There are so many huge films with big name stars playing this year’s SXSW, it is easy to forget that a lot of the films in the program come from unknowns, first time filmmakers with little more than a dream. Though these films often have their issues, they are filled with inspiration and excitement. They may not even get a real release, but they will more than likely get the filmmaker a deal for their next film, and a bigger budget. I love searching for these gems at the festival, and to keep an ear out for the out of nowhere hits. After a sold out world premiere, SWEATY BETTY may be this year’s break out narrative.
Set in the Cheverly neighborhood outside DC, SWEATY BETTY follows the somewhat misguided dreams of two sets of men. Rico and Scooby, two teenage single dads and best friends, are given a dog, which they in turn look to sell. A couple of streets away, Floyd and his brother have raised a 1000 pound pig (Charlotte) to hopefully be the next Redskins mascot (God knows they need some good press). As the pig’s fame increases, the authorities get wind of this giant ‘pet’ living in a suburban neighborhood. I spoke with writers/directors/producers Joseph Frank and Zachary Reed about their film a few hours after a glowing review from Indiewire hit the interwebs.
In fact, the actual plot of SWEATY BETTY is extremely minimal, with long sections given over to dialogue that is so densely regional, the film is entirely subtitled. “That’s what we had to do,” says Reed, “we let his [Frank] mom and dad view it without the subtitles and they didn’t understand it.” However, the subtitles actually work to the film’s advantage, giving the audience a view into a foreign land, even if its just a few states away. “These people create some really descriptive words that normal people don’t use,” says Frank, “like in the movie Scooby says ‘I made a swerve the other day,’ basically like he made a move.’ Very colorful words that are used to describe simple actions.”
One reviewer recently referred to Scooby as ‘the ghetto Shakespeare.’ I wouldn’t go that far, but there is something very theatrical about the structure of the film. It opens with Scooby in dialogue with whoever is operating the camera, talking about making a movie to get ahead in life, move to find his own thing. After this long intro, we follow Scooby on his day, his interactions with Rico, finding the dog, etc. They never refer back to the camera, even at the end. The other side of the film, with the pig, features real life news footage, and some (obviously) staged interviews after the controversy. Both stories are thematically related but do not intertwine, because, well, they didn’t. “In real life, they don’t cross paths,” says Frank. Another thing keeping the film real, is that it plays out in real time. The filmmakers acknowledge that some audiences may find it slow, but this plays into their goal to shoot life as normal in the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia for the uninitiated).
I had an interesting conversation explaining the genre to the filmmakers, who used a lot of improvisation and modeled their treatment on CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, but they immediately saw how their film might fit in. Their characters may have more obstacles in their life than a lot of the hipster ennui we see in the typical mumblecore, but Reed is quick to point out “small cheese gets under anybody’s skin.” Being here at SXSW have given the duo, who shot their film on a camcorder bought at Best Buy, a lot of excitement for their future, and they plan to shoot a comedy next. “It’s over whelming, and it’s a very humbling feeling,” says Reed about the response the film has had, “we really did put our heart and soul into this movie but we could have never expected this.”
SWEATY BETTY plays its final screening at SXSW on Thursday at 10:30 pm at the Alamo Lamar. Prior fest screenings have featured another large pig, Charlotte’s cousin according to the filmmakers, and everyone is hoping this time the Redskins will reach out and adopt a new mascot.