It seemed quite a coup for June's Provincetown Film Festival: programmer Connie White getting to screen the 2005 Sundance Special Jury Award winner, Junebug. Not according to filmmaker Phil Morrison, who, at P-Town, indicated that the honor was all his. "When this movie was at Sundance, there was a lot to be nervous about," Morrison said, "among these things, would Connie White like it? I guess she did, and invited us, or else she's just being nice."
In Junebug, an art dealer specializing in outsider art visits a North Carolina guy with lots of weird, post-Howard Finster paintings. Where did these come from? Morrison: "Ann Wood, a painter in Brooklyn, New York, made them for the movie. Some works were described in the script, but it's difficult, this studied naivite for what were essentially props. Ann, who was very mild-mannered, would arrive on the set with a painting of a slave with a slaveowner impaled on his penis. OK, Ann!"
Morrison, a native of Winston-Salem, was asked if his North Carolina-set picture, which features many almost still, contemplative shots, was inspired by other movies from below the Mason-Dixon line. "A lot of films I've seen from Iran or from Ozu [in Japan] reminded me more of where I grew up than the films of the South. We shot for 20 days. I spent a lot of time staring into space: that felt very still!"
To me, Junebug is almost Chekhovian with its characters arriving and departing from the countryside, and with everyone, admirably, staying much the same at the end as when everything started. I told Morrison of my aversion to films in which characters change overnight after "learning something." That's not what happens in real life, where people are stuck being themselves.
"There was stuff we shot that was more like movies you hate," Morrison admitted. "In the edit, we realized we could make the story with less of these changes, and it felt right. But I'd like to think that down the road, because of what happened, things might change."
Junebug, written by playwright Angus MacLachlan, a fellow North Carolinian, is Morrison's first feature film.
"I went to NYU film school a long time ago, 1987, and then made a short, Tater Tomater, written by Angus. I made a lot of rock videos, TV commercials, comedy stuff, but I didn't feel I had to make a movie until the time was right, which was last summer."
(Boston Phoenix, September, 2005)