POV: What is this film about?
Monteith McCollum: Lawn is a combination of stories revolving around our compulsion to tame our lawns. Using images of my own backyard and surrounding area, I interweave a conversation I have with Sarah Little, an Earth Scientist, about her experiences as a pesticide awareness coordinator. It's also about much more than that, so watch and find out.
POV: What drew you to the subject?
Monteith: I've been thinking about lawns ever since we bought our first house. Although I resisted the notion for some time, the lawn mower was one of our first major purchases. I suppose the seed for making the film stemmed from my feelings of internal conflict over our lawn. I often wanted to let it grow wild to see the varieties of plant life fully develop. On the other hand I had an innate compulsion to mow it all down and have everything under control.
In my youth growing up on a farm I spent hours on the riding lawn mower. There is a certain meditative quality riding around on a noisy machine in the great outdoors. (My 4-year-old daughter used to fall asleep in my lap as we rode.) However, it's also ironic that you're causing a fair amount of destruction along the way, aside from air and sound pollution. In fact I was stunned to find out that the emissions in one hour of mowing is equivalent to driving a car a hundred miles! Aside from these thoughts, our house purchase also made me think more about the value of lawns as a mark of character. Based on the many conversations I've had with my neighbors I've found this to be one of the most interesting concepts.
POV: How long did it take to make the film? Describe the process briefly.
Monteith:I began shooting sporadically in the fall and continued into spring. I wanted to see the changes within our yard. Often in the early morning, fog would roll in and compel me to grab the camera. I edited over the summer, and during that time I shot more controlled close ups and animation sequences. I dug up about six 1x1 sections of grass and took them into our barn to film. I wanted to get a shot that included the roots and a good cross-section of grass. In the process of setting up and lighting the plots many of the bugs surfaced. Under the heat of the light a little inch-worm rose to the top just as I had turned the camera on, it was a wonderful synchronous moment.
POV: "Lawn" is full of beautiful images and haunting narration. How would you describe the film stylistically?
Monteith: The film grew out of my desire to capture a series of ethereal landscape images, depicting a combination of decay and growth. The sound and narration was in part guided by these images. I've always liked old radio dramas, and so I decided to combine some samples of sound effects and melodic lines from older LPs and integrate it with original music. Though I find research and the search for "truth" necessary and inspirational to the process of making films, I also find much satisfaction in playing with the image and sound to push into a more surreal internal realm.
POV: Why did you choose documentary as the form to tell your story?
Monteith: I didn't think about being tied to any specific genre when making "Lawn." In the editing stage I began to enjoy how the film fluxed between the real "documentarian" world and a more fictitious imaginary world. Although all of the stories in the film are authentic, I enjoyed working with the image to make a film that creates doubt between what is real and artificial.
POV: Could you talk a little bit more about the narration in the film?
Monteith: I talked to many "lawn care representatives" over the course of making the film. I was interested in the industry's perspective and hearing about the techniques they used to talk consumers into using a product. I contacted approximately 30 lawn care businesses across the United States and asked them the same set of questions. Some of the responses included an interesting mix of humor and fear. I based the scripted narration at the end on these conversations.
POV: What are the themes of this film?
Monteith: The essence of the film revolves around our subconscious / conscious need to control nature. Sarah Little states in the film "your lawn is a reflection of your character." In the process of making the film I realized that the most intriguing element about our relationship with our yards was how they become part of this network of societal pressures. I sometimes wonder, is it really about what we want as individuals, or does it come down to what we feel we have to do based on perception and tradition. This country is full of products that demonize bugs and weeds. Yes, it 's true there are some nasty weeds out there, but I think there might be a happy medium. Put it this way, the dandelion greens industry views turf grass as a noxious weed. If there is an additional theme present in the film it might be to question certain assumptions we hold as necessary truths.
POV: What are you working on next?
Monteith: Well, as I look out the window it looks like the yard is in need of a good mow. Maybe I'll hold off one more week. Aside from that my partner Ariana Gerstein and I are in the process of completing a film dealing with perspectives on milk. I've also started writing a script for a short film based on an old text of playground games for children.