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Vail woman debuts first film in New York festival

Wren Wertin
Special to the DailyGabrielle Morris' short film, "Talking Richard Wilson Blues, by Richard Clay Wilson," is inspired by a poem of the same written by Denis Johnson.
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Morris flew to Manhattan for the debut of her first film, a short titled “Talking Richard Wilson Blues.” Morris is the producer and film editor of the short, which will be shown as part of the Tribeca Film Festival.

The inaugural Festival, which opened Thursday and runs through Sunday, is DeNiro’s brainchild. According to their official Web site, it was created to bring local, national and international talent to New York City to celebrate independent films. In the wake of 9/11, the Festival is seeking to re-energize the culture and economy of lower Manhattan by building an international destination for lovers of film, arts and entertainment.

Morris’ film takes its name from a poem by Denis Johnson, “Talking Richard Wilson Blues, by Richard Clay Wilson.” Johnson is known for his character development. The title character is a father, alcoholic and drug user:



“”Listen, I’m going to work,’ was all I could say, and drunk or sober I would put on the uniform of Texaco and wade into my life.”

An epiphany one day makes him feel that his life is passing him by.



“So he starts to live harder and faster,” said Morris.

He makes his girlfriend dress up more, dance more.

“…I did



start dragging her into the clubs with me. I insisted

she be sexy. I just wanted to live.

And I did: some nights were so

sensory I felt the starlight landing on my back

and I believed I could set fire to things with my fingers –

but the strategies of others broke my promise.”

The movie has no dialogue, but is a complete voice-over. The script consists of the poem in its entirety. Because the film is an adaptation of a character that’s already been developed, Morris describes the theme as more character exploration.

“We’re not making a statement about him,” she said. “It’s really objective. The way he’s developed (in the poem) is the way he’s portrayed. You can empathize with him, but you can also detest him at the same time. You care about him as a character, but his actions and statements and thoughts are really not the nicest.”

Not the nicest might be a bit of an understatement. After taking his girlfriend to a series of clubs, he happens upon her speaking to a man at closing time. He is angry, as “you could see all kinds of intentions in the air.”

He has an impulse to hit her, or spill a glass, but instead kills the man with his hunting knife. And for that, he goes to jail.

“…I’m sorry for nothing.

I’m just an alien from another planet.

I am not happy. Disappointment

lights its stupid fire in my heart…”

Morris was drawn to the humanity of Richard Wilson, warts and all. The tone of the poem is practical in its recitation: this is what happened. Morris wanted the film to be the same way.

“I felt compassion for his weakness within himself, his own self loathing,” she said. “He’s stuck at a place in his life that he tries to get out of, and he makes decisions that make it worse for him. That’s something I identified with on some levels, being angry and bitter and complacent in parts of his life.”

It’s fitting that the film should debut in the Tribeca Film Festival, an unmistakably New York affair. Morris and her colleagues, Nicholas Twemlow (director, producer) and Agathe David-Weill (producer) completed the shoot in Sept. of last year. They were supposed to edit it on Sept. 10, but it was delayed for a day. As the world knows, Sept. 11 dawned with a shock.

“It was a big decision for us,” said Morris. “”Do we finish it? Is it worth anything? Are we being arrogant? How do we go on?’ We’d put so much time and energy into it, but all of a sudden it seemed so insignificant. But then it became extremely significant.”

As author Mark Dunn recently said, “When the pain doesn’t make sense, dive into your art.”

That’s exactly what Morris and company did. Finishing the film was only the next hurdle, though. As all aspiring filmmakers know, getting people to watch it is often more frustrating than the original creation process. “Talking Richard Wilson Blues” had to make it through several cuts to be part of the film festival.

“I am pretty much baffled as to how it got chosen,” she said, laughing. “You submit it, and it goes through a screening committee, a selection process. I don’t know the number of short films accepted into the festival, but there were thousands of submissions. It went through a first, second and third cut. And the festival is juried, which makes acceptance more of an honor.”

The best part for Morris is being recognized for work she’s passionate about. Having invested so much time and energy into it, of course it’s gratifying for somebody else to approve of the project.

“I’m a very visual person, and it’s easier for me to portray an artistic message through film than it would be through writing or anything else,” she said. “I really love film – making it, shooting it, working with it, developing sets. I’ve always loved movies.”

Though she is a big fan of the independent film industry, and foreign films too, she doesn’t turn her nose up at Hollywood blockbusters. According to her, there’s a time and a place for everything. Though her favorite movie changes depending on her mood, she cites “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” as one of her favorites.

Morris has not decided what her next project will be. She’d like to do an Old West movie taken from a woman’s perspective. Or she might do something completely different. For now, she’s focused on the Festival and all of the “schmoozing” it entails.

For more information on the Tribeca Film Festival, visit http://www.tribecafilmfestival.org.

Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at wrenw@vaildaily.com or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.


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