Director Sam Wainwright Douglas on Through the Repellent Fence
Full Frame is proud to present the following Q+A with director Sam Wainwright Douglas. Douglas’s film, Through the Repellent Fence, will screen for free on July 27 as part of the Full Frame Road Show Summer Series, presented by Capitol Broadcasting Company, Inc. and American Tobacco Campus. The free ticket reservation window opens to First Team on Monday, July 24 at 9 am, followed by Spotlight Members on Wednesday, July 26 at 9 am and the general public on Thursday, July 27 at 9 am. See the Event page for more details.
In the southwestern United States, the earth and sky connect in never-ending expanses. These vistas inspired revolutionary artists like Robert Smithson and Nancy Holt to create the Land Art movement in the 1960s. Making geography their canvas, the artists of this movement highlighted humans’ impermanence within the natural environment and brought a new sense of scale to contemporary art. Through the Repellent Fence intercuts lush images of the movement’s most iconic works with the story of the artist collective Postcommodity, who draw on the tradition of Land Art for a piece about the U.S.-Mexico border. Massive yellow balloons are tethered in a straight line, crossing each side of the border and stretching a mile in either direction. Reinforcing the notion that boundaries are an illusion, the project seeks to unite the cultures of both regions, emphasizing their connection despite the physical barriers that may exist.
Q: How did your relationship with the members of Postcommodity begin? What drew you to filming their work?
A: I was searching for an artist doing a contemporary large scale outdoor artwork. And, I wanted to find something that spoke to a current social issue. Being from Texas, a border state, I had always wanted to tell a story about life in the borderlands that reflected the positive and demystified the region. The picture of life there that is painted by lazy media and our bigoted president does not represent the majority of folks who live down there.
So, when I came across the project that Postcommodity was gearing up to install I knew I had found what I was looking for. I felt it was important to share the notion that being Indigenous does not stop at the U.S./Mexico border. Indigenous communities have gone back and forth throughout this hemisphere for thousands of years. That needs to be recognized and addressed in contemporary society. So, me and the guys talked on the phone about our intentions, hit it off and decided to start shooting.
Q: The film has an amazing assortment of shots from all angles, above and below, in addition to its interviews, all culminating in a magnificent cinematic experience. What was the process for capturing this footage and working with it to find this balance?
A: We had camera crews on each side of the border to capture the process, and there was a drone camera to film those dramatic high angle shots that reveal the scale of the artwork. We had to shoot from many, many vantage points high and low, near and far and at different times of day to see how the installation lived in the landscape. And, being on the ground with the local folks who had come together to pull off this massive project was crucial. The artwork is about the relationships that it rekindled and engendered.
Q: There is a lot of conversation within the US administration about the US-Mexico border and the possibility of a wall. How did that, if at all, factor into your approach to making this film?
A: Border security and the rhetoric around that were already front and center when making this project. That issue has been hotly debated for years. It’s gotten more intense with Trump in the White House, for sure. But, the talk about building a wall—which won’t work—has affected bringing the film to audiences more than making the actual movie. There’s an urgency to share this story and combat the racism, and give nuance to life along the border. Trump is a bully with a large mouthpiece and he needs to be talked back to.
About the Director
Sam Wainwright Douglas is a director and editor working in Austin, TX. Recently, Sam directed and edited Honky Tonk Heaven, which premiered and won an audience award at the 2016 South by Southwest. Sam edited and co-produced No No: A Dockumentary, which premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, screened theatrically in 35 cities and was broadcast on Showtime. Sam also edited and produced the PBS documentary Ladonna Harris: Indian 101, which was executive produced by Johnny Depp and broadcast on PBS in 2014. Indian 101 was selected for the U.S. State Department’s American Film Showcase and will be shown in developing countries worldwide through screenings organized by embassies. Sam will be the cultural envoy for the film. He directed Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee And The Spirit Of The Rural Studio, which was broadcast nationwide on PBS in 2010. He co-directed music documentary The Holy Modal Rounders… Bound To Lose (2006) and has edited and produced other feature documentaries such as Along Came Kinky: Texas Jewboy For Governor, which had its premiere at South By Southwest in 2009. As an editor he has cut countless hours of television for PBS, HBO, A&E, The Discovery Channel, The History Channel and The Food Network.