They say you can't step in the same river twice, and the river was moving a little differently for Juli Jackson when she returned to her native Arkansas after film school in Los Angeles. In sharp contrast to the Hollywood machine, Arkansas's film community was closely knit and genuinely enthusiastic about its craft; too small to be jaded about itself, but big enough to staff and fund (with help from organizations like the Arkansas Arts Council and the Ozark Foothills Film Festival) movies like Jackson's 2013 debut, "45RPM." The film, a road movie steeped in Arkansas music, screens at Central Arkansas Library System's Ron Robinson Theater Friday, June 16 as part of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies' Arkansas Sounds series. Soundtrack contributors Adam Faucett, Whale Fire and Justin Vinson perform at 6 p.m., and the screening's followed by a panel discussion with Jackson, Arkansas garage rock consultant Harold Ott, "45RPM" Music Supervisor Mike Poe and lead actor Jason Thompson. Juli talked with me ahead of Friday's screening, over the phone from her home office in Paragould.
Well, it’s been four years since the release of “45RPM.” Have any reactions to the movie surprised you?
There have been so many incredible reactions that I did not anticipate. To me, it’s a little bitty indie film. It’s my first film. You know, I’m very proud of it, but there are also all these flaws and things that I would change. I have actually been very fortunate in that if anybody has not liked the film, they haven’t bothered to come talk to me about it. I get these amazing reactions from every kind of person you can imagine. Young kids, kids you’d think would way too young to be interested in older music or vinyl, and they’re talking to me about how they inherited their parents’ or older brother’s record collection. We screened at the Knoxville Film Festival when we premiered in 2013, and these kids came up to me and told me they were gonna leave the film festival and go look for record stores.
And I was like, “Yes. Yes, you should.” And of course, I get people of an older generation that I always think will be interested in the older music I use in the film, and they’re just fascinated with the story. It’s never what you expect.
Right, and because the movie's about a young woman in search of a vinyl recording of her father's music, I wondered if people want desperately to tell you about that ONE record they have, that’s in perfect mint condition, and it’s been signed, and it’s a live recording and there were only 7 or 8 people in the audience because it was before he was famous! Have you found yourself as a sounding board for those types of stories?
Oh, absolutely. And the tricky thing is.....well, I love music, but I think there are several different types of music people. Some people are like Charlie is in the movie, where they have an emotional connection to it. Then there are people like Louie is in the movie. They’re collectors. In some ways, I feel unfortunate that I fall on the emotional side of that. If somebody comes up to me and they're excited to tell me about some vinyl, of which only 5 copies exist, and they're like, "You have to know about this, right?!" And I don't.
The film is sort of steeped in Arkansas connections, Natalie Canerday and Jason Thompson are in it, and the production involved Mike Poe and a whole host of Arkansas musicians and crewmembers. Was it your intention, initially, to make what’s now considered a sort of “Arkansas” film?
I was kind of a fish out of water. I’d moved back from Los Angeles, and I’d been away for years. You know, I moved away at 18. So, I didn’t know Arkansas filmmakers. The way I started networking was working with the Ozark Foothills Film Festival, and doing some teaching for them. That’s how I found out about this indie film initiative, this one-time grant through the Arkansas Arts Council. I’d written a script, and it took place in Arkansas. So, I applied and I got one. I was the only woman that got one, and the only narrative feature that got one. I felt good about that. Once I did that, and attended the Little Rock Film Fest, I started meeting all these people and watching all these short films, and looking at the credits, seeing like, “Oh, that DP’s worked on five films. Who is that guy?” So, I got connected with Bryan Stafford, Les Galusha and Mike [Poe].
I was so bowled over by the support I got from this very small, very connected network of support. I was coming from L.A. where, you know, nobody wants to hear about your project. So that was really incredible for me, and that’s how the film got made. I started researching Arkansas music and found Harold Ott, who put out these collections of 60s garage rock from Arkansas, and I was listening to them for inspiration. It wasn't until after the film that I reached out to him and he was like, “Well, what do you need? How can I help with this?” And he just became this sort of consultant for us. It’s been…..it's definitely the best filmmaking experience I’ve ever had. Not only did I get to make a movie in my home state, and all these resources I appreciate having, but I also got to find this community, which I was not expecting, you know?
Right. There’s this narrative that you need to be in L.A. to do this, or you need to be in New York for that, because nobody’s gonna hire you if you’re not there. To have the P.O. Box, to have the right area code. But it doesn’t sound like this movie could have even been made in L.A.
Everything is different now. There are films being made in New York, there are films being made in Hollywood, but there are films being made everywhere else, too. When I was in L.A., all I got to work on was commercial work or indie films that were very marketed and maybe they’d have this reality star signed on, who they were paying an exorbitant amount of money. There wasn’t a lot of heart to anything. And that’s always been true, there’s always been the commercial world and the artistic world. But I think that I had the idea that in order to be a filmmaker that I had to go to L.A. to get my career started, and I don’t necessarily feel like that’s true anymore. I don’t know if it was ever necessarily true.
I want to ask you about a different Hollywood: Hollywood Video. In an interview with the Atlanta Film Fest, you talked about hanging out in Hollywood Video in Paragould, and all these memories came flooding back to me about how my friends and I would spend hours in the Hollywood Video store on the north end of Bentonville. Do you think that way of accessing film shaped your tastes? Like, not having everything that was ever filmed available to you whenever you feel like it?
When I was in high school, we still had video stores and that was sort of the place to hang out. I mean, for me to see a movie, we had to drive to Memphis. So that was very informative to me. Hollywood Video got all of these indie films, and that’s how I saw “Happiness” and “Welcome to the Dollhouse”; these movies that felt like they were made by real people. It’s almost like…..it’s really hard to just stumble across something now.
There’s another movie called “45 R.P.M.” It’s a Canadian drama, and it has a 25 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Have you seen it?
There is! I have not seen it. I want to see it. I’m curious. When I made my film, I googled the name and didn't find that there was this other film until much later, and I was worried people wouldn't be able to find me.
We’re having this conversation in June of 2017, and Patty Jenkins is breaking box office records with “Wonder Woman.” Is it a good time to be a woman making films?
That’s a tricky question. I have mixed feelings about it. I think it’s a great time to be a woman filmmaker because women filmmakers have a spotlight on them, because women filmmakers are forcing the spotlight, saying, “Hey, we’ve been here. We want recognition.” And people are starting to give them that, and that’s exciting. And I’m really happy to be that person. I’m really happy to represent. But, I also just wanna be a filmmaker. I don’t want the qualifier. It’s not that I don't think it’s important, but I want to get to the place where that’s not the thing anymore. I want to get to the place where I’m not the token woman on the panel. I want to get beyond that. But I think that’s probably me being impatient. I think it’s fantastic that organizations like the Cannes Film Festival are trying harder, and looking harder, but I wanna get to a place where my work can just be looked at as my work.