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Remembering Twin Cities filmmaker Andre Durand

Andre Durand

Andre Durand

On Sunday night the incomprehensible news of Andre Durand’s sudden passing began popping up on social media. This is how I and many of his friends received the news.

I found myself dumbfounded and horrified, angrily refreshing my browser window hoping for the impossible update that this was some kind of perversely misguided attempt at humor. At least the severity and permanence must have been in error. A mistaken identity. Then, as each new memorial appeared and slowly solidified the reality that Andre was gone, I began to hunt around futilely for answers. How could this be? What could have possibly happened? There were questions I couldn’t answer updating Facebook.

Of course, it’s an absurd way to communicate such grim news. Here was the shocking death of one of the Twin Cities' most radiant and talented exports sharing space with complaints about football officiating and pictures of food. Facebook is a crass, tactless place to grieve, though somewhat appropriate given the crass tactlessness of grief.

Eventually I was filled in with a text message. There was an accident. It happened on a rooftop in Andre’s new home of Brooklyn, New York. One wrong move. He didn’t make it. He was 32. 

Moving offline hasn’t made the situation any more conceivable. Everything has been colored with the same tragic absurdity that took over when I first saw the news. The numb, sleepless night. The odd, tuneless bike ride to work. The terrible, transparent way I asked customers how they wanted their eggs cooked this morning.

And now there’s a mountain of homework sitting pointlessly in my bedroom. I’m not even considering dinner. It took real mercy just to brush my teeth. I cried in the shower for Andre and for all of his friends and family being provoked out of the fog by any of life’s ridiculous obligations.

That I’m now writing this memorial is the icing on the (hopelessly absurd) cake. I haven’t been able to talk about Andre’s death yet in anything but the kind of terse code needed to explain why I may not be “acting like myself” in as few words and with the least amount of give for questioning possible. To say nothing of the fact that it shouldn’t be me but someone who knew Andre more intimately doing this kind of memorializing. Someone who had more than a few fleeting afternoons with Andre in the past handful of years.

However, I was asked to write something and it seemed like the right thing to do, however insane this might be. However strong my desire not to make any of this more real than it already is. Typing this “obit” makes me feel somehow complicit in the reality, if that makes any sense at all.

I met Andre on a video shoot in 2010. At the time I was a “producer” and “sound engineer” working with a bunch of other young artists on a project called MPLS.TV, and more specifically the series City of Music, which would eventually get picked up by Pitchfork. Back then, it was the Wild West of video production. A bunch of unpaid artists (though most of them would gain their titles free of italics) documenting the Twin Cities music scene. The project ran on the creativity and passion of its makers. The principal figures in the beginning were MPLS.TV creator Chris Cloud, director Dan Huiting, and the cinematographers Chris Hadland, Ryan “Kron” Thompson, and Andre. My job was to track the audio.

I remember meeting Andre vividly. He wasn’t the kind of person you’d pass by indifferently. He had such a cool charm, an almost intimidating (but only at first) magnetism. He knew what he was looking for and he was excellent at his craft. Andre was charismatic and easy to get a laugh out of. These are, of course, important and valuable traits to possess for any human being, but it’s impossible to stress just how massive they were to the project at hand.

Everyone wanted to work with Andre. He made the bands feel comfortable and lent a sense of legitimacy and ease to what could have otherwise been much more stressful affairs. Most of what you see in those videos was shot in one take, recorded live. There was little room for error; any mistake could ruin a take.

Having Andre in that environment made us all more comfortable and gave the moment an air of professionalism that was absent by definition elsewhere. Later on, it came as no surprise whatsoever that Andre turned out to be a globetrotting ace cinematographer. His talent was obvious. Once City of Music became a national affair and the cinematographers rose to have their own endeavors, I’d see Andre’s name attached to some ridiculously interesting project and think, “of course.” (For example: His work on Bon Iver's "Calgary" music video, posted below.) 

Outside of the work — which, thank God, is documented forever in the ember of the internet — and between takes, we became friends. It would have been difficult not to become close to these people at the rate we were chopping these videos together, regardless of personalities, but I’m so very thankful for the group we had. There were so many laughs. So many cathartic takes. We ribbed each other like boys and drank beers while breaking down our sets. We talked about girls and shared the stories of our lives outside of “locations” before setting up for new videos.

We texted each other heroic congratulations each time a new video was privately uploaded — when it was ours before anyone else’s. It was the kind of “work” experience you’d fantasize about as a teenager when the reality set in that you’d have to do something serious with your life. It makes me so proud that Andre continued as far as he did on this path, that there was no reason for him to punch in at any soul-sucking 9-to-5.

I grew to love Andre inside and outside of working with him. I’m grateful for his friendship and for his presence in my life in the impossible to articulate way you’d become indebted to the best marksman in your platoon. I admired his insatiable curiosity in the face of so many idle moments in the action. I was in awe of his intuition. The ease he brought to everything. Andre was a great man with a powerful but gentle spirit and I wouldn’t believe anyone who knew him if they said they weren’t a little jealous of his natural “cool.” He made everything look so easy. We were all nerds spending way too much time on IMDB. Andre was the only one of us fighting off IRL women.

I’ve had so many memories of Andre crowding my brain these past 24 hours and not a single one is negative or bland. This isn’t a crazed symptom of grief. It’s absolutely the reality of the man, which has only been reinforced by the reactions to this tragedy I’ve been seeing by those who knew him or his work. So many of them strangers to me. He just brought enthusiasm to everything. This sounds redundant, because everyone likes movies, but Andre LOVED movies and discussing them to death. Our last conversation was about the new Star Wars movie coming out this December and of course, because Andre knows it will be great, I left our pithy conversation convinced it will be.

Many of the specifics of friendship, the for instances and specific moments and conversations, feel a little too intimate to share publicly in the wake of something like this. It’s hard to go beneath the surface any more than this without soaking my (already dampened) keyboard. I will say that Andre once showed me compassion and generosity when I needed badly it and didn’t deserve it in the least. Curiosity in other people may not exactly seem like a virtue, but I’m afraid today it is. And Andre had that in spades.

One last thing. I remember when City of Music was first becoming this real thing, when Andre was fairly new on the scene. We did a video in conjunction with City Pages for the band Communist Daughter just off a river in Wisconsin. The short version is that it was a nightmare to set up. The band had a ton of members and gear, which was a huge pain in the ass for the sake of the production, not to mention that setting up audio with only eight channels was a logistical nightmare. (There are a ton of people in that band! And a drum kit!) This, coupled with the fact our light source was the sun and every piece of equipment needed to be hoisted onto the roof, meant that by the time everything was ready to go, we were almost out of light.

I had to hide out of view, listening and praying that all the mics were working, blind, without being able to watch the performance. When it was obvious there wasn’t enough light for another take I popped my head out and found Andre. I was afraid we hadn’t gotten it because I didn’t yet know who I was working with. Andre smiled and said, “Oh, I fucking got it,” and we watched his last shot together, smiling wordlessly as he played back the take on his camera's digital screen. For me, it was magic.

It’s tempting when an artist is taken so young to grieve for all that could have been. All the projects that should have been. Successes to be that were on the horizon.

That is, unless you know the artist personally. Then you grieve for the past. Fuck the future. The world was brighter before today.

A memorial fund has been launched by Andre Durand's family. You can donate here. Promising stories, beer, music, and dancing, Durand's friends have planned a memorial celebration for Saturday. Details here.