SxSW 2021 Interview – REKLAW director Polaris Banks

Lott has devoted the remaining years of his life to personally pardoning criminals by destroying crime scene evidence. Driven by his faith in the healing power of unconditional forgiveness, Lott and his uniquely talented team of outcasts troll the streets waiting to intercept the right 911 call. Nearby, Melissa wakes after drugging herself in a misguided attempt to act out a sexual fantasy, finding her lover dead and having no memory of her role in his murder. Lott intervenes to dispose of the body, but the strength of their convictions is tested when the clean up is interrupted by the true killer.

Having its World Premiere in the Midnighters section of SxSW Online, we talk with REKLAW director Polaris Banks. 

Welcome to SxSW and congratulations! Is this your first SxSW experience? 

This is my first film festival ever. I’ve been holed up after my last short film for about a decade, working on my filmmaking and keeping most of what I produce to myself. SXSW is kind of my coming out party. Most people weren’t even aware I was working on REKLAW these last five years. 

How did you first hear about SxSW and wishing to send REKLAW into the festival?

I have lived in Texas for most of my life, and a good portion of that was in Austin. So SXSW was always a tremendous presence. I didn’t realize how high the film program ranked among other major festivals though until I googled “Top Film Festivals in the World,” and South By popped up as one of the main six. That’s how much I’ve hermitted myself away from the industry until lately. Google had to fill me in on how big of a deal this is.

Tell me about the idea behind REKLAW and getting it made!

I watched a prison documentary a long time ago, and the inmates seemed to return to society more vulnerable and dangerous than when they went in. So I started fantasizing about how someone could realistically keep them out of prison by obstructing the justice system. The idea took hold of me, and after some research, the script filled out pretty quickly. I wasn’t confident enough in my last work sample to ask anyone to invest in the production though, especially since shorts often don’t make their money back. So I did research studies for five years along with maxing out credit cards and borrowing money to raise the $200,000 I needed to do the project justice. I’m still paying it off.

Who are some of your creative inspirations? Any particular filmmaking talent or movie that inspired you for this project?

People compare my movie to Tarantino because it’s pulpy and the Cohen Brothers because it has quirky humor, but surprisingly it’s James Cameron who inspires me the most. When I’m having trouble writing, I pick up the screenplay to ALIENS. His tight dialogue and insightful descriptions always get me pumped. I also identify with his intense work ethic on set. I’m always pushing myself to my limits, because if the movie still falls short, I’ll have the peace of mind that I literally did everything I could to make it work.

How did you put REKLAW together from a technical viewpoint? What sort of cameras/lenses did you use and/or did you have any creative challenges in making it?

We shot on a 3-Perf Arricam ST that my brother and I bought cheap from Arri Europe. They were unloading some of their 35mm equipment now that digital is more popular. I could only afford to use recanned or short ended film stock though. So we were constantly having to switch mags, which could be tiresome to the actors. I didn’t slate on set to keep things moving on our tight schedule and instead synced the dialogue to their mouth movements in post. For lenses, I rented Master Primes from a local owner because I wanted to use the same tools Malick uses. That way if the movie still didn’t look as beautiful as his, I’d know it was me and not my equipment. We had a malfunction that affected a couple of reels that I caused by asking the DP to tilt the camera on its right side, which I know now can make the film “cone” inside the magazine. That’s why certain parts of the fight scene have that weird ribboning effect. Luckily no one who’s seen the movie seems to care.

Being all virtual this year, what do you hope to get out of the virtual SxSW experience? And where is your project going next?

One of the upsides of a virtual festival is that industry professions from all over the world can check out the movie. I’m hoping to get a feature version of “Reklaw” funded, and I’ve already gotten a few smaller studios reaching out to me about possibly producing the full version, which is really encouraging. After a grueling self funding process, I’ve committed myself to soliciting investors and pitching to studios instead, which SXSW has already opened many doors for me to accomplish.

What would you suggest to film festivals as a way to show more short films or make them more accessible to audiences across the country?

A lot of audience members want to just see one movie without having to buy the pass for the entire festival, especially if they know the filmmaker personally. So I think offering individual tickets for screenings that don’t have audience caps would be helpful, but I understand why the programmers decided to not break up the experience, especially from a technical standpoint.

If you had one piece of advice to offer someone to get their start as a creator or filmmaker in the industry, what would you suggest?

You will learn so much more so much faster if you try your absolute hardest on every movie you make. That’s the only way you’ll really find out what you don’t know that separates your work from your idols’. The one thing that joins all successful filmmakers is ambition. So shoot high, fail often, and always keep challenging yourself.

And finally, what is your favourite short film of all time?

Well I consider music videos to be short films, and Michael Jackson’s THRILLER has still got to be the most exciting and genuinely magical short film I’ve ever seen. I think I’ll go watch it again with my wife right now.

This film and many others like it will be showing at the virtual South By Southwest taking place March 16-20th. For more information and to register for the festival, point your browser to www.sxsw.com!

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