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An Interview with Jesse Edwards, Director of Alta Valley

by Mike Haberfelner

October 2022

Films directed by Jesse Edwards on (re)Search my Trash

 

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Your new movie Alta Valley - in a few words, what is it about?

 

Alta Valley is about a girl trying to save her dying mother. Thematically, the movie is about creating racial reconciliation by risking the things that matter the most to us for the sake of others.

 

With Alta Valley being a western at heart, is that a genre at all dear to you, and some of your genre favourites?

 

Not particularly. I have honestly seen very few westerns. Making this film has given me a great appreciation and brought me closer to the genre though.

 

Some modern westerns I greatly enjoy are Hell or High Water and No Country for Old Men.

 

(Other) sources of inspiration when writing Alta Valley?

 

The storytelling done at Pixar/Disney always amazes me. I looked a lot at films like Coco, Moana, and Frozen 2. And also Training Day Training Day was incredible.

 

Of Alta Valley's two protagonists Lupe and Maddy, who could you actually identify with more, and why?

 

Maddy. Both Lupe and Maddy have a lot of myself written into their characters, but Maddy’s arc hits closer to home for me. She eventually is much more vulnerable than Lupe, and while Lupe’s passion and desperation drive the story, Maddy’s hurt and loneliness make me connect more emotionally.

 

Alta Valley is a movie that's rather action packed - so do talk about your film's action scenes for a bit, and how were they achieved?

 

For the resource we had, I’m incredibly proud of the action scenes we were able to pull off for this film. We were short on budget and even shorter on time for filming, so all of the action pieces were shot very quickly and very instinctually. Getting everyone to hit their marks at the same time in an action scene is already a challenge with limited rehearsal time. When you add prop guns to the mix, everything gets harder and more complicated… then when you add pyro, blood, body doubles, 10+ characters, a dirt bike and a horse, it just gets kinda crazy. One morning Lupe literally had to jump out of a window.

 

Besides all of the bullet hits and a couple of fire shots, all scenes were achieved practically, and I’m amazed at what Juliene Joyner and her stunt team were able to do in a very tight time frame. Many of the scenes, including Maddy riding the bronco, we only were able to shoot one take. We almost always had multiple cameras running at once which helped. For the gun shoot out scenes, we only had blanks on set for Maddy with the shotgun, and for everything else we added the muzzle flashes, empty cartridges and hits/debris in VFX.

 

What can you tell us about your overall directorial approach to your story at hand?

 

My intended approach was first to serve the cast and crew, and give them the tools that they need to succeed in their individual roles, and then to serve the story. Some may aim to serve the story first and above all else… but if cast/crew are mistreated or taken advantage of in favor of the “film” or the film’s investors, then I think it’s being done wrong. I think the approach as to how a director works with people is very important.

 

Creatively there was a lot in my head and a lot I wanted to achieve in the style and tone of the film… but honestly, this entire production was so challenging that a lot of the approach ended up being: frame up a shot and shoot the script.

 

Note: This is not ideal… but I’m so grateful we were able to finish the film and in this case finishing was more important than any specific creative execution. I learned a lot about what to prioritize along the way.

 

Do talk about Alta Valley's key cast, and why exactly these people?

 

Everyone that was selected for this project not only brought incredible performances to their roles, but they brought a deep personal connection to the characters and the story and that is amazing. We brought on as many Indigenous actors as possible. It was important to feature authentic people wherever possible with the roles of the Navajo characters. Briza Covarrubias (Lupe) and Allee Sutton Hethcoat (Maddy) especially were both such a pleasure to work with.

 

You of course also have to talk about Alta Valley's breathtaking locations for a bit, and what was it like filming there?

 

We filmed in Kanab, UT, which is a beautifully remote desert town. It’s about 2 hours north of the Grand Canyon and very close to Bryce and Zion. Everything is such a blur while you are filming, but every time we stopped for a moment you would look up and be amazed again by the view. The sun paints different colors every day across the sky and the landscape, and it was truly a beautiful experience filming there, especially the sunrises and sunsets. It wasn’t without its challenges though, as we had to shoot in three different seasons, and featuring these beautiful locations means working in them. In January, it was -8 degrees and the equipment was freezing. In August, it was 104 degrees and we certainly reached physical limits for the cast and crew.

 

A few words about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?

 

For many reasons, this film was so difficult to make. The amount of things that went wrong or fell through is truly amazing. However, even more amazing than that was the resilience of the crew that made this film with me. The on-set atmosphere was very much one of “what will we endure today?” - keyword being “we” … the challenges were always faced together, and the entire crew was for each other. This was a beautiful experience.

 

The fact that we were filming so close to Navajo Nation made the importance of the story sink in even more, and that definitely affected the purpose behind every day on set. The film from day one felt special, important, and bigger than all of us. The cast and crew gave so much to make this film happen and the camaraderie on set was amazing.

 

Anything you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Alta Valley?

 

We had the film premiere to a sold out crowd at the Nashville Film Festival and that was a really special night. There has been some great and some negative feedback toward the film, but what I appreciate the most is the Navajo and Native American community that has seen this film and has reached out to me and been so thankful for it and so excited about the message. To honor this community is really the whole point of the film, and this affirmation means a lot to me and the cast and crew.

 

Any future projects you'd like to share?

 

None I can share at this time, but I am excited to continue to make movies that matter.

 

What got you into filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?

 

No formal training. After saving money for years I bought a camcorder when I was 11, and once my dad bought me vegas Video editing software, I was hooked. I knew I wanted to make a film one day.

 

After completing an associate’s degree in music, I moved on to work in film, co-founding a production company and doing about 12 years of various roles in commercial and documentary filmmaking.

 

What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Alta Valley?

 

On the narrative side I have written, directed, and produced two short films. Distance, a 16 min short about finding hope during the on-set of the 2020 pandemic, and Life After, a 25 min proof of concept for a thriller/crime drama feature.

 

How would you describe yourself as a director?

 

I aim to tell stories of redemption. Taking things that are broken, and finding what can be made new through them. I feel a great responsibility as a filmmaker and I am very intentional about the stories and entertainment that I put into the world. I ask, why does this need to be made? Why does the world need to hear this story?

 

Filmmakers who inspire you?

 

Feeling lucky ?
Want to
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Find Jesse Edwards
at the amazons ...

USA  amazon.com

Great Britain (a.k.a. the United Kingdom)  amazon.co.uk

Germany (East AND West)  amazon.de

Looking for imports ?
Find Jesse Edwards here ...

Thailand  eThaiCD.com
Your shop for all things Thai

Brad Bird, Christopher Nolan, Denis Villeneuve, Andrew Stanton, Jennifer Lee.

 

Your favourite movies?

 

The Fountain, Arrival, The Prestige, Ratatouille, The Social Network.

 

Your/your movie's website, social media, whatever else?

 

Film website: www.altavalley.film

Jesse’s IMDb: www.imdb.com/name/nm10257139/

 

Anything else you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?

 

Thank you for watching the film and spreading the word about it through this interview!

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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Thanks for watching !!!



 

 

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On the same day
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WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
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directed by
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written by
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starring
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out now on DVD