Portland filmmakers Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher received high marks from A. O. Scott in the New York Times
The main strength of “October Country” is that it respects the individuality of its subjects, observing them with detached compassion and allowing each of them plenty of time to talk. They are not treated as case studies in part because they are Donal Mosher’s kin, though the precise nature of the family connection evident in the shared surname is never disclosed on screen. The filmmaker is Don and Dottie’s son — brother, uncle and nephew to the other important figures in the film — but that relationship is never acknowledged or explored.
As a result “October Country” feels at once personal and objective, a fascinating hybrid of two important tendencies in the modern documentary. To the extent that it is a memoir, albeit one marked by an unusual degree of circumspection, it resembles movies like Jonathan Caouette’s “Tarnation” and Doug Block’s “51 Birch Street,” in which the confessional impulses of the filmmakers drive their investigations of family history. But the invisibility of Mr. Mosher and Mr. Palmieri give their movie an ethnographic flavor, making it feel at times like one more chronicle of misery and marginality told from the outside.
How did the filmmakers get that “ethnographic” flavor without alienating the family they were filming? According to an interview with both directors in The Auteurs, they used the simple but always effective technique of giving the family final cut.
Here’s more from that interview:
Q: When you bring in the supernatural elements and inflect that in the style, some people dismiss it as a kind of aesthetic voodoo that cheapens the film’s content.
PALMIERI: But we like the aesthetic voodoo! It’s the heart of the film. And it’s about acknowledging that no matter how dire the circumstances, things can still be beautiful. I think that’s an important element to understanding that region.
MOSHER: The question of aesthetics is complicated. But I think you can have a dire or unhealthy attitude towards it. At this point, it’s all artifice anyway. If you film something in a straightforward, traditional manner, it’s still an aesthetic choice.
October Country opens at Fox Tower in Portland on April 2. Filmmakers will be present after the 7:05 PM shows for Q & A on April 2 & 3 (Fri. & Sat.)