If one’s searching for the responsible for the rise of the so-called millennial hipster filmmaker, then blame Lena Dunham.
When her film, “Tiny Furniture,” won the award for Best Narrative Feature at SXSW in 2010, it sparked a genre of filmmaking that lead to “Fort Tilden” recently winning SXSW’s Best Feature trophy — and with it, firmly establishing that the genre has taken root with audiences.
From directors Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers, “Tilden” centers on two self-absorbed Brooklyn twentysomething girls, Harper (Bridey Elliot) and Allie (Clare McNulty), who decide to bike to a remote beach in the Rockaways. In doing so, they encounter all sorts of city obstacles that, to New Yorkers, are just hilariously on-point.
Given the situations Allie and Harper find themselves in — and how they engage them — it’s easy to see a resemblance to Dunham’s HBO hit, “Girls,” and Rogers, 26, and Bliss, 30, do not shy away from the quick-twitch comparisons. They welcome the flattery, even as they try to differentiate themselves.
“We always knew that those elements were there and that if it had any measure of success, it would inevitably compared to ‘Girls,'” Bliss told The Wrap. “But we weren’t like, we want to make something like ‘Girls!’ The characters and the premise, that was what was our driving force.”
Rogers added: “I think there is room for as many voices as there should be when it comes to this topic. [Dunham] is one particular voice using this context, and we shouldn’t have to be expected to be the same, even if it takes place in that setting. There’s many angles that you can approach young people with.”
There are plenty of complaints about the four main characters on “Girls” being unlikable, and the same charge can most definitely be leveled against “Fort Tilden.” The difference, however, is that Rogers and Bliss aimed to make more of a satire, spoofing plenty of people they knew — vegans, terrible singer-songwriters, rich faux-bohemian artists, and aimless souls — to create a biting comedy that edges on bruising.
“The movie is definitely a combination of ourselves and people we know and the stories we’ve heard,” Rogers admitted. He continued: “There’s a lot of ourselves and things that we wanted to explore. Inevitably your issues end up working their way into the writing process, whether or not that’s something you planned on.
“And also there’s a lot of absurd things with this generation — being privileged, you can afford to make more interesting mistakes, and I think those things ended up working their way into the story.”
Harper, especially, is uproariously awful, with a propensity to insult and belittle people both behind their backs and right to their faces. But even she has the sort of backstory that renders her actions, if not justifiable, at least more understandable, and leaves her at least a bit sympathetic.
Still, even with the obvious efforts to soften up her roughest edges, the film did prove a bit polarizing amongst the audience.
“I think we were surprised a little bit, or at least I was, because the idea that people being unlikable should be such a simple concept,” Rogers said. “There are so many people that you know that are unlikable that are your friends. I had never before equated the idea of someone being unlikable in a film as a completely bad idea.”
Rogers went on to say that he thinks “it’s sad that people might find it polarizing because ultimately we have a lot of love, and we always approached it from a point of view where we expected audiences to respond to the comedy of what is unlikable in the characters. I think that takes some warming up to, or it’s just polarizing.”
The Grand Jury Prize that the pair won, after all, was not voted on by viewers, and it may be the case that, at SXSW in the southern hipster capital of Austin, it hit a little too close to home for those watching.
“The easiest thing to say is that the people who don’t like the movie hate themselves,” Rogers added with a laugh.
SXSW is far less a busy sales hub than festivals like Sundance and Toronto, so getting a distributor — despite all the buzz and definite interest about the film — may take a while. Even the filmmakers aren’t quite sure of what sort of platform might work best for a film that has broad comedy within a niche subject matter.
“It’s hard,” Bliss said. “I’m not totally up to speed and I think everyone’s a little in confusion about what the right strategy is, in general … Distribution is always kind of a mass problem, so we’re interested in hearing what distributors might be best for it, if that aligns with our hopes for [the film].”
While Bliss acknowledges that a a filmmaker’s dream is always to see their film in a theater, she acknowledges that “maybe that’s not necessarily the right move.”
“The bottom line, ” Bliss explains, “is we just want as many people to see it and enjoy it as possible.”