Photos provided by Mitchell Todorov
The screen opens from black to a scene that offers, perhaps, even more darkness. Colors shake and warp the shadows and pattern of trees of an empty forest. A man enters the frame as a crinkling voice says, ”It’s not your time…to be here… with us.” The forest succumbs to shadows.
In the short film, “Tree Boy”, a man (played by co-producer Patrick O’Connor) living in the city is receives a metaphysical calling to escape to the woods and live in isolation after meeting a talking plastic flamingo.
“He thinks he’s been chosen to go there and learn the ways of the human,” explains co-producer Mitchell Todorov. ”The film explores this idea of destination as a defense mechanism. There’s an identity you make around finding a place, it’s idealistic and you have to adjust to it.”
Those who dream of success in a bustling metropolis often find themselves drowned among the masses and, conversely, those who dream of a quiet life in the wilderness may find it more challenging than imagined. In both scenarios, there is isolation.
“Tree Boy” started out as a mockumentary. Filmed “guerilla style” in fleeting, stolen moments, the project took roughly three months and became a tightly condensed version of their original idea.
The churning orchestral score by Annika Zee builds and echoes, wrapping around spurts of chilling narration from the plastic flamingo and taking up the space of the film’s minimal dialogue.
There are only a few other speaking roles in the film. Any interaction that the character has only serves as a barrier to his central purpose–isolating himself completely. He struggles to escape as the camera follows him, almost voyeuristically, on his adventure.
As they started filming, the filmmakers found that their project had become increasingly difficult to put to words. Tackling abstract ideas of society’s sense of place and the seemingly unavoidable feeling of loneliness, it became dependent on the actions of O’Connor and the emotional intensity of his expressions.
“It was kind of an operatic performance art caught on film,” O’Connor explains. “A big inspiration for us was watching some old Pagliacci videos. Just the way that his face was saturated with emotion. I wanted to get across that this character, he’s somewhere else entirely.”
O’Connor was heavily committed to his role. Living with chronic depression and anxiety, the actor and filmmaker was able to channel his energy and emotion into the character for a striking performance.
“You’re constantly feeling like you’re dejected from society,” he said. “I would channel those feelings into the performance, like times that I loved something that couldn’t love me back or anything that was required to tap into that [emotion] and let those feelings take over. Magic in life equals magic on film.”
“I’ve gone through a lot of shit in my life and if it didn’t have some sort of epithet or outlet, if it just stayed with me, then what’s the point of going through it? It’s something to leave behind from my experience and maybe someone else will feel it too,” he added.
The Troy-based filmmakers have been working together creatively since they were kids. O’Connor starred in their first short film when he was 13 years old. Since then, the pair has worked together on piles of creative projects and they currently write feature length scripts to sell to other filmmakers.
“Every day we’re in constant communication about something, whether we’re working on scripts or shorts or music,” O’Connor said.
Their influences, which include cult filmmakers Robert Altman, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Harmony Korine, are evident in “Tree Boy.” Akin to Korine’s Gummo, their short film aims to communicate feelings with little focus on the plot.
“These ‘outsider directors’ really made an impact in that you don’t have to just tell a story, it can go off on all these tangents to tell what it’s like to be an outsider,” O’Connor said.
The filmmakers will premiere their short film at Troy Kitchen on Feb. 28 at 8 PM. Hosted by Hidden Records, the screening will be followed by a Q&A session with O’Connor and Todorov, moderated by Hidden Records’ Cody Davies.