A First Look At Riley Sweeney Lynch’s “Metal Fairytale” 'Black Earth'
“Black Earth is a magical little metal film about a couple of strange kids in rural Wisconsin,” explains director Riley Sweeney Lynch. At this point, he has gotten back to Los Angeles, where he’s editing footage after several weeks of filming on location. Lynch drove back west in his black ‘98 Toyota Tacoma which resembles a hearse. His personal aesthetic is that of a metalhead who’s spent time in the Midwest. Thus, it makes sense that he has created Black Earth, a romance about metal music, as his first crowd-funded film.
These “strange kids” Lynch is talking about are Mimi and Jack. Actress Dasha Nekrasova plays the part of Mimi who “is an outcast with a metaphysical secret that alienates her from those around her,” says Nekrasova. Opposite Nekrasova is Jack Kilmer, who plays young musician, Jack. His character tries to place himself, but is at odds with the oppressive town in which he lives. Lynch states that Jack’s character “is a lonely metal guitarist who lives in a trailer parked on a stone quarry. In a deeply fearful and superstitious world, Jack sticks out like a sore thumb.” While Kilmer’s character aspires to leave his small town and venture on tour, he’s “too lazy and instead, he spends most of his time walking around in the woods,” says Lynch. The story follows his meeting with Mimi, a strange young woman with a mysterious condition. She’s not from his part of the Midwest. The film focuses in on the two’s relationship in his small-minded town.
Kilmer also stars in Jonas Åckerlund’s newest film Lords of a Chaos, which is based on the violent incidents of the Norwegian black metal band Mayhem. A musician himself, in Black Earth Kilmer says he “also rips guitar.” He adds, “My character has a lot of untapped musical and alchemic abilities.” Kilmer assures that the metal genre’s portrayal in this film is not a stereotypical one. After starting in the two metal films, he comments, “this particular kind of music is always botched in film and TV. I always see the archetypal metalhead in movies as the bully or troubled older brother character. So now we see the metalhead as the hero for a change.” A hero perhaps, but not in the literal sense. In the teaser for funding we see crackling flames in a fire pit with Jack hunched over with his guitar. He may be a good guy, but we don’t get a heroic representation of his role. Rather, we see a character who is sensitive and focused on his craft.
Lynch is from a generation of filmmakers. His father, older brother and sister are all directors. His father, cult director David Lynch, and his mother, prolific writer/editor Mary Sweeney, raised Lynch in the early aughts of the film industry. This was one where there was a compulsion toward monopolizing higher power, much like the mysterious figures we see delegating behind a window in the film Mulholland Drive. The film about the industry was famously directed by his father and produced by his mother.
However, for this project Lynch used funding from Kickstarter. Instead of getting the green light from a large motion picture studio, crowdfunding paved the way. It’s likely Kickstarter donors did research on who Lynch was before giving money to his cause. Nonetheless, the funding choice allowed the project to stick to its creative integrity. While the short is a film itself, he calls it a “proof of concept.” For him, this project is not the whole thing; it’s actually just the beginning. “[The proof of concept is] an atmospheric trailer that tells the story of Jack and Mimi’s meeting,” Lynch says. “My hope is that I will be able to find proper financing for the feature length version now that I have a concept to prove.”
Jack Kilmer, son of actor Val Kilmer, is also pursuing a career interest similar to his father’s. However, like Lynch he isn’t specifically shadowing in his parents’ footsteps. Jack feels boldly about his autonomy as a creative. While the industry is still powerful and films are still created by large motion picture studios, the climate has adjusted. “The industry my parents thrived in doesn’t exist anymore,” Kilmer explains. “It’s changed and adapted like the technology used to make it. I can see a shift in power tilting in our favor. Like a teeter totter on the bottom are the old fat abusive Hollywood executives and the top are us who don’t need to ask for permission anymore.” This is how Lynch’s short was made: without Hollywood execs.
“I have a responsibility to continue making,” Lynch says. “Keep telling stories until it stops making me happy. Until that moment I’ll keep putting one foot in front of the other. I would offer the same advice to any other industry spawn.” He may be keeping independent films alive, but there is inherent prestige and thus privilege in his namesake. A devil’s advocate may claim that Jack, the aspiring musician from rural Wisconsin, may desire to go to Los Angeles amongst his tour destinations. This is not the intention of his character, however, an awareness is required to understand that while Los Angeles-raised youth are creating narratives to escape LA, other people are still keen to enter it.
Lynch modestly shies away from using celebrity fluff to present his work. And in this respect the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. Like his father, the work is about the work, no added value necessary. Nekrasova is of similar sentiment: “I’m happy to see crowd funding [and] micro-patronage become an increasingly viable option for artists and filmmakers.” Nekrasova, aside from acting, is known for her political whit, especially pertaining to a particularly viral Infowars video. The Bellarisian actress was introduced to the project by Kilmer, who is also an old friend. While she didn’t meet Lynch personally until arriving on set, she says that “after talking to Riley I was impressed with how imaginative his world building was and was keen to help him realize his vision.” She explains she liked working with him and took ease in the way he works with actors.
Lynch was born in France and grew up in Los Angeles. “I spent summers growing up in Wisconsin with [his] friends Martin and Garth,” he says. “We would do a lot of exploring and fishing in this part of the state. I’ve always wanted to make a film in this setting. There’s a lot of tension in the midwest these days.” While Wisconsin is not a literal character in the film, the atmosphere of the Midwest is what’s worth paying attention to for Lynch. The film’s town is superstitious and close-minded. The town contrasts greatly with Mimi, who is metaphysically inclined, and Jack, who is musically gifted.
“Metal is so magical,” Lynch says. “I really love it. I’m pretty much a serious nerd.” Not nerd in the stereotype, but a nerd that has passion for and ability to geek out over the genre. “Jack [the character] is also a nerd, in a deeply anti-nerd landscape. Metal helps him through it. That being said, music plays a much larger role in the film than surface-level escapism. There’s a song out there in the world that will help Jack and Mimi along on their adventure.” Black Earth’s proof of concept is expected to be released to the public next year.
Images courtesy of Riley Sweeney Lynch
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