Born out of an argument over a lost dog, "Welcome to Pine Hill" is a film that blends a scripted story with real life. Winner of the grand jury prize for narrative feature at Slamdance 2012, director Keith Miller said it is fair for other people to call his film a hybrid.
"I don't call it [a hybrid] because I am trying, on a conceptual level at least, to disregard that distinction," Miller said when reached by telephone. " I think if you start looking at all the documentaries with a critical eye, you realize that the story is constructed, even if it is just based on reality."
"Welcome to Pine Hill" stars Shannon Harper as a young man working as a claims adjuster and bouncer in New York City. After receiving some life-changing news, Harper tries to make peace with his past, leading to a spiritual and emotional journey that takes him through various New York neighborhoods and beyond.
Miller said he met the actor met one evening when Harper recognized the director's dog William as his lost puppy Prince. After reaching an agreement over the pet, the two men then collaborated on a short film about that incident, "Prince/William," in which they played themselves.
Continuing this theme of life is art, Miller said his Slamdance selection is very closely tied to Harper's life:
"We didn't just follow him around. [Harper] is, in real life, a bouncer. At the time, he was working as a claims adjuster. A lot of the elements are really close to real life and we set up the shooting situations so they would feel as true as possible to our shooting style and the use of non-actors and real locations---things like that."
The filmmaker added that he was trying to have the line between real and fiction not only blurred but disregarded.
"There are a lot of things outside the frame of the movie that spill into the frame," he noted. "That line gets blurred and even in the shooting, people would just walk into the shot and start talking and they will be in the movie. I set up the conditions for that to happen. The way that happened is we shot with three cameras and extremely long tapes -- maybe 45 minutes -- so there was a real situation happening."
The director guided and pushed the story along as it was shot, creating what he calls openness and a kind of messiness.
"The poetry of reality [was] just spilling in -- and it did quite a bit," Miller said. "It was a hybrid in that there were camera crews setting things up and there was a story written beforehand. We didn't, in the documentary sense, just wait for something to happen. My directive for the crew was reality doesn't stop, we don't stop until I say 'Cut.' Even if something crazy happens, we kept filming."
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- Keith Miller