Walker's Art Center
Park City, Utah--
The Sundance crowd got a rare taste of Minnesota with Factotum, the Charles Bukowski adaptation that executive producer Christine Kunewa Walker shot largely in the Warehouse District of Minneapolis in 2004. Premiered last spring in Cannes, this black-comic ode to a Bukowski-esque barfly (Matt Dillon) saw its buzz turn to a hangover when a U.S. distribution deal fell apart over the company's belated insistence on a relatively sober version for commercial TV. A new deal for Factotum--call it the hair of the dog--was recently struck with IFC Films, which announced its proud ownership of the movie at Sundance to Walker's great delight.
I met the Minnesota-based producer for late-afternoon tea in Park City on the day after her Sundance premiere, a week before she brings Factotum back home to screen at Walker Art Center.
City Pages: How did the big Sundance screening go?
Christine Kunewa Walker: It was a little nerve-wracking at first. It was the North American premiere, and we were anxious to see whether American audiences would respond to a Norwegian director [Bent Hamer] interpreting an American writer's work. We were also a little worried that people would react negatively to the fact that the book is set in Los Angeles, and we shot the film in Minneapolis. But the response was fabulous: People clapped, they laughed in all the right places--they got it. A couple of people asked about Minneapolis during the Q&A. They liked the look of the film.
CP: Not as many features shot in Minnesota as there used to be, huh?
Walker: No--because other states have better tax incentives. People want to shoot in Minnesota, but it's cheaper to shoot elsewhere. I'm making a movie in June--Tuscaloosa, directed by Phil Harder--and we're going to shoot it in Louisiana; we're going to get $600,000 in tax credit that we can pour back into the movie. I'm a member of the Minnesota Film Board and we're trying to get new legislation passed. If and when that happens, [local] production will be stimulated, no doubt.
CP: You're the reason Factotum was made here, right?
Walker: Yes. I told Jim [Stark, the film's producer] and Bent that I wanted to do it here, and they said okay. We showed them some bars in the Twin Cities and that's when they knew it would work. Jim first sent me the script about five years ago. But I wasn't interested in making a movie about an alcoholic down-and-outer. And I don't really like the female characters in Bukowski's work. So I said no. But Jim persisted: He came back to me a while later and said that the script had been rewritten with elements of Bukowski's poetry. I liked that. The script also felt different to me when I pictured it in the context of Bent's work [e.g., Kitchen Stories], which has a great sense of humor.
CP: Did the fact that Bent is Norwegian encourage him to come to Minnesota?
Walker: Not really. It's a funny story: When it was announced that Bent was going to shoot in Minnesota, the Sons of Norway contacted us and said, "We love Bent Hamer and we'd love to be involved in your film project." So we let them read the script, and they said, "Well, it's a little racy." We met with them when Bent got to town. They asked him, "So, are you planning to make any changes to the script?" And Bent said, "Ah, no." They said, "Okay, then help us to understand the script a little better. What is it about?" Bent waited about two seconds and said, very matter-of-factly, "The film is about fucking and drinking." That sort of ended the conversation [laughs].
CP: Is it just a coincidence that your last two movies--including American Splendor--have been about curmudgeonly artists?
Walker: In one way, it's a total coincidence. But in another way, I know that I like movies about underdogs--people who aren't necessarily understood, people who are fighting some kind of battle with themselves or society. I'm really not that interested in likable characters. I prefer unsympathetic characters who manage to redeem themselves.
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