HIGHWAY, 11min,. USA
Directed by Douglas Alan Cunningham
Betrayed by her husband, Amanda, a former Army Ranger, drives hours to meet a revenge lover but is followed by a mysterious and menacing truck on lonely desert roads.
Get to know the filmmaker:
1. What motivated you to make this film?
I've always been fascinated by neo-noir westerns, films like Steven Spielberg's Duel (1971), Oren Shai's The Frontier (2015), and the early works of director John Dahl, especially Kill Me Again (1989) and Red Rock West (1993). John Sayles' Lone Star (1996), Jonathan Mostow's Breakdown (1997), and the Coen Brothers' No Country for Old Men (2007) are three other greats in this same subgenre. Although I wouldn't call Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas (1984) a neo-noir western, per se, it shares many of the same aesthetics and was a huge influence on my early thoughts about HIGHWAY. Equally influential were Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1982) and Mad Max Fury Road (2015), both directed by George Miller. Finally, Ridley Scott's Themla and Louise (1992) also influenced HIGHWAY, not just because of the road movie aspects, but also because of the theme of sisterhood that features so prominently in that film. When I first saw Lindsey Hawkes (who plays Amanda, the lead in HIGHWAY) in a different short film in late 2021, somehow her look--that mixture of physical toughness and emotional vulnerability--brought all those different influences together into one story in my mind. Once that happened, the script was not difficult to write at all, and I was determined to make the film.
2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?
It took about a year to get from initial idea in February 2022 to HIGHWAY's first screening in January 2023. I had initially approached Lindsey (our lead) for a supporting role in a different short film. Although that short didn't work out, I asked her if she would be willing to read a different script. When she said yes, I set about writing the new script right away. With this new script, I wanted to write something specifically for Lindsey--something that would play to her unique look and strengths as an actress. I also wrote the part of Sadie specifically for another fantastic actress I knew, Cherie Julander, and she was gracious enough to say yes to the part. I feel so lucky to have secured the help of my two top-choice actresses for these roles.
3. How would you describe your film in two words!?
4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?
Funding was the biggest challenge. We had to get our funding gradually, over time, even as we entered into preproduction. Even after principal photography, we were still raising money. Our online crowdfunding campaign didn't go so well, despite all our efforts. I finally learned that I just had to be shameless and go to friends, family, and even acquaintances directly to ask for money. The second I came to the conclusion that making the movie was more important to me than my personal fears about asking for financial contributions, money started coming in (often from unexpected places, people I hadn't seen for ten years, etc.). I remember that, at a time of uncertainty regarding the film's future, I told Lindsey I was going to move Heaven and Earth to make HIGHWAY happen. Thanks to the generosity, faith, and support of many people in general and a few people in particular, I did. I will always be thankful for the help of everyone who supported this project, whether financially or otherwise.
5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?
I almost started to cry--not sad tears, but tears of joy. Those audience members/viewers who watched the film are very film savvy and understand what we tried to do in HIGHWAY. I'm sure many other people who see the film also understand and appreciate what we tried to do, but they don't often speak up about it or go into much detail about what they liked or what in the film, in particular, worked for them. So, to see a video where so many thoughtful and well-spoken people have taken the time to see the good in the film and express their feelings about it openly is really, truly fulfilling and valuable.
6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?
I've wanted to make movies ever since I saw Star Wars (1977) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) back when I was a kid. I was the target audience for those movies when they came out, and I saw them multiple times in the theaters. In college, the successes of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez almost convinced me that maybe I could be a filmmaker, too, but I was too intimidated by the risks involved, financial and otherwise. So, I decided to become a film scholar instead. I achieved that latter dream, but the former never left me. When I reached my late 40s and early 50s, the realization of my own mortality started to kick in, and I realized that if I were ever going to see my filmmaking dreams become real, I needed to start at that moment. Time is running out, I said to myself, and think that's what finally got me off the couch and behind the camera.
7. What film have you seen the most in your life?
That film would be Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958), which is also my favorite film. I've published a book about it, which you can find here: The San Francisco of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo: Place, Pilgrimage, and Commemoration. Not many people know about this book, but it still gets cited quite a bit in new scholarly works on Hitchcock and Vertigo.
8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?
The Action/Adventure Film Festival does a great job! I can't believe all the great things that come out of being selected for this festival. The audience feedback video was awesome. I think it would be great to add a quarterly or annual screening the filmmakers could attend, but even without that, your festival has been a truly great experience for me.
9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?
It's been absolutely fantastic! The interface is great, and submitting to festivals is so easy. I love FilmFreeway.
10. What is your favorite meal?
I'm a huge fan of Cuban food, which is probably my favorite cuisine of all. They have a particular marinade for roasted chicken--a kind of citrus-garlic marinade--that they serve with black beans, rice, and fried plantains. I love it. Wouldn't you know, though, that I live in a state where there are no Cuban restaurants anywhere! So I usually can't eat my favorite meal unless I'm in California, New York, or the Caribbean (none of which happen as often as I'd like).
11. What is next for you? A new film?
I'm working on a rewrite of a friend's feature film, a culinary drama. The friend, Nick Butler, served as executive producer on HIGHWAY, and we plan to co-direct the feature together. I'm also working on a novel, a treasure-hunt thriller. Thanks for asking!