When I listed my half-dozen favorite films from SXSW last week, unaccountably I left off Tommy Davis' very fine documentary One Minute to Nine, probably because I watched it on a screener before the festival proper started.
"As the tale unfolds," I wrote in my review, "it becomes an absorbing reflection on the hideous acts that unfolded behind closed doors." Weeks after watching it, the main figure in the story, Wendy Maldonado, is still bouncing around my head -- not even so much her loving yet resigned personality as much as the memory of what she endured and the havoc it wreaked on her children.
Filmmaker Tommy Davis was born in McAllen, Texas. He previously made Mojados, a multi-award winning documentary about the world of illegal immigration, as well as a passel of short films. We were not able to meet in Austin, but he kindly agreed to answer a few questions via e-mail.
ScreenAnarchy: In an article you wrote for The Huffington Post, you said you were "on the road for six months looking to film a person's last few days of freedom before they go to prison for a significant amount of time." To begin with, why were you so interested in the subject?
Tommy Davis: Finite Amount of Time + Loose Ends To Tie Up = Inherently Dramatic Moment.
You also wrote that your "preconceived notions for the film and its plot had [to be] tossed overboard" after you'd met the family and seen some of their home videos. What ideas did you have in advance about the type of film you wanted to make?
I was thinking of making a documentary that was like a circus. Lots of bells and whistles. So you'd have some fancy editing and graphics with days falling off a calendar - kind of like one of those competition documentaries.
In my review, I commented on your decision not to lay all the facts of the case out at the beginning of the film. In hindsight, I'm glad you did that, because it allowed me to get to know Wendy and her family in their own words. I'm curious, though: at what point did you make the decision to structure the film more like, well, some kind of mystery?
There's an inherent mystery to the film. As with any interesting story the audience wants to know the results and the details. In the case of this film, I only found out information piecemeal so I let the story unfold naturally, bit by bit.
Your film had its world premiere at Locarno, and it's played in other countries too. How do you feel it was received at SXSW? Did people react differently than you expected?
There were a couple people that disliked the lack of information at the beginning, but for the most part I think people liked the film. I can't really complain - the audiences in Austin are great.
Has Wendy's family seen the film? If so, what's their reaction?
They tell me they love it. Wendy too. I think it's tough for them to watch, but more or less, they've told me it's an honest portrait of their last days.
What do you hope people will take away from One Minute to Nine?
In my mind I want the film to leave the audience with a few questions that come up as the credits roll - perhaps that will happen.
You don't include any "experts" on domestic abuse, or any interviews with the police or legal authorities. Do you think documentaries have a responsibility to tell both sides of a story? Why did you decide to stay so tightly focused on Wendy, her family, and a few eyewitnesses?
I am not sure what the responsibilities are. I don't feel bound to tell a story according to someone else's standards. I know I want to make something that I find interesting and thoughtful. I also like honesty in films, so I strive for that.
As far as offering the audience extraneous information, there was nothing an expert or commentator could say that would ring as true as what I found in the family's house by just keeping my mouth shut and the camera rolling.