The Great Basin! Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Desert, 15min., USA
Directed by Eric Weeks
The Great Basin! Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Desert is a film, book and print project that addresses climate change, the severe drought in the Western United States, gun culture, the military’s use of the basin and range of Nevada for atomic testing, cultural stereotypes, my own personal history, and my experiences in this mostly remote area. In the 15 minute short film I am creating complex collages of my still and motion captures made in Nevada with appropriated short clips from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, recent weather footage, The Lone Ranger, as well as John Wayne’s and other historic films, cartoons, and many other cultural artifacts, in order to speak to the place and its significance.
Get to know the filmmaker:
1. What motivated you to make this film?
In early 2022, I applied to a unique residency through the Montello Foundation (https://www.montellofoundation.org/) in Montello, Nevada. The residency is designed for one person to spend two weeks completely off of the grid in the basin and range of northeast Nevada. I was fortunate to be awarded a residency for that summer. While there I captured moving and still images, and did a deep research dive about the area. Two out of the twenty plus books that I read while there were instrumental in my conceptualization of my film The Great Basin! Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Desert. They were Rebecca Solnit’s Savage Dreams and John McPhee’s Basin and Range. While there in that peaceful and contemplative environment, I realized how so much of the human activity that has taken place in Nevada has affected my experience. Climate change, gun culture, atomic testing, cultural stereotypes, and my childhood came bubbling up for me, and I needed to make my film. I understood that I couldn’t tell this story with my images of the basin and range alone, so when I returned to New York City after the residency, I began to appropriate clips from classic films, TV commercials, cartoons, etc.
2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?
I started gathering the concepts, and eventually also film clips, in June 2022. I traveled to Nevada for the Montello Residency the last week of July through the first week of August. While editing in the Fall of 2022, I realized I needed to visit the southern part of Nevada, so I traveled there in January of 2023, using Las Vegas as a base, but driving out of town everyday to areas in all directions. I visited the Hoover Dam, rented a small motor boat and puttered up and down the Colorado River, drove through the Valley of Fire, and visited old mining ghost towns in Amargosa Valley, to name a few locations.
I finished editing the film in May, and started designing a companion book for the film with Adobe InDesign. So the film took 11 months to complete, and the book is now being proofed at the printer.
3. How would you describe your film in two words!?
4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?
It was difficult for me to decide when to stop adding more elements to the film. I chose the parameter of keeping the film exactly 15 minutes run time, but I could have continued to layer more and more information. I have always wondered how painters know when to stop, and now I understand a little bit more about it.
5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?
I was so happy to hear viewers’ takes on the film, and that so much of what I care about was communicated through it.
6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?
After working with still photographs for thirty years, my first short film was a collaboration with my friend Joshua Reiman. In 2016, we made The Wind Dies The Sun Sets, which is a contemplative consideration of energy extraction and use in Pennsylvania (USA). The film follows three characters that are embedded within the business of fossil fuel. The Pennsylvania region has a long history of energy production, first associated with the industrial revolution, and presently with fracking. The film's emotional cadence shares the difficult realities of the altered landscape and the people who are involved.
I have always been interested in creating open-ended narratives in my still photography work, and I just fell in love with the process of making short films, which for me is relatively still a new medium.
7. What film have you seen the most in your life?
Oh, there are some fifty or so classic films that I own on DVD. I have worn those discs thin. I love to watch great films over and over because they continue to unfold, and are like dear old friends. Here’s a few in random order: Citizen Kane, Chungking Express, Goodfellas, Dr. Strangelove, Five Easy Pieces, Roshomon, The Diving Bell and the Buttterfly, Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The Godfather trilogy… I have watched all of these over forty times each over the years.
8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?
Although there are many benefits and advantages to online film festivals, I would argue for the benefit of in-person screenings as well. Watching films projected, and having the opportunity to meet and network with like-minded people face to face is important. I do appreciate all that the Environmental Film & Screenplay Festival does with their programming, from the audience feedback video, to the online streaming and podcast interviews.
9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?
FilmFreeway is a wonderful way to get my work out to a larger audience. The platform is easy to use, and really a godsend.
10. What is your favorite meal?
Anything that incorporates seafood: sushi, raw oysters, whole belly clams and lobster, to name a few! Yum.
11. What is next for you? A new film?
Yes, I am starting work on a new short film. My little three year old Cockapoo is named Weegee, after the famous New York City crime photographer from the mid-twentieth century. Both the original Weegee and my Weegee are quirky characters! The original Weegee made a film titled Weegee’s New York in 1948. It is an 8 millimeter film that shows aspects of New York City in experimental ways. I plan to attach a video camera on my pup’s harness so he can show the world his unique perspective of New York. I will help him edit his footage with appropriated imagery, just like his Dear Old Dad’s work!
Separately, I am also writing short stories. After writing one for the book component of The Great Basin! Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Desert under a nom de plume, I realized that this is another medium with which I enjoy working. Stay tuned!