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Defending Obnoxious Millennials: An Interview With The Team Behind 'Fort Tilden'
To say that Fort Tilden has had a polarizing effect on its audiences is an understatement. The indie film, which opened this weekend in L.A., began as an NYU grad thesis project for directors Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers. And while it won the SXSW 2014 Grand Jury Prize, it's also managed to draw scathing criticism about its 20something Brooklynite protagonists/anti-heroines Harper (Bridey Elliott) and Allie (Clare McNulty), who are undergoing a quarter life crises.
To wit: our Gothamist compatriot Lauren Evans wrote the piece, Spoiler: New Indie Film Fort Tilden May Make You Homicidal. Here's a little excerpt:
Allie and Harper might be novel, clever characters in bumfuck Maryland. But here's what's troubling: take a stroll down the kombucha aisle of Brooklyn Natural, and you'll find a whole swarm of Allies and Harpers, and maybe even a Maeve or a Jasper. The parody of hipster culture—perfected by Portlandia—has eaten itself and is now self-replicating. What was once a joke is now lost in inscrutable thickets of irony. Is that guy in the pleated stonewashed jeans and feathers reading Infinite Jest during a noisecore show at Shea Stadium commenting on scenester pretension, or has he become it? Does he even know anymore?
She ends her review with a hilarious list of 15 things audience members could do with the 90 minutes spent watching Fort Tilden (like file for divorce, update your iPhone or watch 83 percent of 12 Years a Slave).
We've seen the film, too, but we didn't think it was that bad. Sure, there were scenes in which we wanted to reach through the screen and scream some sense into these whiny, entitled, drifting characters. (Harper is a self-defined "artist" who lives off the Bank of Dad, and Allie has signed up for the Peace Corps. Whether she'll go or not is the question.) But we also have to admit that we laughed out loud a few times at their snark and their ridiculous decision-making.
So when we recently got the chance to interview filmmakers Bliss, Rogers and the actors, we couldn't help but ask them about the film and its divisive nature. "It was always satire in our minds," said Bliss. "We wanted the comedy of the film to not cast too much judgement, but also not let their mistakes slide, either."
Most of Fort Tilden is drawn from experiences with friends, people they know and their own lives, Rogers said." As for being polarizing, we have a lot of friendships that are complicated with people that can drive you a little crazy," he said. "But that doesn't mean you don't love those people."
When we mentioned Evans' piece on the film, Rogers and Bliss seemed to take it all in stride, even relishing the critique. "Oh, she hated it. That is the most violent review we've gotten," Rogers said in between laughs with Bliss. They even included a blurb from the Gothamist review in the film's press release. "If the film offends you, it has to do, in my opinion, with your ability to accept that there's a duality in everyone," Rogers said. "And there's a part of you that may be unsavory."
Fort Tilden, a former Army base turned beach area in Queens, is about a dozen miles from where the characters live in Brooklyn. The film follows Allie and Harper's odyssey into Deep Brooklyn and beyond as they head to the Fort for a possible hookup with two guys they had met at a party the night before. Their trek is needlessly long, confusing and costly. Bliss and Rogers explained that since most people in New York don't have a car, the distance isn't easy to cover, and once they get to the Fort, most people still sure aren't sure where to go. "It's realistically hard enough to have a difficult time getting there." As the journey gets increasingly frustrating for the women (and the audience), many wonder if the film will end before the characters get to the beach. "I think they were always meant to go to the beach," said Bliss. "But the mythical land of Fort Tilden was not going to be an ideal experience."
When they screened the film earlier in New York, Elliott said there was more resistance to it than she expected. "No one likes to have their city judged," she said. "So we kind of felt like New York [watched it with] arms crossed." McNulty joked that many were probably in denial about the onscreen characters: "'These aren't people I know!'" or, "'I'm not this person!'"
Their characters are relatable, yet annoying. We were amused when Harper got their apartment "sex ready" by throwing a copy of Infinite Jest on the coffee table, but we were irritated beyond belief when the girls did ABSOLUTELY nothing as they watched one of their bikes get stolen from the checkout line at a clothing store. Despite these maddening traits of the characters, both McNulty and Elliott are quick to defend them. "You can feel empathy for these characters, which we do very deeply, and you can also look critically at the way they live their lives and the world they've created for themselves and how that world different from other people's experiences," McNulty said.
"[Harper's] so frustrating," Elliott added. "But I connected towards the anxiety. She's just, underneath it all, incredibly anxious about her life... It's not a feel good comedy, and maybe that's disorienting for some people."
Decide for yourself as Fort Tilden is now playing at the Laemmle's Music Hall 3 in Beverly Hills. It's also available on demand.