What is the plot of „Chasing Houses“?
Chasing Houses is a road movie featuring a house, traveling across the American West on Route 66 to Monument Valley – with unusual companions. The movie presents a snapshot of contemporary life in America as exemplified by pre-fabricated mobile homes and trailers: between domesticity and infinite expanse, freedom and precarious lives. We see different fates and life plans unfold; we meet the people who live in these houses, the ones who transport them and those who sell them. They describe their hopes and dreams as well as the struggles they are facing. Chasing Houses is less about a sequence of events as than about the description of a mindset, an attitude to life connected to the landscape as well as economic backgrounds.
When was the movie made?
From idea to financing, from shooting to post-production, I have spent four years making this movie. After filming, the material was stuck in a drawer, because I did not have the necessary distance to turn an incredibly intense journey into a movie. It was also my first feature. Then, we ran out of money and I had to deal with financing again. I had a comparatively tiny budget, which slowed down the process considerably. And I did most of the work by myself, without the help of a production company. As a result, I learned a lot about film production, but next time, I would prefer to delegate some of these tasks. But I had amazing support, a great team and a fantastic editor.
You researched the genre of the American road movie in great detail. What purpose does it serve in your opinion and why did you want to explore it?
Road movies negotiate a space between independence and settledness. For the most part, they are dealing with notion of manliness and a quest for freedom. There is something to discover and something to run away from. There is movement and a landscape to traverse. Chasing Houses delivers on some of the characteristics of the genre and challenges others. There is landscape, movement and freedom – but also domesticity and big, bulky thing, which are traveling. Ever since I saw a house on the highway for the very first time, I had wanted to make this movie.
I was fascinated by the contradictions in this picture. It represents a desire for freedom and independence, as well as difficult living conditions caused by die-hard capitalism and a social system, which has become more and more fragile. What image could better typify an attitude of „going further“ and „going bigger“ along with a flexibility that borders on self-sacrifice than a house that is on the move? Road movies are quoted several times Chasing Houses. There are allusions to Easy Rider (we took the same route and used the sound track in the opening scene), westerns and other road movies. Monument Valley is an iconic location. But I have never seen people living there in any of these films. In Chasing Houses, I wanted to show the things that are taking place behind the camera in most films, on the margins of the hero’s narrative.
You started working on this movie before the division of American society became increasingly apparent. Did this impact the production in any way?
There is a character in the film, a Tea Party supporter, whom my editor Sebastian Winkels and I used to call „Little Trump“. Before the public at large became aware of Trump, audiences at the tests screenings thought that this specific character was too extreme. Since Trump, nobody is surprised by him anymore. We actually did edits to the film in 2017 after Trump had won the election. Our perspective of the American landscape had changed. When you watch the movie, you will be able to learn quite a lot about the conditions that led to this political landslide.
Do you regard this film as a statement on the political climate in the United States?
Definitely. I give room to contrasting positions, to people who do not usually get a chance to speak, the situation of the Navajo on whose reservation Monument Valley is located. There is no express political statement by ways of a voice-over commentary. Instead, the film is an invitation to watch, take note and form an opinion. Economic differences are evident, the belief in progress is deteriorating, in the same way as the mobile homes themselves are disposable: Instant Living, but only for a short time. The American Dream has become unstable.