Distance & De Düva (The Dove) BackStory
George and I dared to dream we could create a feature-film…
The unusual BACK STORY to the lost feature film "DISTANCE"
The independent, low-budget, critically acclaimed, award-winning first feature film, "Distance" which has been lost, and not seen for almost forty years, has been found; although badly damaged it has been miraculously saved to be digitally screened until further film restoration work can be made by restoration scientists - hopefully, to then be re-introduced into existence for a worldwide audiences to experience.
Please allow me, the once fledging director/filmmaker, Anthony Lover, to give you a little of the backstory on how "Distance" came to be.
My best-buddy, and zanily talented actor associate, George Coe and I, collaborated and hatched with George's writer friend, Sidney Davis, the short film -- “De Duva” (The Dove) -- a loving homage to, and spoof of Ingmar Bergman's brilliant Academy Award Winning films.
We had a private screening of the "De Duva" for family and friends. Unbeknownst to us, a film critic was also in attendance. After that screening, which was more to show friends and family what we had done with their money, and surely had lost -- we were stunned to find ourselves immediately inundated with festival and distribution requests for "De Duva", which culminated into worldwide acclaim, garnering 28 International awards, including an Academy Award nomination. “De Duva“, became one of the most highly praised short films ever made. Now considered a classic, it is archived at the ‘Academy’ of Arts and Sciences, and the ‘Museum of Modern Art’. With the success of “De Duva”, George and I dared to dream we could create a feature-film of worth too -- although, as we quickly found out, a non-studio, independent feature film is near impossible to do, still we set out to do just that. And I'm sure as you guessed, we ended up using our meager savings, went into major hock, and once again had to rely on the kindness of relatives and friends to make up the 'huge' difference.
Finding and Creating a Story to Film:
During those early, turbulent Vietnam war years in America, George and I embarked on trying to find a story to film. One we could privately fund and hopefully get distributed. We insanely pressed on under one of my personal mottos -- ‘VTP’, (Victory through persistence). We looked and looked to no avail. Devine intervention interceded in the form of a 'Jay Castle'. A novelist, we discovered somehow, who was talented, had a wonderful temperament, and was an all around nice guy. We liked his writing a lot, but what we couldn't execute what he gave us to read. Jay, undeterred, and maybe having his own 'VTP', kept his writings coming. He literally gave us a large box full of manuscripts -- George and I looked at each other in disbelief! -- This guy is a writing fountain of endless stories -- Well, in that carton, we found in one of his unpublished, well worn manuscripts, a chapter of many, that really haunted and fascinated George and I. It had memorable characters, that had depth, and what was most important to us, it had characters we felt compelled to know more about beyond their involvement in this story. We questioned 'Jay' and he was more than open to developing these real life characters he experienced in greater depth with us into a film vehicle that we could execute. I'm not sure whether it was 'Jay' or George and I doing deep background research, finding a powerful drama catalyst for "Distance" in an obituary published in a small newspaper adjacent to a US Army base in the deep south.
Creating Flesh and Blood Characters in Conflict:
George and I were intrigued with the idea of taking "Jay's' characters and creating a film that had two couples as main characters. And that these characters would become intertwined by circumstance, emotional need, and sexual desire. But satisfying the physical doesn't fulfill their deeper, more urgent need to be loved and respected. The failure to receive this is the tragedy that drives the underlining theme of the film, and is what causes the “Distance” between the embroiled characters.
It was invaluable to have our writing 'Jay' on location with us to see firsthand, as I did as director, and George as producer, the need to make script tweaking's to help our 'talent' find the soul of their character, and for them to express those hidden emotions three-dimensionally, without falseness.
Our 1956 psychological drama of ‘intertwined’ imprisonment had an interracial couple -- a proud, black army Master Sergeant (Elwood Horne), and his beautiful German wife (Greta Horne), who couldn’t leave the army base in her husband’s company for fear of Southern retribution. Their marriage had been deteriorating long before Elwood’s re-assignment back to the States after the Second World War. Greta’s inability to find the man she fell deeply in love with, and thought she married, along with her failure to conceive, made her isolation on an Army base in America all the more desperate. The other couple is of a brash, privileged, intelligent but immature young private (Pfc. Larry Vincent), who fancies himself ‘a fucking machine’ — and for all his bravado, Vincent, surprisingly for the first time, finds himself in an intimate love relationship with an older career woman (Joanne Morse). Many times frayed by love, Joanne, has hardened a wall around her heart, while using her seductive beauty and business ‘smarts’ to sell insurance to sex-starved soldiers ‘locked down’ on army bases throughout the South.
The overly proud Elwood, a product of poverty, prejudice, frustratingly struggled to navigate ‘a life’ in the white world of the deep south in the 1940’s. Finding that the only ‘real’ career open for him to get even a modicum of respect and equality was to enlist in the US Army’ he embraced that decision with a fanatical dedication to achieve rank, while coming to terms with the US Army of those days, where ‘Negros’ were purposely segregated into special, Negro combat units. Elwood was swept-up and shipped into the closing year of the Second World War, and its European campaign. At the end of the war, he found himself stationed in Germany, where he met his future wife to be, Greta. Elwood, returned with his bride to a changing, but for him, same world -- stationed, and living on a US Army base in the South. Denying his profound disappointment, he makes the most of his achieved rank as Master Sergeant of the base’s mailroom. Proud, highly educated, he internalizes his black man’s rage with outward manifestations of fanatical fastidiousness to order and rank. Elwood’s suppressed anger continues to grow, and he sadly finds himself playing-out mind games, dangling his beautiful white wife, to lord over and taunt his envious fellow white officers. Elwood, spirals further, finding himself ‘verbally’ sparring with an immature, pontificating, Pfc. Vincent. Mocking his dalliance with an older, seductive and enterprising woman, Joanne Morse. Events turn tragic when Elwood takes the young private into his personal life, and his deteriorating marriage.
A critical decision to shoot on actual locations:
We discussed with 'Jay' taking the South he depicted in his novel and to deepening it further. Using the oppressive heat of a Southern summer as a psychological element to heighten the intimate ‘intertwined’, imprisoned conflict the characters find themselves in, while they interact in hot, 'closed-in' interiors. This psychological caldron incites and drives them to a conclusion none of them bargained for.
So, it was agreed upon that we shoot “Distance” on location in the South, in the late-summer of the early 70’s, where African-Americans were trying to actively affect change and were met with a different, but almost as effective, resistance as those in Elwood’s pre-World-War Two America.
Making my first feature film with little to no money was a struggle in itself, let alone making a film with ‘real’ actors with troubled ‘real’ personas – and at times their portraying roles on and off the screen which frighteningly mirrored “Distance” on ‘real’ locations in the South – where the cast couldn’t leave the ‘set’ for fear of what might, and did, happen when some towns people found and read the script, became inflamed, and acted-out ‘badly’ against what they believed the film was really about.
"God, please let me finish the film…"
Every day brought a new battle, unforeseen challenges, and a fight for survival. Being spiritual, not religious, and finding only a few moments of solitude before my ever shrinking hours of sleep, now down to two hours a day -- in the dark, silently, I prayed to God and whoever might listen -- “Please help me…help me get through this…” Humbled and thankful to I know not who, “Distance” continued to be made. And whatever was to happen from there on would be destiny and surely out of my hands, as most everything seemed to be while trying to make this film.
Although “Distance” went on to win ‘first best feature’ awards at festivals here and abroad, along with a number of positive reviews from noted critics of the time (Roger Ebert, John Simon, Jeffrey Lyons, to name a few) -- major film distributors were more than adamant; “Distance” was only an art house film with a subject matter that was more than dicey – the film could never be opened wide (around the country), and only in a few ‘select’ cities, and definitely not any in the South. It premiered at the “68th Street Playhouse” in New York City, and a few other ‘art houses’ in the US -- and to some ‘art houses’ in Europe (England, Germany, and France). It made it onto television of sorts – playing on a new and fledgling cable network, HBO (few, if any, knew what the hell HBO and ‘Cable’ was in those days). “Distance” aired on HBO probably because they were desperate to get films to show on their struggling, audience-deprived network, or in deference to me, for having designed and branded the HBO Cable Network. “Distance” existed for a moment, then it didn’t anymore; and slipped into the obscurity of the lost, and probably would have completely disappeared if it wasn’t for a producer associate, and good friend, Sal Oppedisano, who endeavored to find, then championed the restoration of the film to life. Hopefully, “Distance” will be seen and appreciated by a new generation, and will be archived in the Library of Congress’s History of American Motion Pictures.
As I mentioned, the film hasn’t been seen for almost 40 years. God willing it still resonates. Thanking you in advance for caring enough to view “Distance”, and to give us your thoughts as we toil to re-introduce the film into existence…