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August 2014

"Butter on the Latch" & "Thou Wast Mild and Lovely"

Two films by Josephine Decker; theatrical release: Oktober 16, 2014

Stills from Butter on the Latch and Thou Wast Mild and Lovely



The sinister folktale BUTTER ON THE LATCH is set in the dark Californian forest of Mendocino, where a Balkan folk festival is taking place. Sarah surprises her friend Isolde by visiting her at the camp, and the two of them enjoy learning about the mythical stories from those faraway lands, practising traditional song and dance and chit-chatting on their torch-lit journeys back to the tiny cottage where they sleep. Sarah encounters a handsome guy during one of their carefree moments and decides to seduce him – slowly and over the course of several days. Obscure feelings begin to disrupt her behaviour while she makes her advances, and she almost forgets about Isolde as she is dragged deeper and deeper into the mythical world being played out in front of her by the other festival guests.

Ashley Connor’s refreshing cinematography and Decker’s own freestyle editing – at times experimental, at times tranquil and contemplative – articulate the eerie underworld simmering in Sarah’s unstable psyche. What begins as an innocent visit to the forest soon gives way to a confusing mind-trip, where reality and mythology become inextricably linked.

Josephine Decker’s second feature THOU WAST MILD AND LOVELY lets beauty and horror blithely flirt with one another like two coquettish flowers in the same inviting meadow.  Sarah lives with his father on a farm in rural Kentucky. Over crisp, verdant images of nature, of animals, streams and puddles, a mysterious, sensual female voice tells of her lover, who may be a person or may be the whole world. Enter Akin, there to help out for the summer. He’s left his wife and child at home – and taken off his wedding ring as a precaution. Soon the three of them are circling each other, watching, feeling watched and knowing that their watching is not going unwatched. Within this atmosphere, a charged romance develops between Sarah and Akin that carries both an erotic tension and vague feeling of menace. When Akin’s wife Drew comes for a visit, the situation explodes, harmless fantasies giving way to a violent nightmare. The seductive colours and shallow depth of field of Ashley Connor’s superb camerawork accentuate the ethereal nature of this enigmatic story.

Josephine Decker was born in London in 1981. After earning a bachelor’s degree in comparative literature and creative writ- ing at Princeton University, she studied literature, film studies, and political science in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She began shooting her own short films in 2003. Today she works as a screenwriter, director, editor, and producer.

"How do we learn to embrace ourselves?"
- The director on BUTTER ON THE LATCH
Through our collaboration on her own film "The Delirium Constructions", I knew I wanted to create this work with Sarah Small, a person deeply ingrained in the community and the folklore the movie would be about as well as an artist with a likeminded interest in improvisation, the deeply human, the unhinged and the unpleasant, the transcendent. Cinematically, Ashley Connor came in with an unprecedented visual style – which allowed the film to range through many emotions not simply narratively but through all of the senses. Her art made the strange aura of the film possible, and to her, I am deeply in debt. On the topic of directing, I think of madness as an important and powerful part of being a woman. It is something to fear and understand and behold and hold up. The imperfect, unfinished worlds inside ourselves that sometimes leak out hold unrestricted power – and danger. I enjoy the part of myself that is and will always be insane, although, through 'growing up' and the practicing of Zen meditation, that part of me increasingly embraces itself. In madness, one does not embrace oneself, and this film, and probably many others I will make, is about people who do not know how to embrace themselves – and thus go awry. Going awry is the essence of play. I am not very good at playing in reality, only in films. So, I hope to go mad onscreen many, many times.

"The dark side in ourselves" -  The director on THOU WAST MILD AND LOVELY
How do you steer a bucking bronco towards the truth? How do you let the dirtiest worms slither onto the page and not stand up in disgust? How do you let yourself be, and suffer the consequences? Ironically, what I did in writing and making this film is something that all of the characters in the film also suffer through. We are ugly, gruesome people inside. No one knows this but us. And this knowledge makes us ever more likely to shrivel our shoulders, hold our breath and gargoyle. We hide. Both Akin and Sarah misguide the strange perversions and brutalities they have endured into new darknesses they can embrace, and through the collision of those darknesses, they discover – in each other – the lightness of connection, of each other, of themselves. After enduring an initial pe- riod of embarrassment – I had written a script deeply violent and perverse – and losing one lead actress because of the sexual nature of the material, I finally felt the deep liberation of putting something into the world that represented my darkest self. This enormous fear that I had had all my life of this disturbing place inside me finally left. With this film, I have been groping at a truth – about how we can be bad, or we can be good, or we can both at the same time. And with that truth, I tried to build a cinematic experience that melded fantasy and reality in an erotically charged, meekly joyous experience. The movie you set out to make and the movie you make are two extraordinarily different things, and if you are lucky, through trial and collaboration, the final result ends up being almost what you intended. This film managed to torture me by spend- ing a long time not being what I intended. Perhaps it was too personal. Perhaps it was too simple. Perhaps it was too closely rooted in my mind to something I may never match up to – John Steinbeck’s elaborate, intimate, subversive vivification of character. But the film has now become what I hoped it would, and I owe that largely to David Barker, who guided me through the dis- mal period of things-gone-wrong editing that easily could have continued into infinity, and also to the hard-working, in- credibly talented collaborators who helped me make this. But I owe this film also – deeply – to the people who saw some- thing strange in me and didn’t run away. My parents have never turned up a nose at art-making. They always allowed my bang- ing on the piano and performances in the trees to be whatever I wanted them to be. In this realm, I have always had total freedom, and their support. So, I could sit and wait and dis- cover in the place where the truth emerges – in the dark, silent realms of meditation and the stomach world it unfurls. The palm of it closes. And opens. What you see is withering and growing, delightedly, before you. To those who feel that their cruelty is too cruel, their sadness too sad, I dedicate this film: an embrace.

USA 2013. Format: DCP, BluRay. Length: 72 Min. Language: English. Version: with German subtitles. Cast: Sarah Small (Sarah), Isolde Chae-Lawrence (Isolde), Charlie Hewson (Steph). Director, screenwriter, editor: Josephine Decker. Director of photography: Ashley Connor. Sound: Michael Parker Kozak. Sound design: Mike Frank. Producer: Josephine Decker, Laura Heberton (Pittsburgh). Production company: Third Room Productions, Dallas (USA).

USA 2014. Format: DCP, BluRay. Length: 76 Min. Language: English. Version: with German subtitles. Cast: Joe Swanberg (Akin), Sophie Traub (Sarah), Robert Longstreet (Jeremiah), Kristin Slaysman (Drew), Matt Orme (Caren), Geoff Marslett (Richard). Director: Josephine Decker. Screenwriter: Josephine Decker, David Barker. Director of photography: Ashley Connor.  Production design: Sarah O’Brian. Costume design: Wilberth Gonzalez. Sound: Jesse McAlpin. Composer: Molly Herron. Sound design: Martín Hernández. Editor: Josephine Decker, David Barker, Steven Schardt. Producer: Josephine Decker (Third Room Productions), Laura Heberton, Laura Klein; Russel Schaeffer (Artless Media); Braden King (Truckstop Media); Adam Donaghey, Rachel Wolther, Linda Olbrych. Production companies: Third Room Productions, Dallas (USA); Artless Media, Bloomington (USA); Truckstop Media, New York (USA).