FOCUS ON: Mario Furloni
Focus on his work, Freeland and the Filmaker360 residency
His short documentary Pot Country, co-directed with Kate McLean, was in the official selection of HotDocs, Big Sky and Mill Valley Film Festival. This year, at the San Francisco Film Festival 2016, he presented the short film Someone Is Happy Somewhere, co-directed with his brother Alvaro.
Director (Someone is Happy Somewhere, First Friday, Pot Country), screenwriter and cinematographer (After My Garden Grows, short documentary by Academy Award winner Megan Mylan), Mario Furloni, based in Oakland but originally from Brazil, is completing his 12-month San Francisco Film Society’s FilmHouse residency (part of Filmaker360), where he is developing his feature film project, Freeland.
Freeland tells the story of a fictional commune, hidden in the Californian nature, which is self-sufficient through marijuana cultivation and an elderly lady, an expert gardener, who has been living in the commune for a long time.
Carolina Cavalli: Is the Freeland commune similar to any realities you know or you have lived in?
Mario Furloni: When I was five or six, my parents moved from the city to a small farm in the hills near Rio de Janeiro. Though not to a commune, my parents shared with the American hippies the fact they were trying to get away from the perceived evils of civilization and return to a simpler life on the land. Later, as a young man, I lived for a brief period with an extraordinary family in a farm in Maine, whose experiences helped form some of the characters and situations in Freeland.
CC: What is good about Freeland, compared to the real world? Do you think Freeland and the “real world” are getting closer or growing apart?
MF: One of the back-to-the-landers-turned-pot-growers we interviewed for our documentary said that she had moved there to get away from mainstream society, and now the mainstream was encroaching upon them. And I think that’s true not just for small pot growers in Northern California, but in a lot of other places around the world that were once isolated enough to create a refuge for those who can’t function or whose beliefs don’t agree with mainstream society. For years, marijuana had made it possible for people to remain isolated while still leading a fairly comfortable life. The farm subsidy, some called the ban on marijuana. But times are changing, and the growers must adapt to a new way of making a living.
CC: Taking into consideration your previous project Pot Country, can relations in a lawless community or business survive on respect? Does that happen?
MF: I think yes, for some. We encountered many instances of relations based on trust and respect. Growers who were proud of paying a good wage to their trimmers, deals made and kept by a handshake. And in some ways the that’s the image I had of the place before we started digging in a sort of idyllic hippieoutlaw community where people trusted and protected each other from the outside world.
But the reality is a lot more complicated than that. The new economic hierarchy brings in its wake mistrust among neighbors, paranoia, shootings, disappearances. But I also think that violence becomes inevitable in a place where there’s no legal recourse, where calling the cops is a taboo. What’s interesting in some ways is to have this group of highly intelligent people who actively decided to live that way, outside the protection of the state.
CC: Who is your favorite fictional outlaw?
MF: There’s a character from Brazilian history whose exploits were often fictionalized. His nom de guerre was Madame Satã (yes, Madam Satan) and he was at once a beguiling drag performer, a capoeira fighter, the illiterate son of former slaves, and a feared outlaw who haunted Bahia and Rio in the first half of the 20th century.
CC: How did the collaboration with your co-director start?
MF: Kate McLean and I met as journalism students in grad school. For a summer, Kate had inadvertently become the weed correspondent for the Bay Area pages of the New York Times, and she was the one who first spotted the rich trove of stories among the pot growing community in the hills of Humboldt and Mendocino counties.
After we made the documentary Pot Country in 2011, we moved on to other projects, and remained fast friends. And years later we’d often get together and talk about all the stories and tall tales and characters from that world that still haunted us. So we decided to approach it as a fiction film. A year later we met our amazing producer and creative partner Laura Heberton, and together we’ve been fighting the battle to get this story told.
CC: Do you think the SFFS’s FilmHouse Residency helped the development of your project? Did you get to interact with fellow residents?
MF: Yes, no doubt. The SFFS’s FilmHouse residency has been absolutely instrumental to the development of Freeland. For one it provided us with a yearlong office space in their gorgeous, sunlit building in Chinatown. But most importantly, we gained access to an incredible community of fellow filmmakers who are all going through the same issues to get their films made, and the mentorship we’ve received from our peers has been invaluable. We’ve also been fortunate to receive a packaging grant from San Francisco Film Society and the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, which has allowed us to work on casting and financing the project. We’re in high action mode right now, cause time is of the essence: we plan to shoot the film in September/October of this year, on location in Humboldt.
CC: How was the application process?
MF: The application process was fairly simple. You apply with a project, but there’s a clear sense that SFFS wants to support filmmakers through their careers. The Filmmaker 360 crew is incredibly talented, and there’s a strong vision behind it to foster a robust film community in the area.
The aplication for the the next San Francisco Film Society’s residency will be open late summer 2016
For more info: Filmhouse’s webpage