Interview With Damon Russell of Snow On Tha Bluff and Cul-De-Sac

I have said before that it could very well be that I built this blog, and wrote every day, and slaved, solely for the purpose creating a cover so that I can do interviews like this one with some of the most creatively cool people on the planet. Well, the other day I did this awesome interview with Jason Dolan – who was the co-author of the sweet little movie, Enter Nowhere. And when I was talking to him, he told me I totally had to check out the work of Damon Russell… specifically his Cul-De-Sac short (which I brought to you guys right here and told you all that you HAD to watch it immediately just so you can help me understand it) as well as his mind blowing, docu-fiction-ary, Snow On Tha Bluff. And after I picked my jaw up off the floor after having watched both, I ditched all semblance of pride, and begged Jason to introduce me to Mr. Russell. Well, he was gracious enough to step away from his work on The First 48 in order to chat with us today.

But first, I’m going to drop in two things right here. All for context. The first is a short movie you just HAVE to watch. Cul-De-Sac is beyond awesome. And I literally have no real idea what is going on. And the second, is a trailer for Snow On Tha Bluff. And you can watch the full length short for Cul-De-Sac here. And if you want to watch the entirety of Snow On Tha Bluff, you can do that here.

THiNC: “First – if I could mainly talk about Cul-de-Sac for a moment, because I’m still uncovering things in that short movie I didn’t see the first time I watched it. For example, the first dialog we hear is from father, on the phone – trying to order a woodpecker exterminator. Is that really what the conversation is about? Later we hear a woodpecker when he and son are playing outside. But with this short, you trained the audience to be ultra-paranoid!”

Damon Russell – “Alot of this film was improv and in the edit I used alot of it because it really worked and helped set up the normal world the family lives in.”

THiNC: “Improv? Wow. That is really quality improvisation is all I have to say.  Now about that paranoia, the audience is dropped into a very hostile environment very quickly. What is going on here? The sign language. The upside down welcome mat. The teddy bear. All such rich symbology and untapped backstory. Are you on the record explaining this short at all?”

Damon Russell – “Shawn Christensen, the writer, and I decided to leave it open ended and not over explain. Just made sense with the this story and the short amount of time we had to tell it.”

THiNC: “If you are uncomfortable with the previous question – are you willing to discuss this line of dialog between mother and father, “The way I see it, we could sit around here and figure out who it is, which could take days, weeks, months, and we probably won’t like the answer, or we go home, pick up our son, and leave tonight.” 

Damon Russell – “We wanted the story to unfold and for audience to figure out here a little more of what was going on. And here we are starting to hint at the bigger story but again, trying to hit a nice balance and not over explain.”

THiNC: “My guess? They are spies, trying to find a double agent of some sort? Someone that wronged them previously. But in their investigations, they’ve been found out, and are now being hunted. Which ends up with a dead “baby sitter” that had been helping them search for other listening devices etc. But that seems so woefully inadequate! There is so much going on here.”

Damon Russell – “Yes it’s essentially a spy thriller but set in everyday suburbia. And these are two people who were part of the intelligence community. They were unhappy with some of the things they were seeing and decided to get out. But their past catches up with them.”

THiNC – “Ok, on to Snow On Tha Bluff. I get Cinéma Verité – and slice of life fims… but Snow on Tha Bluff breaks the verité meter. Completely uncorks the needle off the gauge. I’ve literally never seen anything like it before. Was this your goal in making this film, cross the lines of documentary and docudrama and blur the lines of fiction and reality?”

Damon Russell – “Thanks so much. Yes Curtis and I wanted to make something true to his life. So we filmed some real documentary scenes. And then filmed some more ‘scripted’ scenes. It made sense to blend it all together.”

THiNC – “I have had the pleasure of visiting families in Lima, Manila, Addis, etc etc, and living with them and seeing what life really is like in these incredibly rough environments. But those experiences did nothing to prepare me for the reality of Snow on Tha Bluff. Has anyone ever told you your film caused them physical culture shock? Because it did me.”

Damon Russell – “Yes it seemed to really affect people. And for good reason it’s crazy what people in that neighborhood go through everyday. And it’s not just the bluff it’s every hood in America. I’m glad we were able to show a realistic story of what life is like in those environments. Hopefully we humanized the struggle a bit more.”

THiNC – “Have you had the chance to see a film called Victoria? It’s a 138 minute long, single cut, German bank heist film. Your film wasn’t a single take, but it has some of the same feel to it. Victoria was half scripted, half improvisation. How did you work with your cast, and the script, and the dialog?”

Damon Russell – “Haven’t seen it. But it sounds like something that would be up my alley.”

THiNC – “I literally can’t think of a more potentially controversial film than this, oh, maybe The Last Temptation of Christ, but otherwise, you take the cake. What was the critical reception like? Was it branded a fake? Did it get pilloried for its negative reflection of the inner-city? Racial politics in America just seems incredibly scary right now.”

Damon Russell – “It was very well received. Every screening brought about long discussions afterwards. For legal reasons we never said which scenes were real and which were not. Some people maybe saw it as a negative portrayal. But most people were very positive. Racial politics have always been scary for people of color. It’s only now that it’s become part of the mainstream.”

THiNC – “Are you working on any more short films? Full length films? Anything that you are excited about?”

Damon Russell – “I have a film I’m prepping that will be similar in style to Snow On Tha Bluff but it takes place on the border between the USA and Mexico.”

THiNC – “Thanks so much for your great movies. They really both blew my mind in totally diametrically opposed ways. So much goodness in both! Loved them.”

Damon Russell – “Thank you so much for watching them.”

Make sure you guys check out Russell’s work. It’ll be great to see what he brings us next.