Austin at SXSW 2013: Chris Eska, 'The Retrieval'

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Still from The Retrieval by Chris Eska

Filmmaker Chris Eska's new feature The Retrieval will be premiering at SXSW next month. The movie's first screening is set for 1:45 pm on Monday, March 11 at Alamo Ritz, with encores on Tuesday and Saturday. The Austin filmmaker's previous feature was August Evening in 2007, which won the John Cassavetes Award at the Independent Spirit Awards.

According to the slim summary on the SXSW site, the plot of The Retrieval focuses on a boy sent north "on the outskirts of the Civil War" to search for a fugitive. Eska remained quiet about any further story details, but answered the following questions for us via email.

Slackerwood: What drew you to make The Retrieval?

Chris Eska: All my films originate from themes that are important in my life, and then I search for the setting and characters that will most highlight the emotions. My Japanese-language film [Doki-Doki] was about isolation in Los Angeles, my Spanish-language film [August Evening] was about changing families in Texas and Japan, etc. With this film, I initially considered setting the story on the Texas border or in southern India before realizing that this historical rural setting would best draw out the emotions.

Can you tell us a little more about the story?

Eska: I'm very careful not to give away any spoilers, but I will say that it's less of a war film and more of an emotional suspense film. It can be crystallized down to: "Have you fully evaluated your life to discover if you're truly doing what's best for you and those you care about, or are you just adhering to societal norms without proper consideration?"

Where did you film?

Eska: As far away from civilization as possible: empty ranches in Gonzales and Tyler Counties, Angelina National Forest and Martin Dies State Park in East Texas, historic sites near Houston, Gonzales, and Washington-On-The-Brazos, and at Palmetto State Park, which is within walking distance of my childhood home.

What was the casting process like for Will (Ashton Sanders)?

Eska: I'm very thorough. Very. My casting assistants and I went to every middle school within 200 miles of Austin and either held on-campus auditions or used the Freedom of Information Act to look through yearbooks and send letters to the kids' parents to encourage them to come to our auditions. We saw hundreds if not thousands of non-actor boys.

But to my chagrin, I found my perfect Will during an old-fashioned run-of-the-mill audition in Los Angeles. Still, it was the first time Ashton had been on film so it was still very exciting to guide him through the process.

How was this experience different from your first feature (August Evening)?

Eska: Everything was bigger, more difficult, and more complicated, but it can be good to stretch yourself and explore new methods.

Do you have any SXSW tips to share? Recommended places for first-time attendees to check out?

Eska: If you're feeling low-key and have a flexible schedule, the second half of the film festival is much less crowded than the first four or five days when many screenings sell out. So starting on Wednesday I like to go to free music day shows during the day and then catch the popular films at night.

Chris Eska

I'm super excited to see what Chris Eska has been working on! Hope to catch one of the screenings of "The Retrieval" at SXSW!