Questions answered by Van Ditthavong writer/director of Sleeping in Plastic
What Inspired you to come up with the idea for the film?
I lived in Texas from 2004 to 2011 and during those years, I drove thousands of miles around the state passing through small towns like Pecos, Monahans, Midland, and Eagle Pass to larger cities like San Antonio, El Paso, and Houston – covering assignments as a freelance photographer. I was also lucky enough to be able to shoot for one of my favorite magazines ever: TEXAS MONTHLY. And they sent me everywhere. The lonely stretches of highway, the weathered faces, the vast and flat landscapes, and the dry heat can all surely leave a lasting impression. You can feel the history with every abandoned oil rig or gas station you pass.
Why did you want to tell this story?
Being alone on the road offers you plenty of time to think and daydream. Being an editorial portrait photographer offers you the chance to embrace the unknown and the opportunity to meet interesting people from all walks of life. The sheriff. The doctor. The grieving family. The lawyer. The high school teacher. The exoneree. The corrupt politician. The prison guard. For a brief moment you get to hear their stories and see a tiny glimpse of their lives. You swap tales and then head back on the road, with hands on the wheel but with thoughts still stuck on all the things you were told and the faces you saw. Somehow I was always left wanting more and selfishly, I just didn’t want these stories to end or the faces to disappear. So I would make up my own – putting people in strange places and then stranger situations. So the idea of SLEEPING IN PLASTIC was born and I just started typing away.” SLEEPING IN PLASTIC is my ode to the darker side of Texas and my answer to what happens when our definitions of Love, Lust, and Loss all blend together. However, the film at its core is a love story about two damaged souls and the difficulty of escaping the calamity that has defined their lives. The characters in this world are faced with difficult obstacles and are forced to react in primal ways just to survive – often succumbing to bad influences and at the expense of leading a healthy and meaningful life. I am interested in exploring the idea of choices and how people make them given their circumstances. We all have dreams and desires so what are the consequences of those?
How do you relate to your characters?
We are all flawed. Alive. Trying to do the best we can. But unfortunately, sometimes even that isn’t enough because our notion of empathy and our perspective gets skewed. Despite it all though, in the end we all wrestling with love and pain. Hopefully love wins.
What was the most courageous decision you and your crew made during production?
This was my first feature film. There’s always a lot of fires to put out. More than I could have imagined. I think the most courageous decision for the crew was to stick with me for 5 weeks. Thank you all for being patient.
What influenced the visual style of the film?
I adore John Lennon’s song MOTHER and I wanted to make a film that captured a similar tone. I wanted a stylized almost dreamlike space that is on the edge of a nightmare but was still somehow grounded in enough reality. A primal scream – raw and heavy like oil paint.
What advice would you go back and give yourself before making this film?
Take your time. They’ll tell you to move it along if it’s a concern. Your job is to stretch it to the max and be confident about your ideas and thoughts. This way you’ll be able to explore and play more. You’ve prepared so now let it rip.
What is going to surprise audiences most about your film?
I just hope whether audiences like it or not – they’ll be surprised about how visceral their reaction will be. Well, at least that’s my intention.
What does it mean to you for your film to be an official selection of the Austin Film Festival 2019?
Oh boy. It means everything. I still can’t believe that somehow this journey has come full circle. From Texas Monthly to AFF. It’s just a miracle. In 2015 I submitted an early draft to the AFF coverage program and even though I received some nice words – it was ultimately a pass. It needed work. So I would spend the next year or so rewriting, going over notes and now here we are having a world premiere. I’m still smiling ear to ear but I’m also still waiting for the call that says there’s been a huge mistake – your film wasn’t selected. That’s life as a filmmaker I guess – there’s a bit of delusion to it all.
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