Festival Daily

Sweet Dreams

By Ghita Loebenstein

Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck made a stunning debut with Half Nelson, and now the indie powerhouse have combined forces to make Sugar, the story of a young baseball player from the Dominican Republic whose dreams of making it big in the United States do not transpire as he had hoped. The writing-directing duo sits down with the Daily to talk about turning big dreams into successful films.

GL: This is your first time with a film at the Festival. What are your expectations?

RF: We’re hoping to have fun and hang out. We have a distributor for the film, so it’s great because festivals can be really stressful if you don’t have that in place.

AB: Our first public screening was last night and it went really well.

RF: Yeah. Good crowd and insightful questions.

GL: What have you been up to?

AB: We were just at an artists’ colony for a month, a residency called the MacDowell programme in New Hampshire.

GL: Were you developing a new script there?

AB: It’s a script adaptation for the novel Special Topics in Calamity Physics. It’s a great book and hopefully we’ll have the opportunity to make it because it’ll be a really good movie.

GL: You co-wrote the scripts for both Half Nelson and Sugar. How does the dynamic between the two of you work when you write? Do you work in tandem or do you work on sections alone and then come together at the end?

RF: We tend to throw a bunch of ideas around and come up with a very rough, broad outline, scene by scene. And then one of us will start writing and the other will look at it, and we’ll talk about it.

AB: Everything is pretty fluid. We don’t create separate roles. It’s similar with the directing, coming up with the shot list, collaborating on the costume and production design. Except on Sugar, because I speak better Spanish than Ryan, I communicated a lot more with the actors.

GL: So Ryan, you had to trust that Anna knew when the actors were hitting their mark?

RF: Yeah, but it was actually interesting because I could gauge the emotion behind the words even though I didn’t understand them.

GL: What clued you in to this whole world of baseball camps in the Dominican Republic?

RF: I’ve been a baseball fan my whole life, but only recently did I learn about these institutions in the Dominican where every major league American baseball team has their own private academy where they train players, sign them cheaply and send them over to the US to play. And I thought if I didn’t know about this, there are probably a bunch of other people who like baseball who would be interested to know this.

GL: Sugar is also very much about the underside of the American dream. Was that an idea you were interested in pursuing right away or did it come out of the baseball story?

AB: Yeah, it came out of it, but is definitely a big part of why we’re interested in it. It’s a vessel to explore the American experience and how someone’s idea of what the American dream is can really change. This is a story about somebody who comes to the United States with a certain idea of what he wants to achieve, and in the process of being stripped away from his family and everything he knows, he learns a lot about himself and his idea of what that dream is changes.

GL: Half Nelson and Sugar are about young men reassessing their life choices. Do you have a particular preoccupation with the young, male experience in our world?

RF: Every morning I wake up and reassess (laughs). But I think we’re interested in people who are questioning their place in the world. Unfortunately, it seems like in our country these days fewer and fewer people are questioning themselves, especially those who should be questioning themselves the most. But I think it’s an important process to go through, to wonder how you fit in to the world and what you should be doing.

AB: It’s definitely not that we’re looking for different ways to tackle the same theme, but the fact that we’re attracted to movies about characters who are struggling to reassess their choices says a lot about our preoccupation even before we chose this topic.