Last month at Vinegar Hill Theater, we were joined by director Bart Freundlich for a screening of his newest film, Wolves. During the Question and Answer portion with Freundlich after the film, he stated that Wolves was “30 years in the making.” It began as a short story that he wrote in high school that turned into a screenplay in his 20’s. Wolves follows Anthony, played by promising newcomer Taylor John Smith, the star basketball player at a New York City high school struggling to balance his ambitions along with his contentious relationship with his father, Lee, who keeps putting the family’s future, especially Anthony’s college prospects, at risk with his gambling problem. Lee is played by Michael Shannon in one of his signature dynamic and intense performances as a character with addiction issues and a competitive relationship with his teenage son. The movie begins with Anthony coming home and Lee showing him what seems like an average basketball pointer but ends with Anthony on the floor, bleeding. While most conflict takes place off the court, the basketball scenes themselves are shot beautifully. The high school game scenes look like choreographed dances while the outdoor games Anthony plays with his mentor, Socrates, a retired NBA player, take on a grittier quality. Carla Gugino as Anthony’s mother and Chris Bauer as his uncle shine in supporting roles as two people trying to be good role models for Anthony despite his father’s magnetic and toxic presence. Smith plays Anthony with reserve until the end when his anger at his father is unleashed on the court at the final game of the season, that his father has bet against, leading to the film’s surprisingly dark conclusion.
When asked what advice he would give aspiring filmmakers Freundlich said, “Something that I found happened to me in film school, that I bet is happening even more now because of the accessibility of equipment and how you can make a movie that looks good on your iPhone, a lot of kids wanted to be filmmakers and they would forget about what kind of story they wanted to tell, they wouldn’t put that first… I find that people only really care about story. The other stuff is decorative, I’m really into the other stuff and I do think that it has an effect, the cinematography, and that’s when you can really see a filmmaker at work, but the story is just so important. I remember sitting at 20 years old in McDonald’s on 23rd street with my roommate who I was telling some issue I was having with my family and he was like, “You should write about that” and I was like, “Oh, you’re right I should.” And that’s when it started to dawn on me that that’s sort of what I had to say was wrapped up very much in my own personal experience. Then the rest of it was technique. So I guess my advice would just be to really get in touch with the story you want to tell.”
You can view the rest of the Q and A below and Wolves is available to rent on Amazon, Google and iTunes.
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Chandler Ferrebee is an aspiring filmmaker and program support intern at Light House Studio.