when he arrived on set, “but he has an inherent softness to him.”
Lupe communicates her character’s thorny emotion mostly without dialogue as her frustration, rage and conflicted loyalty smolders. Lupe credited Pozner’s direction in shaping the character, trimming back dialogue and eliciting this universal and physical performance.
“My impulse is to be warm, to be talkative and to connect,” Lupe explained. “So we had to find the nuance in where she had to pull back. Briana helped keep me in check.”
The seed of the story came from the polarized state of the nation in recent years, as families have split bitterly along political lines. Like countless Americans, Lupe found herself frustrated and angry with a relative and yet couldn’t sever her family ties.
“I was attached to her as someone who was part of my life and my family,” she said. “So Briana and I started talking about what it would be like to be in an intimate relationship with someone who has such a different way of looking at the world, yet you still have this familial tie to them that you want to honor as well.”
In the film, Molly is torn by her impulses to abandon her hateful grandfather and to care for him in his helpless state.
“There is a messiness in when we can compartmentalize and when we can’t,” Pozner said.
The filmmaking pair conceived and made “South of Bix” as a self-contained short, not as an audition for a feature, in the hopes of learning to work behind the camera by doing it.
“We didn’t know what we were doing,” Lupe said with a laugh. “So it was like, ‘Well, what’s the smallest piece we can bite off?’ Which, of course, ended up being a huge challenge anyway.”
It was also an excuse to hang out, they agreed, because their acting careers tend to keep Lupe and Pozner apart.
“It came from a joy of collaborating, using a different parts of our brains,” Pozner said.
Like most in the U.S., the novel coronavirus has put these actor/filmmakers’ lives on pause. The third season of HBO’s “Succession” — on which Lupe plays Connor Roy’s callgirl/playwright companion — had been scheduled to go into production in April, but has been postponed along with most Hollywood productions (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” on which Lupe also has a recurring role, hasn’t yet delayed its summer production).
But the stay-home period has given Lupe and Pozner time to focus on something new: they’re writing a new short together during the COVID-19 shutdown. Pozner also finished writing a feature film script.
“Our quarantine seems to be good for writing,” Pozner said. “And not much else.”
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