Cross Country Movies with Sean Kenny
Cross-country road trips are always epic and this week Sean Kenny releases Burning Folk: A Road Movie. We got a chance to chat at Sparrows and ask some questions about the movie, and got the answer that alleviates all existential crises.
H: Why GR?
SK: Absolute synchronicity and randomness. There were a few contributing factors, in1993 I came to intern at the GVSU counseling center. In addition, Socrates coffee shop was at Ethel and Wealthy and then there was existential confusion. The need to sit still to figure out what is the meaning of life.
I never meant to come and stay but I fell madly in love with the city. It is a blend of size sort of Goldilocks scenario. It is….. just right. The arts community is vital there is always something happening, There is a birth of critical mass happening here that Portland and Seattle have gone through. Also, it is the fucking place to be so people can shut up and start liking it.
H: Places to go?
SK: Sparrows, Avenue for the Arts, East Hills, Wealthy Theater, Wealthy corridor and I can walk to all those places from my house.
H: Let’s talk about Burning Folk…. Feature length?
SK: I wanted to move towards feature length because short films have short legs and not a lot of roots. There is an identified product process for sharing. Also, I love road movies and I needed a longer format to explore those ideas.
H: Fav road movies? What qualities did you draw on or just enjoy in general?
SK: Slacker, it is shifting with no plot. Avant garde road movies including Gus Van Sant movie, Mala Noche which roughly translated is bad night, the film is b/w made on a shoestring and is one of the only gay road movies along with Pricilla queen of the desert which i also like! I should add that ours is not a gay road movie, not that there is anything wrong with that..
H: Since you traveled for over a month shooting what were your favorite locations?
SK: We drove through Kansas at the time when they were burning the fields so to see that at night was like seeing the end of the world in the daytime there are mushrooms clouds and flat you can see the fire a long way. And it is dangerous, when we were there a guy died because the wind shifted and he died from smoke inhalation. Her forgot to run away. Also, West Texas is really desolate and beautiful there are just lizards and rocks; The White Sands National Monument is unlike anywhere else on planet Earth. It is 200 sq miles of white sand you can camp, drive, meditate… it is warm, windy, surreal and vast. Getting easily lost like a labyrinth
H: All of the places you mentioned seemed lonely desolate is this personal or are you responding to the movie?
SK: There is the beauty of desolation of your interior space… I guess the desert becomes a good metaphor for that.
H: So tell us a little about shooting and the movie.
SK: The film was shot over 1 month in real time, we traveled across the country and shot a few extra scenes in GR. There is some beautiful imagery of the US especially a scene shot in the south west and a scene with my uncle Danny cleaning out the fireplace. Almost all music is local with a track donated by Tim Fite and Terry Dame & The Electric Junkyard Gamelon.
H: After almost 20 years later have you answered what is meaning of life?
SK: It turns out that it’s a trick…a red herring. It is the wrong question… the right question is what the fuck are you going to do with yourself.
H: Have you road tripped before?
SK: Both in the US and a bit in Paris. In 2000, I was going on an epic road trip across the US and stopped in to see Sam (cousin) in Chicago, he had just graduated and decided to go as well. We spent the next few months traveling. I guess that might have laid the groundwork for the film.
H: We like to know about process…. How long did Burning Folk take? Cost etc.
SK: Preproduction, shooting and editing it took 3 years BUT I gathered equipment and funds for about 5 years ahead of time. I enjoy the process and not rushing any part of the editing, it is a lifestyle. I have enough motivation to keep on task but it takes longer.
I don’t have an expectation that I will turn a profit it would be nice to eventually break even. The entire thing probably cost about $25,000 which is important because I was able to do it all by myself. I think I have a better film as a result.
H: You seem to have a creative partnership with your cousins, Sam and Rebecca, how did that happen?
SK: Well Sam was really into improv and went through the Improv Olympics in Chicago. When he got to GR he asked us to be in a group and do long form improv. So we did long form imporv as Notable Sawyer for a while. So the way the movie is made is that almost every scene is improvised. We say, “Hey remember when that thing happened?” Then, we re-enact it and heighten it a bit here and there at some location that we found while traveling. It’s quite impromptu and filled with happy accidents.
H:What take aways do you want people to get from the movie?
SK: Enjoy your trip; I hope it makes them laugh and go on their own walkabouts. Herbal enhancement is not necessary but recommended. The scenery is beautiful so, even if you don’t like the characters, the road will entertain you. The road is good like that.
H: Things to know…