Portrait of a New Generation
“Everybody in life needs to find something they sincerely care about otherwise, what reason is there to live?”
Introduction by Adria Leeper-Sullivan
Interview by Theo Constantinou & Photograph by Eric Koretz
Tristan Patterson’s Dragonslayer is a window into a creative young man’s highs and lows. Josh “Screech” Sandoval lives moment-by-moment making choices with feelings, and he is not particularly interested in how others judge him. Dragonslayer shows “Screech” making various decisions within a year that lead to positive and negative outcomes, and how skateboarding allowed this social radical to find solid ground. Patterson’s social commentary creates a surprisingly contentious realm of discussion that he does not fully find necessary. Despite numerous comments, Patterson reveals that “Screech” is not meant to be an idol, or an example of what not to do. Patterson’s film is about individuals speaking through actions instead of living off of generalized criteria. In our world, it is not whether you’re doing drugs or not, it is your visible functionality that shows people how to treat you. It is bullshit. There are lawyers that snort coke and teachers that smoke pot every weekend. So why does avoiding the 9-5 and the debt of a university make a person dysfunctional? It doesn’t. Tristan sheds light on the avenue of free will. Free will isn’t choosing an occupation or slightly enjoyable activity intended to occupy the rest of your life, it is being yourself even if that is a different person from one moment to the next.
Dragonslayer is an honest view of living. Life doesn’t have to be perfectly aligned or totally fucked. The film is about being face-to-face with how most of us live our own lives behind our curtains, when the routine and mundane can make us happy, and what happens when we need to run away from it all. That need to sprint into the unknown is what sustains the beauty and life in Tristan’s film, it is the definition of what makes these young and complex individuals an example for the audience to follow.
I read a statement that you made, “I think of California living as the suburban dream, and you go out into inland California now, and it’s like, this is where that dream is now. Let’s look that in the eye. I’m not going to deconstruct it or glorify it—I’m just going to try to see it as cleanly as I can and find something beautiful in it.” I was made aware of a conference in Ohio for psychologists called “The Sailor Cannot See the North:” The Psychospiritual Dilemma of our Time; the question they posed was, “What are the sources of guidance for a thoughtful person in our country amid political fractionation, animosity, divisive ideologies, and numbing distractions–a time in which the individual has an enormous summons to social, psychological and spiritual integrity?” So I ask you the same question in relation to making your film and what you experienced filming Skreech over that time period. What was your social, psychological and spiritual integrity in making Dragonslayer?
“The Sailor Cannot See The North” is such an incredible title. It really captures how I think we all feel— or at least how I feel—about the times we’re living in. There seems to be this tremendous corruption we all have an instinct to fight against, but the corruption is so complex and systematic, it’s hard to even begin to figure out how. To try to answer your question, my social, psychological and spiritual integrity while making Dragonslayer was to try to make a movie that was honest, kind and graceful. Also, while making it, I wanted to conduct myself in a similar way.
Bishop Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” What are your thoughts on this not only on a global level, but also, what you were able to convey in your film DragonSlayer?
One of the things that’s interesting to me about the moment we’re living in is that, I think there’s a lot of fear out there; people are just putting on blinders and clinging to a status-quo that feels increasingly obsolete. There’s also tremendous pressure to fall in line with the status quo—we’re constantly being told our very livelihoods depend on it. And my feeling while making Dragonslayer was to try to seize this very specific moment and say, fuck that. What will happen if I go completely against the grain of what I’m being told success should look like? What will happen if rather than trying to make a movie that’s a carbon copy of every other movie, I try to make something that captures human experience in a new kind of way—and to not do it simply out of anger or rebellion, but to do it as a very necessary means of expressing an honest, kind and graceful way of seeing the world in the face of this kind of fear? In a lot of ways, I think this is what drew me to Skreech. He’s not concerned with how the world is telling him he should act and, in his own way, he’s incredibly optimistic about life to a degree that’s almost shocking. It’s like he has zero expectations of the world, and is therefor able to find joy in strange things that most people might never even consider.
You said, “I think Josh is like a lot of kids from his generation—smart enough to know a potentially bleak future looms, and scrambling to figure out a way to survive in it.” I think most kids from any generation that don’t devote themselves to a proper education and a 9-5, face the idea of scrambling to figure out how to survive. Were you able to find in making this film that, kids like Josh, who abuse drugs, alcohol and come from broken homes, have a much harder time surviving and creating any kind of decent future?
How are we defining a “decent future?” I think Josh is struggling with the same things we all struggle with—even those of us who have devoted ourselves to a proper eduction and a 9-5; he wants to figure out a way to stay true to himself and be happy. He wants to make a life for himself that has value—something it’s getting harder and harder in the world to do. Also, I think it’s worth defending kids who abuse drugs, alcohol and come from broken homes, even if that’s not how I would describe Josh, nor is it, I think, how he would describe himself. But these kids tend to be a lot less judgemental and more interesting than the know-it-all kids who play by the rules and don’t take any risks in life. And you’re right, they probably pay a cost for it, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth celebrating simply because they may get punished for their indescretions in the end: we all get punished in the end. Their instincts aren’t all wrong. Some of their instincts are even glorious.
I read this review by Dustin Rowles about your film and he says, ” Man, if you don’t understand Tristan Patterson’s documentary Dragonslayer, then you just don’t get it. Some might say that the verite-style look at a washed-up punk skater Josh ‘Screech’ Sandoval is pointless, but that’s the point, man. Why do films have to go somewhere? Why do they have to mean something? Why do they have to be entertaining, or engrossing, or fascinating? Why do you have to care about the characters? You think there needs to be a ‘reason’ to make a film? Dude, ‘reasons’ are just random constructs created by Corpro-fascists to keep us all locked in our tiny little worlds of Starbucks and prepackaged meals.” So, my question for you is, do you think that “reasons” are just random constructs created by corporate ‘fascists’ to keep us from really ever finding true meaning in our lives, specifically related to the reasons of you making this film?
The writer Bret Easton Ellis has been pushing this notion that America is now divided into two camps: empire and post-empire. I’d pose it that the review you quoted is an empire opinion about a post-empire film. It’s so status-quo; everything Dragonslayer is not. The film is hardly a rant about Corpro-fascists, if that’s even a word; it’s a portrait of a new generation of kids and the way they experience life. It’s so reductive to suggest just because the film doesn’t marry itself to traditional documentary constructs —talking heads telling you why you should care, an entirely unambiguous climax and resolution, etc.—that it’s somehow just a big “fuck you.” I wasn’t interested in making a propoganda film, and I’m certainly not interested in an audience that needs to be told how to feel. My goal was to create a new kind of cinema that is alive and authentic, to immerse an audience in a world and let them arrive at their own conclusions about what they see on screen, even if that means some people will walk away with some pretty strange reactions. So, do I think “reasons” are just random constructs created by corporate fascists to keep us from ever finding true meaning in our lives? Of course not. I think reasons are the things we come up with to try to give our lives true meaning. Religion, for instance, is an example of this. The very act of making a film is a “random construct,” but that doesn’t mean the film I make isn’t going to be deeply considered and heartfelt. I’m not interested in making films that simply point out what’s bankrupt. I’m interested in making films that uncover what’s beautiful and still possible.
Leslie quotes David Palmer’s, How to overthrow the government (and have a good time, too!) …. How did this come about and her choice to only quote certain segments of the piece?
Josh was trying to sell off all his worldly belongings at a yard sale but no one bought his magazine collection. He found an old punk zine from his stash and started telling Leslie about it. That essay was in the magazine so I had her read from it out loud; it wasn’t her choice to read only certain segments of the piece. She read the entire piece but it’s really long so, we had to pick and choose our moments.
These are the portions that really stick out to me but, what is your opinion on what Dave says here and how it relates to the way you see America, especially in a society where everyone is so connected and plugged into the system?
“Throw rocks through windows. Torch billboards. You’re not committing vandalism. They are, by covering up the natural landscape with concrete and steel. Buy moonshine or make it yourself. Legal alcohol is taxed, so every drink you take makes the government richer. Don’t buy smokes where they’re taxed, either. You can get tax-free smokes in Indian nations or you can grow your own tobacco (or pot). Also, remember that you don’t have to pay state sales tax on things that you buy by mail from out of state. Don’t buy state-run lottery tickets or gamble where it’s legal; your money is going to the government. Drive as little as possible. Not only are you fucking up the environment, you’re also making the oil companies rich and you’re making the government rich because you’re paying the gas tax. Whenever you do drive, get the most you possibly can out of your car or truck. Start a transportation co-op or car pool; if you’re going to work, take your friends to work, too. If your car or truck gets a ticket, don’t pay it, you can use it for scrap paper and save a tree instead. If you see a ticket on someone else’s car, take it off. Don’t work, or get the lowest paying job you can survive on. That way you’re paying less income tax. Or, if you like what you’re doing, keep on doing, just quit paying income tax (like Willie Nelson). The only problem with this is that you have to keep your head down if you want to stay out of jail. Turn off your tv. Turn off your radio. Commercial tv and radio belong to the companies who advertise on them, so you never get the whole truth, just the companies’ version of it. Even public tv and radio, at least most of it, is paid for in part by corporations. Start your own pirate radio station. Teach your kids yourself; don’t let the state-run schools fuck with their minds. Live as independently from the government and the big corporations as you can. Get involved in co-ops and commumes or start your own. Educate yourself. Know what’s going on, and make informed decisions about what to do about it. The more you know, the more dangerous you are to the government.”
I’m more interested in it as an expression of feeling than I am in it as some kind of political manifesto for how we should be approaching the future, although I will say, he’s not entirely wrong. But in the context of Dragonslayer, it’s just the poetry that hangs in the air in a place like Fullerton. It’s the words of the D.I.Y. punk generation that raised Skreech at his local skate park.
Skreech’s monologue of his ‘Ideal World’ is pretty profound, speaking on everyone being frozen, rivers still moving, animals still living and he is the only one able to control his environment and the individuals in his physical space. It was quite compelling to hear him say those things after watching his self-destruction throughout the film and then having to succumb to working in a bowling alley and raising his son. His life and narrative have now been romanticized through film, but, I’m curious to hear your thoughts as to the impact of watching himself and hearing those words of his ideal world had on Skreech? And to ask you the same question you asked Skreech … What would your definition of an ideal world would be?
I don’t see the film as a portrait of self-destruction. I think it’s a portrait of what it feels like to be young. Youth is fleeting, and there’s something beautiful in the idea of stopping time to hold onto youth forever. In terms of Skreech, I think he probably has a different reaction to the movie every time he watches it, and this will probably be true for the rest of his life. What I love about the ending is that I don’t think he has “succumbed.” He’s still trying to figure out a way to be original and true to himself while acknowledging the challenges of growing up. He’s still optimistic about the future. As for me, I’m so grateful that he was courageous enough to allow me to film a moment in his life where he was going through this experience, I would say my ideal world is having that kind of opportunity.
Here is an excerpt from ‘Refused Are Fucking Dead’ — “Sometimes punk rock is beautiful because, it’s a reflection of what life should be, and sometimes it’s just a stupid clique for adolescents. When it’s time to die, who is ready to die as nobly and as gloriously; the fact our mortality demands. Who’s ready for that? By the time you die your so exhausted, so beaten and so miserable that you can only die. It was tragic because punk rock did not save our lives.” So my question is, do you think that music, or in this case skateboarding, has the power to save lives, or is it really a stupid clique for adolescents?
I like the end of the quote better—that punk rock is a celebration of putting it all on the line and going until you can’t go anymore, and it’s tragic that like everything else, it can’t save you in the end. I’d add, I don’t think anything is stupid if a kid sincerely cares about it. I definitely think Josh would tell you, if he wasn’t skateboarding, he’d probably be dead. But that’s not a radical statement. Everybody in life needs to find something they sincerely care about otherwise, what reason is there to live?
Leslie spoke on sociology class being her way of interpreting and making sense of the world, specifically in regard to understanding people … What is your way of interpreting and making sense of the world and, how do you use that interpretation to understand people?
F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “For what it’s worth: it’s never too late, or, in any case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same; there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you have never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you are not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.” What are you thoughts on this quote, and is there a specific instance where there was a time in your life that you weren’t proud of that you had the strength to start over again?
That’s a great quote. I’d say making Dragonslayer was an opportunity to start all over again—to try to see life from a place that wasn’t jaded or pessimistic, but wide open to new possibility. I think in a way, that’s the essence of making films. Each one is a new opportunity to see the world through brand new eyes.