Get the Picture
Notes on local and regional film and video.
AS THEY LIKE to say on the set: “Take two.” Sterlin Harjo — the young Tulsa-area filmmaker who turned a lot of heads and impressed a lot of audiences and critics when his first feature film, “Four Sheets to the Wind,” debuted at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival — is returning to the famous cinematic shindig held annually in Park City, Utah.
This time around, he’ll witness the premiere of his second feature, “Barking Water,” which he wrote and directed.
Just before heading out west for all that festival-centric fun and powdery snowfall — and, one assumes, all that 24/7 movie going and studio exec schmoozing — Harjo kindly agreed to sit down with me and answer a few questions.
Please explain your new film’s title.
The main characters are traveling to Wewoka, Okla. Wewoka means “barking waters” in Mvskoke.
It’s a road picture, then, a story about a certain journey — but it’s also a love story, right?
A love story, yes, but not the usual kind. It’s about a couple — the main characters I just mentioned — who’ve had a very rocky relationship. They’ve actually ended things as the story begins. So the film explores the love that was in their relationship as well as what went wrong.
You shot parts of “Barking Water” in and around Holdenville, which I believe was also the case with your previous film. Does this new film pick up on, or else continue, any of the ideas, characters or narratives in “Four Sheets”?
I wouldn’t say “Barking Water” has much to do with “Four Sheets.” It’s similar, of course, because it has my sensibilities and sense of humor, but other than that, it is its own thing. And we shot the new film all over the state — White Eagle, Pawnee, Pawhuska, Tulsa, Okemah, Sasakwa, Holdenville, Seminole and Wewoka.
As we speak, you’re preparing to return to the great American film festival to see your second feature have its premiere. How’d you get into the Sundance line-up? And what’s your mind-set, in terms of now-versus-then and so forth?
The new film got in because I sent it to them and they liked it. But I do think things will be different this time. “Four Sheets” was my first film — when I got to Sundance, I had that riding on my back. That pressure is gone now. I’m also very confident in this film; I think people will like it. I remember being so nervous with “Four Sheets” just because it was my first time to show something to such a big and important audience, but I think things won’t be as scary this time. But who knows? I could easily freak out as we get closer to the “Barking Water” premiere.
You and your producer, Chad Burris, seem to have an especially successful working relationship. How do you account for this? What does Chad bring to the work that you do as a writer and director of films?
Chad and I work well together because we were both, from the start, people who really wanted to make movies. A lot of people talk about making movies, but few actually do it. Chad is also committed to Oklahoma, to making something happen here. We have that in common, so it makes things easier. That’s one thing. Another is that Chad knows how to pull things together well — and quickly. So, he takes on most of the stress of putting things in place so that the crew and I can be all artsy and make the movie.
Scott Gregory hosts “All This Jazz” on Public Radio 89.5 KWGS, where he also serves as the producer and editor of “Studio Tulsa.”