In Ancient Greek mythology, Lachesis was one of the three fates, measuring a thread to decide how long each person’s life will be and how their life will proceed. She is the embodiment of determinism, the idea that your fate has been long decided for you in advance, a key underpinning of classic Greek literature, from Oedipus Rex to Homer’s Odysseus. But what if we actually decide to create our own fate? Is it possible to succeed or are we merely, to quote Shakespeare “the stars’ tennis balls”? This is a burning question that Gregory Foltynowicz explores in his graduate film Lachesis with great style and artistry, conjuring up a silent, texture-heavy film that opts more for poetic inquiry than simple dialogue. As part of Lachesis’ online premiere here on DN today we caught up with Foltynowicz to talk about the difference between enforced fate and natural fate, shooting in black and white, and the magic serendipity that can often occur on film sets.
You grew up in Park City, the home of Sundance, was that an influence on you as a filmmaker?
100%. It was just compelling and inspiring. I immersed myself in the entire film programme at my high school. It’s funny because we have the Minor Film Festival, where all the student films made every year are shown at the Eccles Theatre, which is the same theatre that does premieres at Sundance. I’m working towards one day having a film at Sundance. Also just starting off as a movie buff in general, I was a 12, 13-year-old kid watching all the most obscure arthouse films, like all the Criterion stuff, and being super duper into it. From there, I kept making stuff to keep finding my voice. I worked at the Park Studio, working on a few productions over there, and being part of the film community in general. That’s what’s gotten me here today.
I just loved the whole concept of making something that is essentially its own visual language.
Talking about arthouse films from the 60s and 70s, what were some of your key inspirations?
I think the biggest inspiration, specifically, was the Criterion stuff, because it’s not as formulaic. It focuses more on feeling. Additionally, the choices behind the visuals and the number of layers put into those visuals. My favourite filmmaker right now is Andrei Tarkovsky. Mirror is my favourite. I just loved the whole concept of making something that is essentially its own visual language.
What’s interesting about Tarkovsky is that you can tell there’s direct intention, which is so beautiful and unique. Bergman and Persona as well, and I’m also a huge fan of Béla Tarr and Paolo Sorrentino. The Great Beauty awakened it all for me because I was so emotionally connected to the visuals and the flow and the natural dialogue. I loved how it covers relationships, life, death and religion. To this day, it’s one of the main movies that shaped who I am.
And you explore questions of philosophy rather well here with this tug of war. Was this question of being in control of your destiny at the forefront while making Lachesis?
Absolutely. That’s the main focus. I was filming my junior film and there was an important sequence; the pinnacle of the film. When we were framing up, it started to rain when I said “action” and once I said “cut” it stopped! I dwelled on that memory quite a bit. That was really the inspiration behind Lachesis itself. I was starting to ask myself those questions: is the universe guiding me or telling me in its own way that I’m pursuing my purpose in life? I also came across moments in life where situations were as hard as possible for me to achieve. It’s almost as if the universe, in essence, is making it hard for me. Then certain things are so natural and coincidental for the good. So that question came up and was the inspiration for this film.
It started to rain when I said “action” and once I said “cut” it stopped.
That’s when I thought of that sequence, that tug of war between enforced fate vs natural fate. And I liked the idea of having a child because a child will naturally move towards natural fate, while the older man is enforcing and most likely been enforced as well, preventing himself from achieving his purpose. That’s pretty much the whole body of the film.
You also have this amazing scene where the kid is in the water then these hands come up underneath him. What was it like achieving this shot? Did you actually have people in the water?
Yeah, it was actually really funny. My producer has a pool in his backyard and we shot late at night. We had some extras underneath the water and we just lit it very appropriately, very light. We had just one source skimming over it and put in a bunch of fog. We would cue the extras by hitting a pan and they’d hear it from underwater. That’s when they would put up their hands and grab the kid. It was a tricky shot to achieve, but we made it work and it definitely looks very surreal and wild. VFX filled in the blanks thereby darkening it a little more and making it seem more void-like so we don’t see the pool as much.
How long did they have to hold their breath?
It’s a good amount of time. I’m not entirely sure. It’s in slow-motion, but it was maybe 10 to 20 seconds.
Is the universe guiding me or telling me in its own way that I’m pursuing my purpose in life?
It’s interesting you say it’s your friend’s pool because if the film wasn’t in black and white, the shot would’ve come across rather differently. Was it always your intention to shoot in black and white and what was the advantage of this approach?
From the get-go I was shooting for black and white. The main reason behind that was that I wanted to show that contrast between the two options as simply as possible, where it works with the theme and message itself. There’s only the choice between natural and enforced fate. Making the colour dynamic just in twos would work well with that. I also feel it fits the aesthetic and style of the film and that feeling. It also gives the opportunity to accentuate the lighting sources as well, especially within the barn.
How did you light that scene where he is standing in that barn door? Was the light coming from the outside or did you have some hidden backlights?
For that shot, I believe it was just natural light. If I remember there’s just some diffusion on the far left side. What made it look so defined was the black and white as well as adding the haze.
I wanted to show that contrast between the two options as simply as possible, where it works with the theme and message itself.
You must have had a very high-contrast digital camera?
We wanted to shoot on 35mm or 16mm, but it didn’t work with our budget so we shot on a Red Dragon using Zeiss Milvus Primes I believe. Then in post we added some artificial film grain to make it look more film-looking. I think it was pretty effective.
What are you working on next?
I have a treatment and shortlist for a fashion experimental film. It’s a little different from my previous films. I guess the best aesthetic I can say reference-wise is Nicholas Winding Refn, with a wild neo-noir energy.