RETURN 2012


This was the official website for the 2012 film, RETURN which premiered on February 28, 2012 On Demand, DVD and Digital Download.

Content is from the site's 2012 archived pages, as well as from other outside sources.

 



When Kelli (Linda Cardellini, Freaks & Geeks, Brokeback Mountain) returns home from war, she expected to slowly but surely settle back into her life with her husband (Michael Shannon, Boardwalk Empire) and kids in the small town she grew up in. But she gradually realizes that the life she left behind is no longer there waiting for her. Depicting Kelli's struggle to find her place in a life she no longer recognizes, Linda Cardellini delivers a tour de force performance, leading an all-star cast that also includes John Slattery (Mad Men). Proudly presented by DaDa Films and Focus World, a division of Focus Features, dedicated to seeking out the best in international, independent, and documentary cinema.

 

Publisher's Note: As we were preparing to archive this website for Cindy Margela's film course, we experienced first hand the bad karma of big data, in this case a result of Google's search results. In the search for her name, was a news item about a C. Margela who was convicted of larceny in Abu Dhabi, on Google's page 1. When we tried to contact the publisher we found that the post was on an Iraqi server, administered by a Syrian conglomerate so therefore no chance of a legal remedy. Google did not respond to requests to remove the post from US searches. We ended up paying a specialized tech service known to be able to successfully remove search results from Google. This firm uses search engine optimization to improve the ranks of other harmless pages causing them to outrank the problem page. By advancing enough other webpages, they cause the harmful result to fall off page 1. Fortunately it worked and Cindy's life returned to near normal. But the bigger lesson here is the unaccountability of Google to the harm they create, however inadvertently.

 

LIZA JOHNSON

February 09, 2012 • Liza Johnson discusses Retur

As told to John Arthur Peetz www.artforum.com/



Liza Johnson, Return, 2011, still from a color film in 35 mm, 97 minutes. Kelli (Linda Cardellini) and Mike (Michael Shannon). Photo: DADA Films.

Liza Johnson is a Brooklyn-based filmmaker and professor at Williams College. Her work has screened at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Wexner Center for the Arts, the Walker Art Center, and the Centre Pompidou, as well as the Cannes, New York, Berlin, and Rotterdam Film Festivals. Return, her latest feature film, premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival last May. Staring Linda Cardellini as a war veteran returning from the Middle East to her hometown in Ohio, Return will debut at Village East Cinemas in New York and Laemmle Santa Monica on February 10.

A FEW YEARS AGO a friend of mine told me some intimate stories about his efforts to stay married after he came back from his military deployment. Most of the accounts that civilians hear about the current US wars are either in a statistical mode of address—forty-two people are killed in a car bomb—or they’re in the style of policy debate—pro or con, good or bad. When my friend told me this very personal account about his efforts to cross this gap of empathy that had opened up in his relationship, I felt aware of missing this other register, this other kind of account.

I met many female soldiers while writing the script. They were strikingly different from one another, and it was immediately clear that there is no such thing as a typical or representative military woman. Linda Cardellini’s character is very specific—Kelli is one plausible female soldier but there’s no way she could represent every woman. The genre of “soldiers returning home” movies typically use flashbacks as a kind of wish-fulfillment, wishing that you could be in an extreme situation and then transparently convey it to another person, rendering the experience understandable. I don’t use this convention in Return. The entire film is set in the everyday, in the time of the present. The experience of trying to reunite with civilian culture can be disarming even if you don’t have an acute instance of trauma to narrate.

Many social justice advocates who work for veterans have said that it can be useful to think about how to destigmatize veterans who are presumed to have PTSD. A lot of vets tend to get treated by civilians like they are somehow prone to extreme behavior. I love a movie like Taxi Driver, but I’m also interested in quieter and less explosive forms of reassimilation, which are also full of interest––full of everyday dramas.

I’m from southeastern Ohio, where the industrial base is pretty much gone and has been replaced by an illegal drug economy. Return is set in a town like that one. I shot a short film two years ago in the town where I grew up, and it was very compelling for me to see young people propelling themselves forward in spite of the absence of a clear economic future, and in the presence of a parent generation that is pretty addicted. There is a lot of damage because there are so few jobs outside the drug economy. Civilians can sometimes view veterans as damaged people. But I also wonder, what if Kelli is just no longer willing to tolerate the damage in the world she comes home to?

 

Available as a Amazon Prime video or in DVD format
Editorial Reviews
When Kelli (Linda Cardellini) returns home following a tour of duty in Iraq, she is welcomed with open arms by her husband Mike (Michael Shannon) and two children. Eager to get back to her old routines, she gradually realizes that the world she left behind is no longer waiting for her. Struggling to adjust, Kelli finds temporary solace in the arms of Bud (John Slattery), a fellow veteran, but is still unable to come to terms with life as a civilian. Bonus Features: Audio commentary with director Liza Johnson and cinematographer Anne Etheridge, Deleted Scenes - From Focus Features, the premiere global brand in original and daring cinema, comes Focus World charged with finding the most exciting voices in international and independent film.

 

AMAZON REVIEWS

Jeff Wiley
4.0 out of 5 stars A search for solid ground
Reviewed in the United States on February 26, 2013
Format: Prime VideoVerified Purchase
After a tour of duty with the Army overseas, Kelli returns to Ohio to her family and the expectation of re-assimilating back into the life that she knew prior her deployment. Reality trumps her expectations, however, and so begins a narrowing journey to find solid ground again. This is the crux of 'Return'.

Make no mistake : Linda Cardellini puts this movie on her back, and carries it the entire way. She turns in the best performance of her career to date as the young soldier struggling with life as she once knew it. Michael Shannon somewhat steps outside of his comfort zone in his role as her husband, Mike. While often playing quirky, left-of-center characters with strong personalities, he opts for a reserved, soft-spoken approach to play Mike. His performance is as solid as any that he's ever given, and his ever-expanding resume continues to make him one of the more reliable actors working today.

Evenly paced, 'Return' is a character study of a life removed from balance, and the endeavor to restore what once was.

+++

            K. Busby
2.0 out of 5 stars A good movie with a poor ending
Reviewed in the United States on August 20, 2016
Format: Prime VideoVerified Purchase
This title would have gotten 4 stars from me, until I got to the very end. Linda Cardellini's performance is spot-on; having been in her situation (albeit as a man), I can say her attitudes, responses, and troubles were written and portrayed realistically.

POTENTIAL SPOILER AHEAD:

Without going into detail, because I don't want to spoil the story, I just want to explain my 2-star rating. In an otherwise good movie, with some excellent acting, the ending just chopped off. While I understand the message at the end, it just felt like poor direction, a dash of cold water throwing me out of the movie, just because of the way it was cut. I thought at first that the download had quit, or that there was an error somewhere. I had to scan backward and view the ending again just to try to find out if I'd missed something. If not for this, I would have rated the movie much higher.

+++

passionatereader
4.0 out of 5 stars Cardellini helped me understand my veteran son in this film
Reviewed in the United States on December 6, 2012
Format: Prime VideoVerified Purchase
Linda Cardellini is a wonderful actress. I loved her on "E.R." back in the day.

Now she's a mother with two daughters and a cheating husband and back from the "war" as a Reservist.

When she moves she tells every untold story that soldiers never tell. She's so fine an actress without saying
much at all; it's all in her body and her beautiful face.

I understand my son better now as a returned veteran who just can't seem to setttle back down and be at peace
in a non-war zone.

Brilliant film. But oh how I wish there was peace

+++

            Nomers
4.0 out of 5 stars Nice performance.
Reviewed in the United States on March 25, 2013
Format: Prime VideoVerified Purchase
I enjoyed this film. It's a typical slow-moving indie drama. That's what I like.

I felt like Linda Cardelini did a really good job showing emotion, and played the part of a returning soldier well. It's one of those films that isn't always flattering on an actress, but to me, that shows a really good actress.

The film left me pondering, and wondering what else may have happened in this story...and that indicates a good film in my book!

+++

Stephanie E. HornTop Contributor: Star Wars
5.0 out of 5 stars A must see for anyone
Reviewed in the United States on February 8, 2018
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
Great movie shows the stresses of deployment

+++

            JJ SLATTERY
5.0 out of 5 stars Mutant Consciousness in Return
Reviewed in the United States on December 2, 2012
Format: Prime VideoVerified Purchase
I have spent many years involved in attempting to characterize a state-of-being my best friend, a silver-star, purple-heart, two-tour veteran of Vietnam, and I have recognized in each other: Mutant Consciousness. We each seem to possess that perhaps undefinable focus upon reality which exists far outside the norm. My friend has also been diagnosed, and has rejected the authority of those who make such diagnoses, as experiencing PTSD. Personally, I never sought any sort of straight explainations for who and what I am. Let it be said, though, that the two of us and very few others we have run across possess, or admit to possessing, this mutant outlook. Kelli most assuredly does, as must Ms Johnson -- or at least she knows someone who does. Possibly from a couple of old guys a lyric from an old song might help one to understand. The Jefferson Airplane sang: "When the truth is found to be lies/And all the joy within you dies...." Their answer was finding someone to love. Kelli must lose her husband, leave her children behind for this simple reason. Only someone else who knows the things you do (John Slattery?) can possibly become your lover. But then, can you be his? The existential truth of the movie is profound and, rather than sad, is liberation. We are all alone. Those who think not are lying to themselves and to their children. Kelli must fly solo into the valley, and whether or not she returns, there will never be for her a Canada to run to; her children will fear her, her friends desert her. Unless she moves off the grid as has Bud she will never find peace. Or Venison.
Just a note: Linda Cardellini is the greatest at portraying those with mutant consciousnesses or those developing same. I still love Freaks and Geeks.
I'll probably watch this movie a dozen more times. It's Great.
Another note, the theme of Mutant Consciousness is central to a novel I am finishing this month. Entitled Army Girl, it covers much of the same issues and relationships that Ms Johnson's movie so brilliantly portrays and will be published by Create Space.

 



 

REVIEWS

 

RETURN: IT'S (NOT SO) GOOD TO BE HOME

by Jeff Shannon | www.rogerebert.com/
February 27, 2012

"Return" (97 minutes) is available Feb. 28 via most major on-demand platforms including cable, satellite, iTunes and Amazon Instant.

When the most intense experiences of daily life are repeated across generations, they become the historical touchstones of our cultural identity. By natural progression they're woven into our movies, where dreams and nightmares are etched in light.

The returning soldier (a subject previously examined here in the HBO documentary "How to Fold a Flag" and the 1956 Paul Newman drama "The Rack") has been a mainstay in film since the earliest days of the silent era. When you consider upcoming changes in the ranks of the American military, more and more of those soldiers are now likely to be female. And since independent film is where social progress typically finds its earliest, least compromised expression, we're now seeing more richly observant films like "Return," a sensitively rendered drama that marks a promising debut for writer-director Liza Johnson, in rewarding collaboration with underrated actress Linda Cardellini.

Cardellini won hearts with her appealing role on the beloved, short-lived TV series "Freaks and Geeks" (1999-2000) and deepened her range over 126 episodes of "ER" (2003-09). She's perfectly cast here as Kelli, a National Guard reservist and married mother of two. Still young but spiritually exhausted, she's just returned home after what she later suggests was a routine deployment in the Middle East. Iraq or Afghanistan -- it doesn't matter which, and the movie never specifies. Either way, there's no such thing as a routine deployment, and Kelli returns to her previous life in struggling, small-town Ohio, adrift in a state of neurasthenic limbo. War changes you, even if Kelli claims that "other people had it a lot worse." Kelli may be suffering from some degree of PTSD, but she's getting no apparent help from military counselors.

Sensing that change and expecting to hear cathartic war stories, Kelli's girlfriends gently prod her for details with an awkward combination of morbid curiosity and that cloying quality of pop-psych sincerity that prevails in the age of Dr. Phil. There's another nice detail when they're celebrating Kelli's return with a girls' night out at the local watering hole: Kelli's beer is served in a plastic mug ringed with flashing LED's. She's never seen anything so ridiculously kitschy and mundane. Time to beat a hasty retreat.

At home, Kelli's plumber husband Mike (Michael Shannon) is well-meaning but confused by his wife's behavior, muddling through the "spouse group" rule book and urging her to "take it easy" when she's a little too eager for an afternoon quickie. He might have other reasons for deflecting her desire: Kelli can read between the lines when local hottie Cara Lee (Bonnie Swencionis) reveals that she "looked after the kids" on at least one occasion while Kelli was away. So, who was looking after Mike?

Those kids grew quickly in Kelli's absence, but they're still emotionally needy little girls and the youngest, about three now, shows signs of unsettling introversion, as if she'd been left alone too often. Mike and the kids can share a few laughs watching "America's Funniest Home Videos," but Kelli just stares blankly at the TV, oblivious to whatever's on. She couldn't care less, which is the same attitude that prompts her to quit her old job at a small local factory, where she riveted aluminum air ducts for 12 years before the war.

 

Kelli experiences other moments of homecoming dislocation in familiar settings like the local thrift-store and her daughter's cheerleading practice. We're reminded of the scene in "The Hurt Locker" when the bomb-squad daredevil and adrenalin junkie played by Jeremy Renner returns from Iraq and looks completely adrift in a grocery store, staring blankly at an overwhelming selection of breakfast cereals.

Cardellini and Johnson map Kelli's emotional landscape with outward subtlety and inward precision. While avoiding standard-issue plot devices like traumatic flashbacks and home-front histrionics, they find abundant moments of truth in silence, as when Kelli sleeps on the floor in her daughters' bedroom. No explanation required; it's just one of those behavioral choices between actor and director that feels absolutely right.

 

 

Oddly enough, the only time "Return" seems to falter is when it gently veers toward conventional melodrama. Yet even here, Johnson steadfastly avoids the obvious, and both she and Cardellini dare us to dislike Kelli as she grows erratically prone to "bad girl" behavior. When Kelli gets a DUI and her driver's license revoked, it's really not a good idea to hook up with the Vietnam veteran (John Slattery, from AMC's "Mad Men") she meets in a court-mandated A.A. meeting. He's harmless, more or less, but Kelli may not be: A potentially dangerous episode of forgetfulness proves Mike to be a more responsible parent (a point driven home by Shannon's finely shaded performance) and makes you wonder if Mike's little side-dish might be a better mom for his kids.

That "Return" would even suggest such a thing is further proof of Johnson's skill in defying expectations. With a title that ultimately assumes two meanings, "Return" offers no false comforts as it arrives at a daring conclusion with its gender-switch perspective on the returning soldier's experience. It also provides an ironic reversal: We've seen loud, anguished emotional extremes from men in coming-home dramas like Oliver Stone's "Born on the 4th of July" and, more recently, Jim Sheridan's "Brothers," but "Return"commands our attention by allowing its female survivor to suffer in silence, never suggesting that one coping mechanism is better than another.

 

 

 

Liza Johnson, Return

by Brandon Harris in Director Interviews
Feb 8, 2012

A low-key drama that articulates the ennui of a returning servicewoman after a tour in the Middle East, Liza Johnson’s Return strikes a delicate balance between familial melodrama and suffering vet pic. Light on exposition and heavy on expert thesping, it features a striking performance by Linda Cardellini, once the most sly and attractive of the awkward high schoolers on Freaks and Geeks, and now a fully mature screen actress making the most of her copious talents. We meet her character Kelly at the airport, freshly arrived in Ohio after a stint in an unnamed theater of war, and only slowly begin to understand the broad disconnect she has with her plumber husband (Michael Shannon) and two young girls.

Unable to adjust to life at home, she doesn’t exhibit the classic PSTD symptoms, but an underlying sense of purposelessness and dissatisfaction overcome her in their modest house and at her job in a warehouse. As her indulgences in swearing, drinking and loud rap music grow into a larger inability to maintain social affability in nearly any context and her awareness of her husband’s activities in the year she’s been away comes to fruition, Cardellini’s Kelly must figure out whether there is any longer a home to be salvaged, or simply a place as alien as the desert she may secretly yearn to get back to.

Helmer Johnson is a multi-dimensional artist who has worked as a professor and curator while making a series of acclaimed short films. Her short film South of Ten was the opening night short at the 2006 New York Film Festival, and her gallery work and installations have been exhibited at MoMA, the Walker Arts Center and the Centre Pompidou as well as major European film festivals such as the Berlinale and Rotterdam. Her feature debut Return, which had its world premiere at last year’s Director’s Fortnight in Cannes, opens this Friday.

~~~

Return director Liza Johnson

Filmmaker: A lot of your short work features non-actors. How did the experience of working with trained performers alter your working methods?

Johnson: For the last five years I’ve been making these projects with non-professional actors. Also known as “real people,” or whatever. [laughs]

Filmmaker: Actors are real people too.

Johnson: Agreed.

Filmmaker: Maybe less real than some people. [laughs]

Johnson: Yes! So I’ve been working with groups of people in what you could call a documentary environment. I shot one in rural Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina and I shot one in the town I grew up in, which is in Southeastern Ohio, which is also where Return is set.

Filmmaker: What town is it set in?

Johnson: Portsmith, Ohio.

Filmmaker: I’m from Cincinnati.

Johnson: Oh really? I should have noticed you have a sort of pleasingly solid Midwestern quality about you. [laughs] I just shot one which will be in Berlin next week. I shot it with a friend of mine in Northern Australia with a community of people she’s been working with for a long time. Those are all movies that we consider to be “movies with plots that are to be acted,” you know? But because they’re set in documentary environments, shot in a documentary fashion, and because it’s everyday people doing the acting, we don’t consider them documentaries. But I understand why people view them like that sometimes.

For me this film was a very organic one grown from those [other] projects, which were shot with reverse angles and multiple takes, but this time out I wanted to tell a longer, more sustained story for one character. And I really felt since I began writing it that it was most appropriate for a super trained, really experienced actor who could put that role together and sustain it for the course of the whole film.

Filmmaker: What then led you to Linda Cardellini? Had you seen her work on TV, or some of her small roles in other films? You coaxed a watershed performance out of her.

Johnson: Two things really. First meeting her she was very warm and outwardly focused, which I thought was really important for this character. She also viewed the character and the story in the same way I did, and I thought it could work. Also people think this is funny because when I met her I had seen her in Freaks and Geeks, I had seen her in Brokeback Mountain. Do you remember that role?

Filmmaker: Yeah.

Johnson: It’s very wonderful, she’s very memorable even though it’s a very small role. I hadn’t seen her on ER, so I thought I better see some of her work after I met her. This friend of mine was like, “Oh my God, have you seen Scooby Doo 2?” [laughs] It’s a very, um, different movie than Return, but… have you seen it.

Filmmaker: Regrettably, I haven’t.

Johnson: She’s really wonderful. You can really see that she put in the effort to create this character. It’s a comedy and it’s very physical, and she projects her character without words very well. It’s a physical comedy sort of project. I just thought, “If she can do that, she can do my movie,” which people think is funny since my movie is so different from that movie. You should watch it because she’s awesome in it. [laughs]

Filmmaker: I’m adding it to my Netflix queue as we speak. Seriously. So was she the first person on board?

Johnson: That was my intention, to cast around her, but actually Michael Shannon was the first person to read the script, and he was into it. I just thought, “I don’t see how this can be bad,” because he’s such a tremendous actor. I took it as a way of amplifying the challenge of finding the Kelly character. In addition to being that sort of warm, outwardly directed person, I also thought she had to be able to give it back to Michael Shannon. So Linda was the second person that we cast.

Filmmaker: One of the things I found unusual about the story in the context of “returning from the warfront” narratives is that you didn’t feel the need to exposit what this person had experienced nor does she attempt to make it an excuse for her behavior at all. Her constant refrain is, “A lot of people over there had it way worse than me,” or something to that effect.

Johnson: I started writing it because a friend of mine was telling me how hard it was to describe his experiences and feelings to his wife and how hard it was to stay married because of that. I feel like in this genre it’s more common that you’d have some flashbacks to some acute traumatic war experience and the problem that my friend was telling me about was that if he could show a flashback of his experience to his wife, then maybe he could have stayed married. The problem was that he couldn’t find a way to cross that gap. I thought that if we were really going to feel that gap, it would be better to withhold that. It’s an understandable desire to translate your experience that way, but sometimes you really can’t. Also, I think a lot of people really do have those acute traumatic stories to account for when they come home. There’s a reason that is a genre. My understanding is that it can be dislocating and intense to return to your life with a new perspective, even in the absence of that kind of story. That feeling of dislocation, of seeing things in a new way, doesn’t actually have to be justified by that kind of acute trauma story, even though it frequently is.

Filmmaker: She doesn’t immediately exhibit PSTD symptoms, but more this genre sense of disquiet and dread. I thought that was so much more authentic then the stereotype of the unhinged vet we see in a lot of these kinds of pictures about the aftermath for the soldiers who fight America’s modern wars.

Johnson: Thank you. For better or worse, one thing about working for the military is you do have a sense of meaning and purpose. In that type of town where I grew up and where the film is set, there is a real shortage of meaningful work, for one thing. There are other practices that can be amusing, that I personally am capable of enjoying, like children’s cheerleading. If you get into children’s cheerleading, it’s cool. But I can also understand how if you have been in a different kind of world with a heightened sense of purpose, you might have lost the thread of why children’s cheerleading is cool.

Filmmaker: Did you interview female vets?

Johnson: I did. I met a lot of women, people who had come back from their deployments. Through my friend I met a lot of women who were able to introduce me to more people. Not like a scientific study, but just gathering anecdotal stuff. I guess the first thing I really noticed is that all the women I met were truly different from each other. Almost right away I felt like I had to commit to making Kelly a very specific person. If there had ever been any temptation to represent the typical female soldier, that was defeated right away by actually meeting a bunch of female soldiers because person for person everyone told me really different reasons for why they joined the military, what their experience was like and what was it like coming home. Person for person, everyone had really different accounts with some common themes occasionally, but there was no way Kelly could begin to represent all the people of her “type.”

Filmmaker: Did you shoot in Ohio?

Johnson: We actually ended up shooting in Newburgh, New York, which looks and feels a lot like where I grew up in Ohio; they’re actually both de-industrialized river towns. The built environment really does look similar. So definitely it helped me pick that location. It looked like where I grew up! In the work I’ve done previously I’ve relied a lot upon the accidents of location, where there’s a lot of funny textures or real things that are in the frame. I guess in a way this is more of a hybrid thing where the location does infuse the film with some meaning, but they’re definitely redressed and organized by the art department. That was a new thing for me actually, to figure out how to let intriguing surprises come into the film when the location was much more planned and the sets much more dressed than anything I had ever done before.

Filmmaker: Do you find much hope at the end of the story? Will her life ever have a modicum of normalcy to it again?

Johnson: I think there’s a lot of hope. I guess the thing that I want for the film is that when you’re in between and having trouble negotiating your circumstances, when you’re having trouble returning to your old life but haven’t forged a new one yet, you just don’t know what is going to happen and you don’t know how long it’s going to go on. I guess for people that I’ve now been friends with for some time now, I’ve definitely seen that situation go really well and occasionally go much worse than it does for Kelly. I wanted to situate the whole story in this in between time. On the one hand it’s sort of a painful time to be in but on the other hand it’s sort of an expansive time because you don’t know how you’re going to make your future. So it’s an expansive opportunity, but it can be very painful.

 

 

'Return' Star & Director Linda Cardellini & Liza Johnson Discuss Telling The Story Of A Soldier's Transition To Civillian Life

Christopher Bell www.indiewire.com/
Feb 10, 2012

“Return,” the feature film debut by visual artist Liza Johnson, shakes up the traditional soldier’s story by centering on a female protagonist, as she adjusts to her home life following a Middle East deployment. The film stars Linda Cardellini (“Freaks and Geeks,” “ER“) as Kelli, a woman who has trouble adjusting to the typical civilian life she left behind. Instead of finding comfort, she’s more at odds with her environment, unable to enjoy the quiet moments with her husband Mike (Michael Shannon) or fall back into the easy routine of the job she left behind. Unable and unwilling to convey the despair within, Kelli soon finds her relationships and sanity crumbling without any idea of how to return to normalcy.

Scripts like these tend to rely on a structure that find their troubled protagonist either able to neatly come to terms with their situation or explode into a histrionic breakdown, but impressively, “Return” does neither. Johnson finds the disoriented stasis of her character to be interesting enough and refuses to tack on any familiar beats, the result being a compelling film and story that feels much closer to reality. We recently spoke to the director and stars of the film, to discuss making the indie feature. “Return” opens New York and Los Angeles on February 10th, with a VOD release following on February 28th.

 

 

“Return” Filmmaker Liza Johnson

Basil Tsiokos https://www.indiewire.com/
Jun 11, 2010

Among film philanthropic group Cinereach’s most recently announced grantees was the debut feature project by artist, short filmmaker, professor, and festival curator Liza Johnson, “Return.” indieWIRE spoke with Johnson in late May about the project, the unique perspective her art school background brings to filmmaking, and the role and influence her previous short work has had on approaching her first feature.

Johnson has been working as an artist for more than a decade, drawing on her background in the avant garde and counter cinema to create installation work as well as short film projects that have been exhibited internationally in museums, galleries, and festivals, including MoMA, the Wexner Center for the Arts, the Walker Art Center, the Centre Pompidou, the Berlinale, and Rotterdam. She sees a certain freedom in approaching narrative works from this art school tradition: “I never really studied the conventions of narrative film that in art cinema we try to avoid – they’re easy to avoid because, in a way, I kind of don’t know them.” Through fellowships and lab programs with the Sundance Institute, the DAAD Berliner Kunstlerprogramm, and others, Johnson has been able to better hone her narrative storytelling, while she credits her experiences making shorts to helping her understand the grammar, timing, and construction of filmmaking.

A couple of recent short projects, “South of Ten,” which premiered on Opening Night of the New York Film Festival in 2006 and deals with the post-Katrina Mississippi Gulf Coast; and “In the Air,” a portrait of a circus school in Johnson’s de-industrialized Ohio hometown, served as useful experiments that have informed her approach to “Return.” For both of the shorts, non-professional actors acted out scenes from their lives, in effect “making a fictional film in a documentary environment,” Johnson says. Shooting these projects like narratives, her aim was to work with real people to get at their everyday lives, but used the displacement effect of acting to get away from overused reality TV conventions and to achieve a heightened realism.

While “Return” features professional actors (Linda Cardellini, Michael Shannon, and Tim Blake Nelson), their experience and training allows them to work with Johnson to get to the realism and tone she’s seeking. In addition, she wrote the script for “Return” with her “In the Air” hometown in mind – a town in its own state of economic crisis, mirroring its protagonist – and with the same sense of temporality of the everyday shared by both shorts.

In “Return,” a soldier (Cardellini) returns home from a tour of duty only to feel at odds with her environment in a way she never expected. While the film may seem, on the surface, to share elements in common with other “soldier returns home” films, the subjective focus on the character’s experience of everyday life makes it a different kind of project. “I see [“Return”] in the tradition of films like ‘Safe’ and ‘A Woman Under the Influence,’ about strong female protagonists who don’t quite fit in with their world,” Johnson explains. Another, perhaps more unexpected, cinematic antecedent is “Taxi Driver.” While her protagonist is not a violent sociopath like Travis Bickle, both characters are implicitly influenced by their backgrounds as veterans, but explicitly followed after those experiences in their daily lives. Because of the centrality of their present day characters and experiences, audiences in both films wouldn’t necessarily constantly focus on the protagonists’ war backgrounds as the inciting reasons for the conflicts in their current predicaments.

 

 

FUTURES | "Return" Filmmaker Liza Johnson

Basil Tsiokos

Jun 11, 2010 2:18 am

Among film philanthropic group Cinereach’s most recently announced grantees was the debut feature project by artist, short filmmaker, professor, and festival curator Liza Johnson, “Return.” indieWIRE spoke with Johnson in late May about the project, the unique perspective her art school background brings to filmmaking, and the role and influence her previous short work has had on approaching her first feature.

Johnson has been working as an artist for more than a decade, drawing on her background in the avant garde and counter cinema to create installation work as well as short film projects that have been exhibited internationally in museums, galleries, and festivals, including MoMA, the Wexner Center for the Arts, the Walker Art Center, the Centre Pompidou, the Berlinale, and Rotterdam. She sees a certain freedom in approaching narrative works from this art school tradition: “I never really studied the conventions of narrative film that in art cinema we try to avoid – they’re easy to avoid because, in a way, I kind of don’t know them.” Through fellowships and lab programs with the Sundance Institute, the DAAD Berliner Kunstlerprogramm, and others, Johnson has been able to better hone her narrative storytelling, while she credits her experiences making shorts to helping her understand the grammar, timing, and construction of filmmaking.

A couple of recent short projects, “South of Ten,” which premiered on Opening Night of the New York Film Festival in 2006 and deals with the post-Katrina Mississippi Gulf Coast; and “In the Air,” a portrait of a circus school in Johnson’s de-industrialized Ohio hometown, served as useful experiments that have informed her approach to “Return.” For both of the shorts, non-professional actors acted out scenes from their lives, in effect “making a fictional film in a documentary environment,” Johnson says. Shooting these projects like narratives, her aim was to work with real people to get at their everyday lives, but used the displacement effect of acting to get away from overused reality TV conventions and to achieve a heightened realism.

While “Return” features professional actors (Linda Cardellini, Michael Shannon, and Tim Blake Nelson), their experience and training allows them to work with Johnson to get to the realism and tone she’s seeking. In addition, she wrote the script for “Return” with her “In the Air” hometown in mind – a town in its own state of economic crisis, mirroring its protagonist – and with the same sense of temporality of the everyday shared by both shorts.

In “Return,” a soldier (Cardellini) returns home from a tour of duty only to feel at odds with her environment in a way she never expected. While the film may seem, on the surface, to share elements in common with other “soldier returns home” films, the subjective focus on the character’s experience of everyday life makes it a different kind of project. “I see [“Return”] in the tradition of films like ‘Safe’ and ‘A Woman Under the Influence,’ about strong female protagonists who don’t quite fit in with their world,” Johnson explains. Another, perhaps more unexpected, cinematic antecedent is “Taxi Driver.” While her protagonist is not a violent sociopath like Travis Bickle, both characters are implicitly influenced by their backgrounds as veterans, but explicitly followed after those experiences in their daily lives. Because of the centrality of their present day characters and experiences, audiences in both films wouldn’t necessarily constantly focus on the protagonists’ war backgrounds as the inciting reasons for the conflicts in their current predicaments.

Beyond this, the fact that the solider protagonist is a woman also distinguishes “Return” from other returning soldier films. In researching the project, Johnson spoke to a number of women soldiers in similar situations – “Expectations and pressures are different for women – dealing with rage is harder for them and not as acceptable as it is for men.” Johnson makes it clear that her goal is not to indict the genre, but simply to offer a different perspective.

Looking toward the future, following the completion of “Return” (which is scheduled to begin principal photography in the late Summer or early Fall), Johnson has speculative plans for smaller projects that also share commonalities with her previous short work but include transmedia elements. When asked about potential transmedia elements for “Return,” the filmmaker responded, “I want to be clear about what I’m doing at any given moment – this film is a film, not an installation. Maybe people will watch it and enjoy it on a cellphone at some point, but it’s not intended for a cellphone. That’s not what makes sense for this project, it needs to be organic.”


 

Return-Film.com