At a Balkan folk song and dance camp in the woods of Mendocino, California, Sarah reunites with her old friend Isolde and with a song she learned years ago about dragons who entwine themselves in a woman's hair and carry her away through the forest, burning it as they go. When Sarah pursues a romance with a new camper Steph, the nights of sensual secrets and singing with Isolde come to an abrupt end. But the song crawls closer.
- Sarah Small
- Charlie Hewson
- Isolde Chae-Lawrence
- Josephine Decker
- Ashley Connor
- Josephine Decker
After a crisis of confidence about halfway through editing BUTTER ON THE LATCH in which I felt I could not deal with the utter imperfection of working in cinema, I went to the Zen monastery I frequent for a sesshin, an intensive retreat in which silence and stillness go almost completely unbroken. During one of our few rest periods I took a walk through the woods. It began to rain, and I ran for shelter, ending up at the monastery’s small cemetery. Sitting next to a Buddha three times my size, I watched the rain crash through the branches – the most violent act I had seen in days – and marveled. The trees twisted and wailed in an eager battle for existence against and yet with the elements. I sat and regarded these trees – lumped together in one word as one thing – until I noticed that the tree that drew my attention, the one that struggled most in the wind, was smaller and more scraggly than the rest. Ungracefully holding itself up against the wind, it spoke its message clearly: beauty is imperfection.
This film was enabled by the meeting of my mind with three other people’s – Joe Swanberg’s, Sarah Small’s and Ashley Connor’s. While working with Joe on three of his films, I watched and ingested his process, found it to be entirely liberating from the painstaking perfectionism of my scriptwriting – I had already “massaged” many of my scripts into oblivion – and decided to make an improvised work. I had become fascinated with the East European Folklife Center’s summer camps through Sarah Small, whose singing trio Black Sea Hotel had led me to discover that entire community which gathers with grace, joy, and darkness in spacious places to explore traditional Balkan folk song and dance. Thanks to a series of synchronistic meetings and introductions, I was able to film a short documentary at their camp and, the next year, asked permission to return to film a narrative based on a folk song. That film became BUTTER ON THE LATCH.
Through our collaboration on her own film THE DELIRIUM CONSTRUCTIONS, I knew I wanted to create this work with Sarah, a person deeply ingrained in the community and the folklore the movie would be about as well as an artist with a likeminded interest in improvisation, the deeply human, the unhinged and the unpleasant, the transcendent. Cinematically, Ashley Connor came in with an unprecedented visual style – which allowed the film to range through many emotions not simply narratively but through all of the senses. Her art made the strange aura of the film possible, and to her, I am deeply in debt.
On the topic of directing, I think of madness as an important and powerful part of being a woman. It is something to fear and understand and behold and hold up. The imperfect, unfinished worlds inside ourselves that sometimes leak out hold unrestricted power – and danger. I enjoy the part of myself that is and will always be insane, although, through ‘growing up’ and the practicing of Zen meditation, that part of me increasingly embraces itself. In madness, one does not embrace oneself, and this film, and probably many others I will make, is about people who do not know how to embrace themselves – and thus go awry.
Going awry is – the essence of play. I am not very good at playing in reality, only in films. So, I hope to go mad onscreen many, many times.
- THIRD ROOM PRODUCTIONS LLC
An utter exhilaration of cinematic imagination, a pure high of invention.
A sexy, wild romp you have to see to believe.
A bold, unsettling film.
I’m really interested in immersive experience. I loved shooting from the perspective of some other being. Those are things that are kind of interesting to me.
Josephine Decker was born in London in 1981. After earning a degree in Comparative Literature and Creative Writing, she studied Literature, Film Studies and Political Science. She works as a screenwriter, director, editor, actress and producer. Her films include NAKED PRINCETON (2005), BI THE WAY (2008), ME THE TERRIBLE (2012), BUTTER ON THE LATCH (2013), THOU WAST MILD AND LOVELY (2014), and MADELINE’S MADELINE (2018).