Writer, musician, actor, filmmaker and performance artist Josephine Decker is in love with the creative process and, as her two new films show, thrives within collaborative environments. Those two new films are Thou Wast Mild and Lovely and Butter on the Latch; both were created quickly and with low budget, and include a lot of improvisation. Decker likes to create an environment and then shoot the magic as it’s happening. She feels that a script can be constricting if one follows it too religiously.
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Thou Wast Mild and Lovely, for instance, definitely came from a script but Decker seemed to go out of her way to cast it with actors comfortable in the world of improvisation. The story follows a hired hand whose interactions with the father and daughter who employed him become awful in the most lovely of ways. That hired hand is played by Joe Swanberg (Art History, Silver Bullets) a filmmaker known for utilizing improvisation in much of his work. Also in the cast is the actor Robert Longstreet and filmmaker Geoff Marslett. It’s a gorgeous film filled with wit, spontaneity and violence.
Butter on the Latch is much more the result of improvisation but you wouldn’t necessarily know it. Two friends (Isolde Chae-Lawrence and Sarah Small) visit a Balkan folk festival that takes place in the dark Californian forest of Mendocino. While at first the two friends enjoy learning about the mythical stories, practicing traditional song and dance, one of them begins a romance that unexpectedly moves the story into darker psychological terrain. Filming the story with an actual music festival going on around it was an inspired idea and gives the film an effortless momentum and provides a contrast to the tension between the two friends.
The fact that both films are so fully realized and so beautifully shot, makes it hard to remember that Josephine Decker is such a young filmmaker. These two films are her first feature narrative projects. Prior to this, she had only made one documentary feature, Bi The Way, and a couple of shorts. It’s also clear, after watching these two sublime films, that Decker has barely begun to scratch the surface.