Filmmaker and Houston native Jonathan Caouette visits the MFAH to present his new release, Walk Away Renee, on November 3. Emilia Duno, a senior in the International Baccalaureate Film Program at Lamar High School, chatted with Caouette (born 1972), about the movie, growing up in Houston, and the local film scene.
When did your interest in film begin?
JC: When I was 8 years old, my grandfather, Adolph, used to take me to the original Meyerland Theater and AMC Shamrock Six, and I would sneak my tape recorder in and record the audio of the films I would see. Then we would stop at a drugstore and pick up stacks of typing paper, and I would draw copious amounts of images to correlate with the audio. Each “movie” consisted of about 1,000 pages or so. This was, essentially, my “GI Joe.” I would entertain myself for HOURS. All of this was, of course, pre-VCR (at least in my family), and it must have seemed as if I was on the autism spectrum.
What led you to experimental film, as opposed to traditional documentary or narrative filmmaking?
JC: I felt like you could have more fun with experimental film. When I was about 12, I was hanging out with these older film snob types in Houston (have no idea how I even met them) and they exposed me to the likes of Paul Morrissey and John Waters, etc. This was way back when their films existed only on bootleg VHS or Betamax tapes, and these kinds of films inevitably replaced my love for horror films. Also, I began watching The Territory on PBS in Houston, and THOSE films simply blew my mind—and kind of simultaneously elated me and terrified me. I knew at some point that I wanted to tell stories in some realm of experimental form, even though back then I probably couldn't exactly articulate that.
Both Walk Away Renee and your debut film, Tarnation, are in-depth explorations of the complicated and very close relationship you have with your mother. Is this a theme you will continue working with in the future?
JC: Gosh, I hope not—ha ha. If anything, I am segueing into a completely different territory very soon. I don't reckon this will be anything like the Seven Up series, ha!
How did you decide that an experimental approach would be the best way to tell this beautiful story about you and your mother?
JC: As hokey as this may sound, the footage literally told me how it wanted to play. There was never any preconceived idea of what I was doing or how I was going to do it, until the moment that it was forming during the editing process.
What is your opinion of the Houston film scene?
JC: There is an enormous amount of filmmaking talent in Houston. I wish, my fantasy is, that someone will take ye olde Astrodome and do what the kids in Austin did with that airport!
► One night only! "Walk Away Renee" screens at 7 p.m. Saturday, November 3. Click here for the trailer, tickets, and more info.