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5 Questions with Zachary Sluser of The Driftless Area

Zachary Sluser’s film The Driftless Area has one more screening at the Tribeca Film Festival, this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Regal Cinemas Battery Park. The reception to the film has been very overwhelming for the Montreal-born, Iowa-raised Sluser, with whom we spoke over the phone from New York.

However, Sluser remains humble in his writing and directing career. He is a real pleasure with whom to speak, revealing a lot about himself, the film, and the casting process.

Where did you shoot the film?

We shot the movie in rural British Columbia. And we went back to the actual Driftless Area to shoot some of the kind of unique scenery, to incorporate it and establish the look of the film as well.

How does one end up moving from Montreal to Iowa?

It’s a very good question, and the answer is the town of Fairfield, Iowa is the home for a school of transcendental mediation, which my parents wanted to raise me in, so I went to this school, and mediated at the beginning of the day, and then after school, and then mediated again with the rest of the kids in the class. So it was a very unique town (chuckling). It’s unlike any other 10,000 person town in the middle of Iowa. There’s like the Farmer’s Market and the monthly Art Walk. It’s a little taste of Mendocino or Sedona in Iowa.

How do these experience relate to the Driftless Area?

I was exposed to a lot of Eastern concepts like karma and reincarnation and Indian astrology which is called Jytotish, so from an early age, I was kind of wrestling with where I decided I…fit with all these themes, and in one aspect of my life I was frustrated that the universe had decided everything was already going to happen. You know, no fifteen-year-old kid wants to hear that (chuckling). They want to say, “I’m going to make my life go this way”. At the same time I feel like everyone does want security in the universe being fair, and having an order and a plan and everything. Those two things kind of butt heads with each other, so when I read Tom Drury’s novel, The Driftless Area, it dealt with these themes of time and date and destiny and the afterlife. It was very matter-fact, and approachable and funny. It also took place in this region of the Midwest that I grew up maybe three hours from and had never been before to this…very magical and unique region of the Midwest. That’s what drew me.

How did you come to assemble the very talented cast?

Anton Yelchin was definitely our first choice for Pierre. There’s something so unique and talented about him as an actor, he’s got an innocence about him, and yet he’s got a quiet intelligence about him too and a toughness all at once. He’s very easy to empathize with, as a very quietly resourceful hero and an unexpected hero, and that’s what Pierre is.

John (Hawkes) and I met with Anton to discuss the film, and I think it was very exciting to have Zooey (Deschanel) in the role of Stella. I’ve been a fan of her independent films like All the Real Girls that David Gordon Green made and The Good Girl that Miguel Arteta made and the serial and sharp-witted qualities to her in those movies, and I think that everyone has fallen in love with her in 500 Days of Summer and Elf and in her TV show. I think that I’m excited to share with some of her new fans how versatile a performer she is and I think it shows in The Driftless Area. It harkens back to her earlier work and shows what kind of a dramatic actress she can be. It also goes with Aubrey (Plaza) and for Alia (Shawkat), I think that these are very well-loved comedic actresses and there’s definitely humour and their roles here, their dramatic chops are definitely present. Obviously, Frank Langella and Ciarin Hinds are some of our finest actors and I’m very humbled we could assemble this cast, including some that we found in Vancouver, like Benjamin Rogers.

How did you choose to premiere the film at Tribeca?

We were lucky enough to have Tribeca choose us, I think. They really believed in the movie, and saw that audiences would respond to this unique kind of film, and something that is a change of pace I think, it’s grounded in reality and the romance and the noir of the story, but it also very much has its metaphysical and surreal layers to it.