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Hide Your Smiling Faces Director on Adapting Childhood Memories, Kickstarter, and De Niro

FFCC member Hans Morgenstern chatted with Hide Your Smiling Faces director Daniel Patrick Carbone. The following is an excerpt from his interview. On Tuesday, April 29, at 7 p.m., he will conduct a live interview with Carbone and film critic Amy Taubin in the premiere installment of the Knight Foundation-sponsored Speaking In Cinema series at the Miami Beach Cinematheque (click here for more information).

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It’s rare that a first-time feature director can make as competent a film as Brooklyn-based Daniel Patrick Carbone with Hide Your Smiling Faces. New York Times critic Stephen Holden compared him to the philosopher-turned-filmmaker Terrence Malick, and it’s not a stretch. His film follows two young brothers who do not look unlike the kids in The Tree of Life. The film’s scenes are also associatively patched together (Carbone also edited the film), evoking a series of vignettes rather than a straight narrative. Carbone, a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts with several cinematographic credits to his name, also knows how to shoot pretty pictures.

The film follows two brothers in their teen years. Eric (Nathan Varnson) and younger brother Tommy (Ryan Jones) indulge in their summer vacation by swimming in a lake, wrestling with their friends, and breaking into an abandoned house. Their summer break is upended when a friend of Tommy’s suddenly meets a violent death. With its distinctive and subtle style, the film explores feelings of loss while life insists to relentlessly move forward.

Ahead of Carbone’s visit to South Florida, where he will personally introduce the film at exclusive screenings at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, culminating in a conversation with this writer and noted New York film critic Amy Taubin, Carbone answered a few questions about his obtuse yet brilliantly expressive debut feature.

Cultist: Where does the story of these two brothers come from?

Daniel Patrick Carbone: The story within Hide Your Smiling Faces came from my own memory of childhood. The film isn’t autobiographical in the traditional sense, but the relationships between the characters and the emotions explored are all inspired by specific moments from my own childhood. It was also shot in the locations and homes I grew up in, so it is very personal in that sense. The script began as a series of loosely connected vignettes. I was more interested in creating a series of moments that informed one another through a common set of themes, than I was about sticking to a classic structure.

You don’t seem to reveal time or place. I didn’t even notice a cell phone. There’s a generic sort of atmosphere that places the film out of time and place. Why did you do this?

I wanted the film to have a sort of timelessness to it. There are some details in the film that point to an early 90s time period, but it was always intentionally vague. I knew that I wanted to exclude technology, and show youthful interactions during a time when cell phones and the Internet were not a factor in communication. A lot of small American towns feel sort of frozen in time, like nothing has changed since the ’50s. I’ve always found that very interesting. I didn’t want to give this film a specific time or place because I wanted the audience to be able to place themselves in the world — to fill in the gaps with their own memories and experiences. I found that by being less specific, the film causes a more active viewing experience. I’ve shown the film in dozens of countries and at nearly every screening, someone tells me the locations look like the place they grew up. Having that sort of universally-relatable atmosphere was important to me, and making it clear that this was New Jersey in the early ’90s would have immediately alienated a large part of the audience.

Read the rest at Cultist

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