Nashville Film Festival: "Runoff" Interview with Director Kimberly Levin
In preparation for the upcoming Nashville Film Festival, we spoke with Kimberly Levin, who makes her directorial debut with “Runoff.” The suspenseful drama explores the pressures of small town farms; more specifically, what goes into our water and who puts it there. It’s a thought-provoking film that anyone who sources his or her food locally should see.
As Levin describes it:
‘“Runoff” unfolds in a place where on the surface there’s a pastoral beauty; it’s harvest time, the kids are getting ready for Halloween. But just beneath is the brutal reality of a farming town. The protagonist, Betty, discovers a crisis threatening her family. Every choice she has will lead to someone getting hurt. As the film climaxes in the middle of the night on the river’s edge, Betty has to decide whom to sacrifice.’
Monday, April 20 at 8:30 PM
Tuesday, April 21 at 2:00 PM
For the most up-to-date information on screenings and ways to see the film, follow @Runoffmovie on Facebook and Twitter.
INTERVIEW WITH KIMBERLY LEVIN
What were some of your inspirations in creating this film?
Before I got into film and theater, I trained as a biochemist. When I was doing field research, I got to see first hand how things “flow” downstream. I started to think about the way that people make choices and more specifically about how as human beings we have this ability to think about how our choices will play out over time. Am I making the best decision for this moment? Am I making the best decision for five minutes from now, ten years or some distant time in the future when I won’t even be here? And who do I think about when I make a decision? How wide do I draw the circle around me? Am I choosing for myself, my family, my neighbors?
There are many dueling tensions in the film: corporate and rural, old and new ways of thinking, and even in the choice to have a female main role in a generically male-dominated industry. Why did you choose to explore it with a strong female main role? How do you think this perspective helps to inform the message of the film?
I don’t see Betty’s dilemma as necessarily gender-related. What’s unusual is seeing this situation played out in a film through a female character. The tensions between Betty and the world around her are at the heart of her internal conflict. What I hope is unsettling about “Runoff” is that you find yourself rooting for Betty to make a decision that on another level you are very much against. When things come to a real crisis point, Betty’s philosophy on how to deal with it puts her in conflict with her husband, Frank. And when their viewpoints are irreconcilable, she goes renegade.
One line in the film is: “Everything you do is like planting a seed. The seed is going to grow and become something else in your life.” How/do you think personal responsibility factors into small town farms?
There’s a moment in “Runoff” where Betty is literally backed into a corner in a dairy and offered a deal. We can feel the pressure on her, as she’s surrounded by the hydraulic pumping of milking machines, the claustrophobia of the animals’ bodies, the harsh glare of the industrial light.
These are characters facing compromised choices. The film tells the story of people who are living close to the land, who deal every day with the consequences of putting this moment in front of legacy. At the center of the film is this thematic tension between the present moment and legacy. Because legacy is this abstract concept we project to some distant time in the future. Until it isn’t. Until a choice we make today catches up with us a little faster than we thought it would. We make these little bargains all the time.
The film features some incredible shots of nature. Where did you shoot the film? Do you think an appreciation for and the visibility of nature is important in creating awareness for what goes into our water and food? How was the shooting process?
We shot the film entirely on location in Kentucky, on working farms, including: a dairy where the cows were being milked as we shot the scene; a turkey farm with thousands of birds scratching and pecking at our audio and camera cables, and a hog farm where one of lead actors was bitten on the thigh during a take. We also have a number of scenes that involve a crop-duster plane. These sequences required very intricate choreography between the plane, a moving car and the camera. We couldn’t afford walkie-talkies that would work between all three moving elements so there was a lot of planning and a lot of luck involved in capturing those scenes. To tell this story properly, the bar was set pretty high for a small independent feature production — but we had an amazing team of actors and crew who literally got into hog and turkey pens and freezing rivers to get it done. This is my first narrative feature, and now, when I see a film, any film, onscreen, I think of it as a series of small victories.
This was a very thoughtful film that explores the darkness and the pressures farmers face today. How do people get involved with what goes into their food and water?
Thank you. There are many organizations doing really incredible work in this space. Groups like The Natural Resources Defense Council, Waterkeeper Alliance, and Food Democracy Now are just three that are working for cleaner food and water. News sources like Civil Eats and EcoWatch are great places to start reading more about campaigns and ways to get involved. We’ll be working with some of these groups to get the word out about “Runoff” too.
Where can Nashville residents see "Runoff?"
“Runoff” is playing in the Bridgestone Narrative Feature section of the Nashville Film Festival. You can catch the film at the Green Hills Theater this Monday, April 20, at 8:30 p.m. or Tuesday, April 21 at 2 p.m. Bridgestone Tires is providing free tickets for the Monday night screening. “Runoff” will also be coming out in theaters this June, followed by a video-on-demand release such as iTunes, Netflix and other platforms later in the summer. At that time it will also be available on DVD.