John Sayles, a true pioneer of American independent film, isn’t sure there’s much of an indie film business any longer. Despite the grim outlook he forges ahead with yet another true independent effort called Go For Sisters. It represents his 18th narrative feature film as a writer and director. The two time Oscar nominee financed the film himself. Sayles explains that the title Go For Sisters infers the nature of the relationship between main characters played by LisaGay Hamilton and Yolonda Ross, who had been close enough in the past as to “pass for sisters”. Hamilton plays a parole officer hoping to find her missing son who may be lost in Mexico. She recruits Ross, who surfaces as parolee assigned to her. They seek additional assistance from a nearly blind ex-cop, played by Edward James Olmos, to travel south of the border and attempt to solve the missing person’s case that involves Coyotes and even the Chinese mafia.
As usual in a John Sayles film, the performances are strong and the character driven story paints a realistic portrait of people dealing with complex human issues. Go For Sisters also returns to a familiar locale for Sayles, the border. “A country is defined not just geographically by its borders,” explains Sayles. He also felt that there’s been monumental changes since perhaps his most acclaimed film set there, Lone Star, “it’s literally a different world even from the nineties.”
Sayles also believes that the Indie film business is a different landscape from when he started making independent films. On the one hand, it’s easier to make a film, “Film costs used to amount to roughly 40% of a movie’s budget, now it’s less than 10%.” However, the ease of production has given way to more competition which makes distributing feature film harder than ever.
Sayles longevity in creating his own films can be attributed to his unique position of being a top writer for Hollywood studio films. He uses his day job as a studio writer to finance his independent projects. I asked if he ever regretted not getting a credit on any of the large films that he has worked on. He noted that he had very few regrets in that regard, “The only one that I asked for credit on was Apollo 13”. The formula works in a way that, “It’s better to mess up 41% of a movie than to improve 39% of one in terms of credit.”
Since his films are so dense and novelistic I wondered if he had ever considered creating a television series. He said he didn’t have any specific ideas that he felt would translate into a running series. “Almost as a joke…after I saw Silence of the Lambs, I said to Jonathan Demme ‘this would make a great TV series…but little did I know years later they’d do Dexter.”
Go For Sisters represents the second partnership between Sayles and Variance Films. The first was Sayles last feature Amigo which was set in the Philippines about a war that is rarely discussed either here or even in the Philippines. That sparked his fascination, “That just seemed like a murder that was covered up in a way.”
Film has already opened in New York and Los Angeles and will open wider in the coming weeks, including in Atlanta on November 29th.
Go for Sisters, directed, written, and edited by John Sayles opens in Atlanta on Friday, November 29, 2013 at the Landmarks Theaters’ Midtown Arts Cinema 931 Monroe Drive Atlanta, GA 30308.