(Updated Note: Wray's documentary was not only finished but released and is now out on DVD. We're proud to say we both have the DVD and were following the film since long before it was finished. -- ed. 11/14/08 )
By David Hudson
Back in 2003, writer Maud Newton introduced a guest blogger on her own widely read and admired blog: "Tara Wray is an associate editor at Land-Grant College Review. She grew up in Manhattan, Kansas ('The Little Apple'), and came to New York City almost exactly two years ago 'by way of Joensuu, Finland and Atlanta, Georgia.'" What follows are mentions of Wray's inspirations and the other literary journals in which she's been published - and a link to a startling story whose honed, sparse prose only makes the pain it's voicing cut deeper.
"A Sometimes Never Mother" is probably the most succinct and convincing introduction imaginable to Manhattan, Kansas, a documentary Tara Wray is working on with co-producer Michel Negroponte (Jupiter's Wife), support from the New York Foundation for the Arts and a grant from the Anthony Radziwill Documentary Fund. As you'll see below, Tara's wildly busy at work on the film, so I'm doubly grateful she took the time to talk about the project via email.
You've been writing and editing; how did you decide this would be a film?
I've always loved the movies. And I've always had a particular interest in documentaries, in true stories. I've watched Ross McElwee's stuff over and over again, and Grey Gardens, An American Family, Best Boy, Space Coast, Hybrid, Number Our Days, Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, Primary, Vernon, Florida, and on and on. In one way or another all of these films gave me an itch to make my own. Even Chris Ware's book, Jimmy Corrigan, Smartest Kid on Earth, which is a semi-autobiographical graphic novel and not film-related at all, made me feel like making a movie; it's something about the mood and the colors of it.
But I didn't go to film school and the only thing I had going for me when I started this project was an interest in learning how to make a documentary, and a belief that I have a good story to tell.
How close is the mother in "A Sometimes Never Mother" to your own?
They're one and the same.
You write at the end, "Rather than letting her back in, opening a door I thought was locked for good, I'll keep her away, she will not play-nice her way back in, no how, I won't have it." At what point did that change?
For a long time I thought I might never see her again. That is, that I would never let her back into my life because of the destructive influence she has. Part of writing about her so much - short stories and later a couple of crappy drafts of a novel - was my way of communicating with her. Gradually I came to see that I would never be "rid" of her, if that makes sense, and as I developed my own sense of independence I started to understand that not seeing her was only inhibiting my emotional growth (god, that sounds really therapy-y, doesn't it?).
Everything became clearer when, in November of 2003, I watched To Be and To Have, a documentary about a one-room school house in a remote French village. There's this scene - which is so moving because it's just an incredibly ordinary moment - where a little girl is riding a school bus on a snowy road, looking out the window. The bus is sliding and bouncing and she's fogging up the window with her breath. And that was it. It had nothing to do with mothers, but that's the moment where something just clicked for me. Right then I decided I had to make a film about my mom. Which meant I had to see her again!
What a wonderful little epiphany as you watched To Be and To Have. There's another doc, though, that'll probably come to many minds: Jonathan Caouette's Tarnation. I think I already have a hunch as to how you might answer, but if you've seen the film, what did you think of it and in what different directions, do you think, Manhattan, Kansas will be going?
I did see it. I do think it's fantastic how well it was received, but I'm trying to make a different movie and tell a different story and I think that the parallels, although interesting (the crazy mother, for example), are mostly superficial. For one, aesthetically the films are quite opposite (if I may be to bold as to speak in these terms, what with my movie being a work-in-progress still). I want to use the landscape of rural Kansas, that quiet, lonely kind of atmosphere, to express some of what's going on with my relationship to my mother. So just in terms of looks, this movie will be quite different from Tarnation. But more importantly than that, the film I'm aiming to make takes place mostly in the present, in the reunion between my mother and I, in my learning to cope with her, in our struggling to find what, if any, relationship we can have together. I viewed Tarnation as a movie about the past, coping with the past, and I perceive the central conflict of my film as being about how to deal with what's going on right now, and what might be going on down the line.
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