OCTOBER COUNTRY is a documentary about the Moshers, a working-class family in upstate New York, but it's deeply rooted in Portland. The filmmakers, Donal Mosher and Michael Palmieri, are based here, and almost all of the work outside of shooting was produced locally, with input from writers and filmmakers like Jon Raymond and Todd Haynes. It began as a photo project of Mosher's, documenting in still pictures four generations of his family, which struggles with patterns of domestic abuse, postwar trauma, and poverty. The first feature-length film for both, their roots in visual art coupled with Palmieri's background in music videos resulted in a uniquely lyrical execution, intimately real without being stark. First screened in Portland during the Portland International Film Festival, October opens this week in about 20 cities nationwide. Mosher and Palmieri will be in attendance for a Q&A after the 7 pm screening on opening night and Saturday night.
MERCURY: How did your family react to having their personal lives become public?
DONAL MOSHER: I think at first they just wanted to be part of a project I was part of. But it became [important] that their stories be told in a way that they approved of. People in my family's class are ignored or given a sort of perverse reality-TV voice, and my family is very aware of the problems with both of those positions.
What attracts you to documentary?
MOSHER: It pushes the limits of your ability to capture something the first time around. I like the challenge of shooting that, and I like the challenge of editing that. The problems inherent in making a documentary create a new language in filmmaking that is often skirted around in narrative form. I [also] just think stories from life are more engaging and closer to relevant subjects. Though our approach to documentary, visually, is often closer to the technique found in fiction films.
MICHAEL PALMIERI: There is a strain of documentary that believes in putting the camera down and letting it run. But that's not what moves us. We wanted to take a more metaphorical way of presenting this material. We're still following the facts, just utilizing a different visual style.
What has the response to the film taught you?
PALMIERI: We showed in Russia, and there were people from Mongolia in the audience who said, "This is just like my family." Maybe everyone can identify with the Moshers. I certainly did.