#12 in a series.
Tommy Davis' ONE MINUTE TO NINE - the story of Wendy Maldonado's last days before reporting to prison for killing her abusive husband - had its premiere at the 2007 Locarno Film Festival, but it made its mark stateside with a much talked about US premiere at SXSW last March. From there, Davis' film attracted the attention of HBO, which will release the film later this year. It was one of my favorite films of 2008 as noted yesterday in our recap of the year's best films.
In this exchange, Davis talks about discovering his subject and racing the clock to film in a scant five days, how he tackled the film's revelations as well as its centerpiece 911 phone call.
ATWT: Let me say first off that I don't think I was as emotionally drained after watching a movie this year as I was with ONE MINUTE TO NINE. When the film finished, I just sat silently for a while because it was such a moving and wrenching experience. Much of that is not just from the events that took place but by how you chose to unfold this for the audience. A lot of the key facts of this story are laid on the table at the very beginning of the film, yet you keep surprising the audience - not in gimmicky ways - by the way you play with chronology and memory. How much of your process did you have from the start and how much of it came during the post process with your editor Luis de Leon?
Tommy Davis: I was visiting with my Uncle Ferdinand and he was asking how the shoot in Oregon had gone. I told him how over 5 days I had to earn Wendy's trust in order to find out about the crime, etc. Then a friend of his, Jimmy, came over and sat down beside us. Jimmy, had heard parts of the conversation and wanted to know what we were talking about. Ferdinand started to fill him in. Hearing the story retold was a minor miracle. Ferdinand told Jimmy that as I was filming, Wendy slowly doled out the information and it created a totally natural state of suspense.
That gradual process of hearing their story was pitch perfect. In some ways it made editing pretty seamless, because we just had to filter out things, the story was there, in the proper chronology, all we had to do was keep our eyes and ears open.
How did you find Wendy and how soon did you meet her before she is scheduled to go to prison?
I read about her story on google about a week or so before she was set to go to jail. I got up to Oregon ASAP and went to her attorney's office. I told him I wanted to film Wendy and he said, "She only has five days...." A couple hours later I met Wendy and her family at a diner in Grants Pass. They were all incredibly gracious and twelve hours later the camera was rolling.
The family was always wanting to turn on lights for me or turn down the TV and I'd say, "no, just keep doing things like you're doing". A month or two later I was shown all of their home videos and I realized that their father had always staged scenes to make sure they looked happy and the lighting was okay. Had I known about that when I was filming I probably would have let them turn on a light or two.