Filmmaker explores the strained relationship with his father in an experimental documentary

Falling Out

Directed by Lorenzo Gattorna

Playing Feb. 7, 7:30 P.M., at the Creative Alliance at the Patterson

About halfway through the exquisitely shot, experimental documentary short "Falling Out," director Lorenzo Gattorna moves from silence to sound, black and white to color. The change marks time's passage, but Gattorna, the 2012 Creative Alliance Media Makers fellow, invests the transition with a psychological depth. "Falling Out" begins as a diptych, a series of paired shots that communicate two different points of view. In the second part, those two points of view converge, becoming two characters occupying the same frame as they wander through a landscape ravaged by a storm.

"Falling Out" explores the fraught relationship between Gattorna and his father, an Italian immigrant. Shot mostly around his father's home in Vermont, the doc cuts an oblique path-compressing about 20 years into 20 minutes-but intensely communicates how two people who don't know each other very well try to forge a relationship. His short "Mountain Lying Down" was recently accepted to the 2013 Chicago Underground Film Festival, and Gattorna's experimental documentary shorts will appear in an upcoming solo show at the Microscope Gallery in Brooklyn, N.Y.

At its local debut, Gattorna pairs "Falling Out" with a work he greatly admires: Allen Ross' The Grandfather Trilogy. Ross was a Chicago filmmaker who went missing in the mid-1990s before it was hypothesized that he was murdered by his wife and her religious cult and buried in a basement. We caught up with Gattorna to talk about Ross, experimental documentaries, and family conflict.

City Paper: Was "Falling Out" a way to explore what the conflict is, to try to understand it?

Lorenzo Gattorna: That's exactly what it is. The problems with my father started when I was really young-I was 7 or 8 when [my parents] divorced. And that was kind of the instigation toward the split. I physically saw him less, even given the little I was seeing him before, with him working in the city. And that's kind of the approach in the film, that the source of conflict isn't a definitive moment.

CP: I like your decision to use a diptych in part one. It's visually suggestive of a relationship but there's a tension there, whether it be in composition, camera motion, or some other filmic element.

LG: It's teetering on the tension and the shared experiences of my father and me. Visually it was meant to highlight the presence of two characters. In some of the sequences, you're looking at the same object or similar objects from slightly different or extreme perspectives.

CP: I appreciate in part two that not only do you move to color, but the two characters occupy the same frame. Is that indicative of the relationship's progress? Some time passes and there's some coming together, but some things are still unreconciled?

LG: I think so. But I wanted to say something about the locations first. [Both were shot around my father's home in Vermont,] but a storm, and this is mentioned in the [interlude], had ravaged these areas that were once pristine and pastoral. So the conflict is more in the land than in the experiences of the characters in part two, and my father had actually come up with the concept. He told me about this part of his town in Vermont that was washed over by a storm in the 1920s, wiping out this small development of houses. And then, 84 years later, a similar event occurs in the area right when I'm trying to finalize this film. So I just went with it. With that location and its history and what my father and I were going through, it was very close to us physically and I thought it was the perfect way of exploring the aftermath of us trying to resolve our issues, which was tumultuous. I liked that kind of confluence of disaster but also this coming together of my father and I, which was the initial intent of part two, that the relationship would be resolved-which is, I know, delusions of grandeur. [laughs]

CP: Tell me a little bit about The Grandfather Trilogy. I found a 1998 article from the Chicago Reader about Ross. And his life-even before his disappearance-is fascinating. I didn't know about the role he played in the Chicago film community.

LG: The Grandfather Trilogy is a portrait of Allen's grandfather after a stroke. He spends time with him in the first part, right after the stroke; in part two, we see the extended family at Thanksgiving. The third part is the burial of his grandfather, and I feel there's more attention on the psychology of dealing with death, coming to terms with it, experiencing it.

CP: I haven't seen any of Ross' work yet, but in reading over it and listening to you talking about it, you seem to share his interest in finding something profound or sublime in the ordinary and mundane.

LG: Yes, it's pointing on those instances where you kind of get lost in association to a location or a place, and Allen is one of the best at that. What I really like about part two [of The Grandfather Trilogy]-Allen is taking a group shot of his family outside the house with his 16mm camera. And the family is kind of perplexed as to what to do. There's this awkward tension that I really appreciated, just because it's something that everyone can relate to, that tension of just being around your family.

I just love that awkwardness. I love his examination of his grandfather and family and working with your family and trying to explain to them what you're doing. That guided me in "Falling Out." My father always had things for us to do. We're going to go steal these railroad ties and build a border to my backyard. OK, I guess I'm getting that on film. There was a lot of that going on. And it's usually the case when we get together now, there's a lot of this physical activity or maneuvering of objects, which I think relates to our story really well-this continual upheaval and laying things down and letting time pass.

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