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Interview with Oscar-winner Marshall Curry: ‘The Neighbor’s Window’ is an allegory about social media

A still from ‘The Neighbor’s Window’, starring Maria Dizzia and Jacob Keller. Directed by Marshall Curry.

A still from ‘The Neighbor’s Window’, starring Maria Dizzia and Jacob Keller. Directed by Marshall Curry.  

The filmmaker speaks to us about the emotional rollercoaster of making the live-action short film, which won at the 92nd Academy Awards

The success of a short film is far more conditional than that of a feature-length project; it has to excel in its structure, it has to build empathy, reveal a quest, resolve said quest, feature a call to action and have elements of unpredictability — all in a very short time span.

The 2020 Academy Award-winner for Best Live Action Short Film is New York-based Marshall Curry’s The Neighbor’s Window, and it certainly meets all expectations of this checklist and then some. Marshall has made documentary films over the course of many years; in fact three of his documentaries — Street Fight (2005), If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (2011) and A Night At The Garden (2017) — have been nominated for Academy Awards.

Interview with Oscar-winner Marshall Curry: ‘The Neighbor’s Window’ is an allegory about social media

In an email interview with MetroPlus, Marshall recalls the storytelling process behind The Neighbor’s Window. He starts, “It was interesting to learn how similar the grammar of fiction filmmaking is to that of non-fiction filmmaking. In both cases, we are using wide shots and closeups and edited dialogue to build a movie with emotion that rises and falls and changes. The big challenge for me with directing fiction was shooting out of order, which makes it much more difficult to keep track of how emotions build and fall in the course of a scene. For example we shot the second half of an argument on one day and the first half the next day – that’s pretty tricky to remember exactly how much energy was in a performance at any given edit point.”

Filmmaking freedoms

Marshall believes mainstream filmmakers who have not dipped into shorts are missing out. “I think making short films is a great challenge – trying to tell a story that can have emotional turns and a sense of completeness in a short burst. They are usually much cheaper to make than features, so there is a freedom of pure artistry that is really nice. You don’t have to worry about whether an idea will perform in the box office – you simply have the freedom to tell a story that touches you, to make it the way that you want and to share it with the world.”

The Neighbor’s Window presented a lot of new challenges for Marshall, such as working with actors, pre-blocking every action and camera set-up. “When I made documentaries, everything is improvised – we just chase life and do the best we can. But in fiction films there is so much more control and exercising that control was all new for me.”

A still from ‘The Neighbor’s Window’ with Maria Dizzia as Alli. Directed by Marshall Curry.

A still from ‘The Neighbor’s Window’ with Maria Dizzia as Alli. Directed by Marshall Curry.  

Themes of voyeurism and nostalgia are very much a part of The Neighbor’s Window’s fabric. “Those themes were built into the very initial concept for the film. My film is inspired by a story that I heard on a podcast called Love and Radio, about a woman whose life is shaken up when a young couple moves in across the street from her. When I heard that story I was really moved and it inspired me to write the script.”

  • Over the past few years, there has been a shift in consciousness towards short films. Marshall imagines that the ability to stream short films on the Internet has made a big differnence in the size of audiences, adding, “It’s now possible to share short films with millions of people who would have had no way to see them just a few years ago.” Platforms such as Shorts TV (available via Tata Sky, Dish TV, d2H and Airtel Digital TV in India) have aggrandised the visibility of shorts filmmakers. Plus, ShortsTV will soon be launching their OTT app for the Indian audience.

Remarkably, the film has no presence of digital or social media, just a set of windows and a pair of binoculars. “[This] was just a natural result of the story,” he agrees, “In a way, however, the film is an allegory about social media – the way that we look into each other’s lives online and get these glimpses that feel so intimate but rarely tell the whole story.”

‘A strong emotional turn’

Marshall points out that the film covers “a very long period of time – 18 months or so – and it was hard to compress that into 20 minutes. It also has a strong emotional turn about half-way through, and it was tricky to make that feel natural. Fortunately I worked with amazing actors, including Maria Dizzia, who has such a subtlety to her performance and can convey so much in the smallest expressions.” But The Neighbor’s Window takes audiences on an unusual emotional rollercoaster.

Without spilling any spoilers, Marshall says his intention was to begin the film “with a sense of light humor to draw the audience in, but in the second and third scene, I tried to make the emotions deepen – and darken a bit – until the end. A lot of that was worked out in the script and a lot of it just came out from the actors in their performance. I think that life often has turns like this that happen suddenly, so we were all working to try to trace those contours in a way that felt natural.”

A still from ‘The Neighbor’s Window’, starring Maria Dizzia and Greg Keller. Directed by Marshall Curry.

A still from ‘The Neighbor’s Window’, starring Maria Dizzia and Greg Keller. Directed by Marshall Curry.  

The political climates in the United States and in India have been turbulent with dissent and revolution, but The Neighbor’s Window, in its simplicity, does not entirely ignore this; the film invites thought about empathy for one’s neighbour, whoever they may be. Marshall affirms this, explaining, “It is a difficult time in America and in the world right now. People have been whipped up by demagogues who want us to demonise each other, to discriminate against strangers who might have different religions or skin color or lifestyles than we do. So I hoped that in a small way, the film would remind people to be gentle with each other and realise that everyone is struggling with something.”

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2020 3:57:21 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/oscar-winning-live-action-short-the-neighbors-window-interview-with-marshall-curry-an-allegory-os-social-media/article30859388.ece

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