Jeff Nichols, who had previously made the apocalyptic drama “Take Shelter,” the Mark Twain-y “Mud,” and the bold, John Carpenter-indebted “Midnight Special” along with the Oscar-nominated period drama “Loving,” says his new film “The Bikeriders” is unlike anything else he’s previously made. While the earlier movies were about emotion, this new film is built around, as he says, a “feeling.”
“For me, emotions are like this very specific personal emotional reaction to a thing, and this is different than that,” Nichols explained to TheWrap. And he’ll soon be taking that feeling home, as he premieres “The Bikeriders” on his home turf.
Fresh off of its rapturously received debut at the Telluride Film Festival (and ahead of its Dec. 1 release date), filmmaker Jeff Nichols will be bringing his brand-new film “The Bikeriders” to his home state of Arkansas. The Arkansas Cinema Society and the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts will host a special pre-release presentation of the film on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2023 in Little Rock, Arkansas. Nichols will attend the event and participate in a Q&A following the film.
The screening will take place as part of Filmland, with is the society’s annual fundraising drive/film festival, which takes place between Friday, October 13th and Tuesday, Oct. 17th at AMFA, located at 501 E. Ninth St. in Little Rock.
TheWrap spoke to Nichols about the Arkansas Cinema Society, which he founded, as well as “The Bikeriders,” which stars Tom Hardy, Austin Butler and Jodie Comer and is based on a nonfiction photo book by Danny Lyon. (We’ll have more about “The Bikeriders” from Nichols before the movie’s early December release date). Nichols is one of the most exciting filmmakers working today and it’s a huge thrill that he’s back (his last films were “Midnight Special” and “Loving,” both in 2016). “The Bikeriders,” according to our review, will “whisk you away with a roar of mood and atmosphere.” Ready to ride?
What can you say about the Arkansas Cinema Society, which you founded, and why it’s so important to you?
Well, we started in 2017. There had been a Little Rock Film Festival before this, but it had to close just because of financial reasons and everything else, and I was just coming off a good year with “Midnight Special” and “Loving” coming out, and it felt like a good time to try to do something in Little Rock. I ran into Kathryn Tucker, who is my co-founder and executive director. We went to high school together and we’re just talking about film in Arkansas, film in Little Rock, and I’ve lived in Austin for a really long time now, and I was just greatly affected by Richard Linklater’s Austin Film Society and what that had done for the community, what it had done for me personally. It felt like in an industry, especially in regional places like Little Rock, there can be so few touch points to cinema, especially to the actual production of it, to get people together to watch and talk about cinema, like-minded people that are interested in this either as a career or just something important that they have in their lives.
It felt like a thing we needed to do. It felt like something that was lacking honestly in the state and it felt like a good time for me, personally, to do it. When I was growing up, I just felt so distant from the film business. I remember getting into film school was the first step that started to break down this dream of being able to make films. It just seemed like such a silly thing. Even after film school, I remember I would tell people, even after I’d made “Shotgun Stories,” my first film, they were like, “What do you do?” I was like, “I make movies,” and I would giggle because it still seemed absurd.
I remember my junior year of college, I got an internship with the American Pavilion and I interned at Cannes. It was moments like that just being even in proximity to people that are making films, people that are part of this industry, it seemed just to bring it down to earth a little bit and make it seem more feasible, more possible. And that’s what we’re trying to do with the Cinema Society. We have Filmland every year which is essentially our festival. It’s our big fundraiser, but it’s also our moment to put all of our attention and focus on Filmland. We do programming throughout the year, but that’s kind of our big event. And the idea originally was just try to get people that make films to come talk about their films because I think that demystifies the process for people and I think it makes it that much more attainable.
That was really the reason for starting it. And then, gosh, 2017, so we are moving on six years now, and it’s funny to see it start to take up its own identity outside of me, which was always the goal that the programming would start to become its own, that we would start to, we have this amazing summer program, it’s the Lab for Teen Girls, a filmmaking lab, things like this that really start to, I don’t know, reach out into the community to touch people’s lives. And I think originally, we talked about just doing a film festival, and I was like, “Yeah, I get it. I get it. It’s good.” It maybe brings films to the community that they wouldn’t see otherwise, but that’s no longer really an issue because of the way people access content. I really wanted a program that would be year-round that would continually contribute to the community.
Have you seen what you wanted the program to do within the community?
Slowly. I’d never started a nonprofit before and I certainly am not part of the day-to-day operations. We have an incredible team that helps do that, but it’s a chore. You’re kind of constantly going out and looking for supporters and people to donate and I have to give a lot of credit to the community of Little Rock. They’ve stepped forward. We have had some really good corporate sponsors, but nobody that comes in and is just like, “Hey, we’ve got you. We’re going to take care of that.” It’s really been smaller donations collected from the community, and the more resources we have, the more we can do. And I feel like we’ve built the infrastructure now. We’ve got mailing lists and members, and we’ve got enough infrastructure to where we can do some really cool things as long as we can keep the funding going and keep people’s interest there.
But it feels like we’re on the right path. The Austin Film Society, there’s one program that we’ve been trying to shape. There was a really simple one. They do these Texas Filmmaker Production grants through the Austin Film Society. And I got one early on with “Shotgun Stories,” and it was a really cool thing. It basically was just like, if you can prove that you’ve attended a film festival, they’ll give you like $150 grant. And it was one of those things like you could tell it was a film society made by filmmakers because I was so broke when I was making “Shotgun Stories” and I was traveling all over the world to these film festivals and I couldn’t afford to eat because I was just so broke. And that type of grant program, it made a real difference for me. And we’re trying to do things like that, that are kind of smart and with maybe limited resources can actually have an impact on the film community and filmmakers.
It can make a big difference.
It absolutely can make a difference and I know, I get it. We’re not curing cancer and there are a lot of really important nonprofits out in the world, but at the same time, if we are in the creative arts and we do believe in the impact that it can have on audiences, but also the impact that it can have on local economies and the impact it can have on people’s careers and lives and their ability to connect with other human beings at some point, I’m not the most artsy-fartsy guy in the world, but at some point, there is reality there, there is truth to it. And this is an organization that it’s just trying to do something in a moment when you could choose to do nothing. We’re just trying to spark some people in a place that has a ton of creativity. And Arkansas is my home, but it doesn’t always have all the touch points that you might get other places for this industry.
What does it mean to you, having a new movie and bringing it to the Arkansas Cinema Society?
Well, it’s funny. One of the things that started the Cinema Society was I took “Loving” back there to screen it, and there was no infrastructure, there was no email blast list, there was no formal community at all, and now we’ve built that. So, quite selfishly, now, I just have an easy way to promote my film when I go back to Arkansas. That’s way too reductive. But you go off and you make these things, and I have so many friends and my family still lives in Little Rock. You want a way to share your work with them. And so, very selfishly, that’s what’s going to be happening. I’m going to get to bring this film back to my hometown and share it with the people that I really, really care about and that community that I really, really care about. It is a hundred percent for me, and I hope there’s some positive stuff for the community, but first and foremost, I’m taking advantage of it.
We just created this partnership with the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts, and I actually grew up at the art center doing children’s theater and other stuff, and they’ve done this massive renovation to it. Now it’s the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts, and it’s kind of our home base for the Cinema Society. This will be our first year to have programming there. And I don’t know, I’m just excited. I’m excited to show this movie to anyone. I’m really proud of it, but I’m especially excited to take it home.
Where did “The Bikeriders” come from?
It just started as a feeling. There’s definitely a vibe to all my films, but this one more than anything is this. It’s a feeling and it’s built differently than the other films. The other films were built around an emotion, and it’s easy to be like, well, feelings, emotions, what’s the difference? Well, for me, emotions are like this very specific personal emotional reaction to a thing, and this is different than that. There’s a lot of emotionality in “The Bikeriders,” but the impetus for it was looking at these photographs and getting just the sense of a time and of a place, and to take that a step further, a subculture that was very specific to this time and very specific to this place that is now gone. Now, obviously, biker culture still exists, biker gangs still exists. The club that Danny photographs still exists. It’s not really what I’m talking about.
What I’m talking about is a moment in time in the trajectory of that club and this fictional club that I created, this idea that you can have a subculture that is really actually fierce and defined by style and music and something as concrete as building machines and motorcycles. And it lives in this beautiful kind of unstructured place for this period of time. And then, it’s gone. Danny Lyon in his book, he writes about it. He went back and visited the club several years later and was finding out about things. And he talks about the demise of the guy who started the club, and he realizes that was the end of the golden age of motorcycles. That was the end of this thing that I was a part of briefly in the sixties. That to me is kind of the definition of nostalgia. Looking back on a unique period of time on a thing that you can’t get back. You can get pieces of it back, but the whole thing, it’s gone.
And that feeling, which is both a little sad but also a little beautiful and maybe makes you smile, I wanted to make a movie about that feeling. And in doing so, I wanted to invoke how awesome I feel when I watched the first 15 minutes of “The Outsiders” and how amazing it is whenever I listen to all of the music. I’ve been a fan of fifties and sixties music my entire life. And that feeling that you get the first time you hear a sonic song, the first time you hear an animal song kick in, or the Shangri-Las for that matter. All of this music is used in the film, and I wanted people to experience that feeling in a very palpable way, and the movie does that. The movie achieves that the same way that the book does and that I’m very proud of.
“The Bikeriders” will screen as part of the Arkansas Cinema Society and the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts’ Filmland on Sunday, Oct. 15. The film will be in theaters everywhere on Friday, December 1. Leather jackets optional.