Todd Chandler’s FLOOD TIDE is anything but a typical film. A narrative reconstruction, retelling, and reimagining of an actual art experience/community in which creative people came together and built art barges to float down the Hudson River, Flood Tide weaves together several layers of storytelling into a comprehensive journey, both physical and spiritual. When a well-loved artist friend drowns herself in the river, a community gathers to come to terms with her choice in their own way. Despite their lack of knowledge, they build ships from found materials – including motors, and commune with the river. The set up is based on a very real art project that occurred many years prior, and was recreated in 2008.
Chandler wrote, directed and edited the film after accompanying the floating tribe on their journey to both document the experience, and as a member of the band Dark Dark Dark. The band provided music at the shows the artists did along their trip, as well as providing the soundtrack to the film. Interestingly enough, Chandler also appears in the film, but as an artist who doesn’t go on the floating expedition. His side journey, as a sculptor who stays in the town and reflects on building his own ‘created’ community, offers a counter to the chaos of the armada of artists.
A third story arc follows Maya, the deceased artist, whose voice makes its own journey down the river describing what she sees. I had a chance to speak with Chandler about his unconventional film, which will be given an unconventional release as a double LP vinyl soundtrack with an HD digital download (of the film) on January 20th.
In 2008, Swoon, one of the other artists involved, decided to do a similar project on the Hudson River, similar, but a little more ‘aesthetically guided.’ “A similar group of people,” Chandler explains, “but on the spectrum of arts and life, it was more on the side of art.”
Chandler was living in Troy, New York at the time, near where the boats were going to be launched, and decided it was the perfect time to make the film he had thought of a few years earlier. “I sketched out a brief story based on the main characters who were the members of the band,” he says, referring to Dark Dark Dark, who would be joining the project as musical accompaniment, “and then we shot on the way down the river and jumped out to shoot ancillary scenes.”
Chandler wasn’t interested in just making a documentary of the journey, something which would have had its own set of issues, being on boat the whole time. “It’s not documentary, it’s a sort of hybrid,” he says, “it’s sort of documentation, if that distinction makes sense.” The filmmaker describes his film as closer in kinship to a logical extension of documenting art installation projects, something with which he has experience.
At the heart of what Chandler wanted to capture was the mythology that developed around the project – everyone had a different reason and motivation for being a part of it, some of them wanted to learn to work on motors, some of them wanted to have fun, some of them wanted to learn how to talk to strangers. “On the flipside, everyone we met had a different reaction,” he laughs, “like ‘I’ve always wanted to do that’ or ‘Can I join you guys?’ or ‘Do you guys have orgies on those things?’ So I thought that it would be more interesting, instead of making a kind of singular documentary, to think about adding to those layers of mythology.”
Part of the added mythology is the character that responds to the death of his friend in a completely opposite way, by shutting himself up in an abandoned warehouse and not going on the river, but instead building his own art. “The project for me was kind of a social experiment,” the director says, looking back on the original Miss Rockaway Armada project, “I had never really positioned myself, outside of being in bands, as part of a larger community. I just have a lot of individual friendships, so it was the big experiment for me to put myself in this project and live on a raft with 40 or 50 other people, all with really strong personalities.
I really learned a lot, and I came out of it with a lot of questions about community and isolation.” When making Flood Tide, Chandler created someone who could ask those questions, what it means to make something together, what it means to make something by yourself. He is skeptical, but on the same journey. Another reason, of course, was purely practical. “I knew when we got out on the river we would not have any control over what we were shooting,” he admits, “we did jump off and shoot things that were more controlled, but on the raft I just knew from experience that there was no way – we can’t be like ‘alright everybody, let’s turn these around and shoot that thing again – it’s not going to happen.” Chandler’s character in film allowed him to create a more controlled environment that he could return to, when needed, to help tie the themes together.
I very much appreciated the alternate view in the film, since the biggest danger of a film like this is that it would end up too self-congratulatory. Stepping out of the goal of documenting the journey and instead making a new piece of art, using this art experience as a stepping stone gives it a much richer feel. “There’s a future life and then there is also a critique embedded in the film,” Chandler says, “I feel like it was a way for me to recognize the beauty of the project and this kind of impossible gesture but also ask questions that I was interested in, coming out of the project.”
In fact, not everybody’s experience on the rafts is entirely positive. There are a chorus of voices that recur through the film, offering different perspectives on the journey, some of which are surprisingly negative or at least not as ‘rah rah hippie dippy’ as one might expect. “Some of those found voices in the chorus come from actual interviews with people who were involved in the project,” the director explains, “like ‘It took me two months to get my personality back after that trip.’ That’s a real thing. For me, one of the things that was really important was to be able to say ‘Hey this wasn’t perfect, This was hard, there were these problems.’ And it’s also still be really beautiful and amazing.
“The film has audiences in a lot of different places,” says Chandler; “it has a music audience because of Dark Dark Dark, it has this art following, and then it’s also a film, but it’s not exactly an indie film.” Knowing the film would not be making an extended festival circuit, the director knew he was going to do a lot of leg work himself, finding places for it to screen. He reached out to venues he thought would get it, places where people had a history of making projects of this nature.
“I just took what I knew from making music and making art,” he says, “I really sort of like that, and like that it can exist in a variety of spaces.” The film is set to make its Texas Premiere March 27th at the Aurora Picture Show in Houston, with other dates in Texas to follow (yet to be announced). In the meantime, the film is a getting a lavish release, not as a BluRay or DVD, but as a soundtrack. On January 20th, fans of Dark Dark Dark (and let me tell you, the music in this film is mesmerizing – beautiful and mysterious, just like the project itself) will be treated to a Double LP vinyl soundtrack with laser-etched art. The record comes with a HD download and stream of the feature film, as well as mp3 and FLAC downloads of the music.
Flood Tide exists in a truly fascinating world, one drawn on either side by cinematic narrative and visual artistic expression. As glimpse into an art project that could only be truly understood by those creating it, it captures a mood more than a definitive account. However the mood and tension and the way this particular artist chooses to comment on another artist’s work, adding to it, shaping it, re-expressing it, is far more interesting than any chronicle of the event that could exist. The film is gorgeous, the music is evocative, and the journey is somewhat perplexing, just as it must have been for those on it.
More information about the film, as well as the preorder for the vinyl package can be found here.