David Lowery's First Feature: St Nick
This website was created to promote David Lowery's 2009 film about two siblings who take up impermanent residence in an empty Texas house. Content is from outside sources.
I remember the day when it first occurred to me that I was growing up - it was when I went to kindergarten for the first time and realized that I was going to have to get up early every morning from that point onwards for the rest of my life. You start to look ahead like that, you get old in a hurry, and that's sort of what ST. NICK is about
- David Lowery
St. Nick is the story of a brother and sister on the run. They've left their home for some unknown reason and are living in the woods, hiding in barns and sheds, doing what they can to survive. As the bitter Texas winter sets in, they strike up residence in an abandoned country house and, for a brief, happy period, manage to escape the harsh realities of their circumstances.
Monique Byars - Mean Girl 2
Riley Cole - Birthday Party Guest
Brooke Devenney - Mean Girl
Alexandra Doke - Birthday Party Guest
Jacqueline Doke - Birthday Party Guest
Nicolette Doke - Birthday Party Guest
Susan Doke - Mother at birthday party
Harry Goaz - Detective
Aven Howell - Aven
Barlow Jacobs - Sam
Savanna Sears - The Girl
Tucker Sears - The Boy
Andrew Sensenig - The Father
Laura Stone - The Mother
DIRECTED BY David Lowery
EXECUTIVE PRODUCED BY Adam Donaghey
PRODUCED BY vJames M. Johnston
CINEMATOGRAPHY Clay Liford
EDITED BY David Lowery
WRITTEN BY David Lowery
MUSIC BY Daniel Hart
BY NICK SCHAGER
APRIL 17, 2011
Obliquely charting the terror, loneliness, and liberation of navigating a cold, callous grown-up world, St. Nick follows nameless brother and sister runaways (played by real-life siblings Tucker and Savanna Sears) who take up impermanent residence in an empty Texas house. David Lowery’s debut feature is long on silence and laden with a mood of oppressive dread, which, like the ever-stormy sky, hovers around its young protagonists, he 12 and she eight, as they take refuge in their ramshackle new abode, the boy stringing up a hanging-log trap against intruders and collecting twigs for wood-stove kindling while the girl draws with crayons found in the same dumpster where they scavenge for food. Why they’ve fled home remains a mystery, though the sight of the boy tearing up a happy family portrait (despite his sister’s objections) and stating that he sometimes thinks of time travel to “the past, when it was all normal,” imply a troubled home life as the root cause. As with his film’s entirety, however, Lowery doesn’t press this point, choosing instead to linger in the quiet of the children’s tenuous situation, one that the writer-director dramatizes as an adult-free fairy tale of abandonment and loss, as well as—in the sight of the girl struggling to ride a giant bike—one about the difficulty of maturation.
St. Nick‘s evocation of a not-quite-real rural America defined by stark, going-to-seed natural beauty both faintly and somewhat self-consciously recalls Terrence Malick’s early work, a connection furthered by a subtle linking—as in the sight of the boy scraping paint off a wall while his sister scratches at a knee scab—of characters and their imposing environment. Yet Lowery’s film, which seems just as indebted, at least spiritually, to Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, conveys its own unique impression of juvenile anxieties and isolation, aided in part by wonderfully expressive performances from its two leads. Within a frame that’s always expertly controlled and reflective of its protagonists’ states of mind, the director’s images (set to melancholy piano and strings, or an ominous wall of hollow atmospheric sound) cry out with silent dismay: the kids walking beneath a cold, gray sky on an abandoned field, a foreground tree’s branches looming over them; a box of skeleton bones that the girl dubs her new dog, Donut; the girl’s hurried, distressed flight from a playground birthday party she’s impulsively crashed; and the boy sharing a knowing glance with a man in a church stealing a statue of the Virgin Mary, their kindred misery left unspoken but understood.
With few conversational encounters, Lowery’s dialogue can exhibit a tad too much italicized import, but the general lack of articulated sentiments lends the proceedings a suggestive power. This is most hauntingly true with regards to a meeting between the boy and a woman (Mara Lee Miller) on a porch playing an acoustic guitar ballad about a dead father, her song’s sadness (and the fact that she later states that her dad taught her to play) lingering in the subsequent stillness of the night as the boy slinks down to sleep against a house’s outer wall, his head downturned in sorrow over his lack of a father to either mourn or teach him anything of value. A run-in with the house’s owner, and then a developing cough for one of the kids, inevitably leads to more narrative forward progress, but St. Nick never bothers with much plot in the first place, much less overwrought melodramatic manipulations. Instead, it idles along with jangled nerves and a heavy heart, recognizing the need for every boy and girl to grow up—one way or another—on their own, and the simultaneous fear and joy that such an inevitable path inspires.
Portrait of Childhood
ST. NICK NYT Critics’ Pick
By ANDY WEBSTERAPRIL 21, 2011
The indie Texan filmmaker David Lowery receives a double bill at the reRun Gastropub Theater in Dumbo, Brooklyn, and while “Pioneer,” a 16-minute short, and “St. Nick,” an 86-minute feature, don’t provide hard answers to their mysteries, both are deeply intriguing.
“Pioneer” is a softly lighted bedtime exchange between a father (the extraordinary Will Oldham, of Kelly Reichardt’s “Old Joy” and the alt-rock alter ego Bonnie Prince Billy) and his young adopted black son (the adorable and convincing Myles Brooks). The son wants to hear again about his own birth and his mother, and the tale Dad spins is laden with history, myth and faint hints of the supernatural. Discuss.
“St. Nick” is more animated, but only just. A brother and sister (played by the real-life siblings Tucker and Savanna Sears) have run away from home and make do in a decrepit house, filling it with discarded furniture, building “forts” and subsisting on sandwiches. She draws with crayons and crashes a playground birthday party; he thinks about death and time travel. Soon they are discovered and on the lam, taking refuge in a field and a crumbling church. By the time they are found once more, he has heard the call of the wild.
A potentially stifling ambience is deflected by quiet suspense and the awe-inspiring compositions of the cinematographer, Clay Liford. Decaying rustic interiors evoke Andrew Wyeth still lifes; pastoral long shots suggest a Southwestern walkabout. And Mr. Lowery seems ready for a bigger canvas.
USA 15 March 2009 (South by Southwest Film Festival)
USA 27 March 2009 (AFI Dallas International Film Festival)
USA 3 April 2009 (Sarasota Film Festival)
USA 11 October 2009 (Indie Memphis Film Festival)
USA November 2009 (Starz Denver Film Festival)
USA 13 November 2009 (St. Louis International Film Festival)
Greece 18 November 2009 (Thessaloniki International Film Festival)
USA 1 April 2011 (South Texas Cinematheque)
USA 22 April 2011
Film festival laurels white ST. LOUIS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Film festival laurels white SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL
Film festival laurels white THESSALONIKI FILM FESTIVAL
Film festival laurels white STARZ DENVER INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Film festival laurels white AFI FEST
Film festival laurels white SARASOTA FILM FESTIVAL
OFFICIAL SELECTION | AWARDS
2009 ST. LOUIS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
NEW FILMMAKER FORUM AWARD
2009 DALLAS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
GRAND JURY PRIZE (TEXAS FILM)
2009 SIDEWALK MOVING PICTURE FESTIVAL
SPECIAL JURY AWARD (MISE-EN-SCÈNE)
Interview with David Lowery
A post from 25 New Faces of 2011
In the middle of writing the follow up to his 2009 feature, St. Nick, David Lowery was stuck. “I reached a point in the script where it became very difficult,” Lowery remembers. “I was trying to make it an action movie, but I wasn’t sure why I wanted to make the story. So I did what I always do when I’m fed up, which is go for a run.” While jogging, Lowery plucked the seed of a scene from his script — a father talking to his daughter one night — and spun it out into something a little different: a bedtime story between a father and his son. “The whole story erupted in my mind,” says Lowery. “It was just there.”
Upon returning home, Lowery typed the story out in one sitting, and that afternoon jog turned into Pioneer, one of the best shorts you’ll see all year. A single scene, the short focuses on the father as he tells a violent story about a soldier and an absent mother to his absorbed young son. Both a fanciful tall tale and a mysterious, even frightening, parable, the bedtime story ushers not only the young son, but us too into a metaphorical, mixed-up place, where childlike wonder coexists with adult wisdom. Musician and actor Will Oldham plays the father and what a joy his sensitive, empathetic and pitch-perfect performance is! The four-year-old Myles Brooks is equally sensational. Pioneer premiered at Sundance 2011 and went on to win Best Short at SXSW, the Indie Grits Festival and the Ashland Independent Film Festival. The film will be released by Wolfe Video on DVD this August.
Recently, Lowery watched Pioneer on a double bill with St. Nick, which is a sparer take on childhood more concerned with tone and texture than story. “St. Nick is like a distended version of my memories of childhood,” he says, “and Pioneer takes the same themes and collapses them into a more concise form. It represents a step forward for me as a filmmaker, and it’s also directly personal, which is the reason I dedicated it to my dad.”
When the Dallas-based Lowery is not directing his own features, he’s making a living editing — both corporate and commercial work as well as indie features. He co-edited Dustin Guy Defa’s tremulous relationship drama, Bad Fever, and he’s currently cutting Andrew Brotzman’s Nor’easter. “Working on other people’s films makes me a better director,” admits Lowery, adding that he “loves all kinds of movies. I’m going to see Transformers: Dark of the Moon 3D today, despite myself.” And when he’s not writing or directing or editing film, he’s often writing about it. His “Drifting: A Director’s Log” is one of the best filmmaker blogs, filled with information on his own shoots but mostly his takes on other films, everything from Malick’s The Tree of Life to work by the colleagues he meets on the fest circuit. “I feel that building an audience is part of being a filmmaker,” Lowery says. “I was blogging in 1999, before blogging was even a word, and I’ve kept it up. I didn’t go to film school, so seeing someone mentioning a title online and then going and watching it and exchanging ideas about it in the blogosphere — that’s been my education.”
Next up for Lowery? He’s talking to a couple of Hollywood producers about larger projects but, for the moment, he says, “I’m in pre-production on my next feature, which is about an outlaw in the ’70s who breaks out of prison to find his wife and daughter and build them a house.” — Scott Macaulay