How Mississippi Records Inspired This Year’s Grand Jury Prize Winner at Sundance
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore is the name of a limited-edition vinyl compilation of music from 1927 to 1948 that Portland’s Mississippi Records label first released 10 years ago. It’s also the name of the first feature by director Macon Blair, which just won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.
This is not a coincidence. Blair also co-produced and co-starred in his friend Jeremy Saulnier’s 2014 film Green Room, in which a touring hardcore punk band finds itself at the mercy of a backwoods gang of Patrick Stewart-led white nationalists. That film was shot around Astoria and Clackamas County, which is how Blair found himself in Mississippi Records, and also how he wound up making I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore in Portland. Both films were also co-produced by Portlander (and frequent Kelly Reichardt collaborator) Neil Kopp.
A Netflix original, I Don’t Feel at Home… stars Melanie Lynskey and a somewhat unrecognizable Elijah Wood, with a major supporting turn by former Jesus Lizard frontman David Yow. It’s both a small character study and a gory indie sometimes-comedy, its story set in motion after Lynskey’s house is robbed and she decides to try and get her stuff back. The film begins streaming on Netflix on Friday, February 24. We caught up with director Macon Blair to hear about record shopping, award winning, and how Portland became Anytown, USA.
Well, we should start with the title: tell me exactly how you how you discovered Mississippi Records.
When we were shooting Green Room—this would have been in the fall of 2014—I was staying in an Airbnb on the street that's one block over from Mississippi Records—I want to say, Michigan? And when you are out of town on movies, the production will give you a per diem, where you just have this little envelope of cash that you're supposed to use for food and living expenses. I would get that little envelope every week, and I would immediately blow it on records. I ended up having to FedEx them all home, because there was no way to get that huge stack on an airplane. I totally fell in love with that place.
And the compilation that gave this film its title?
Towards the end of the shoot, it was my birthday, and Jeremy [Saulnier, the director of Green Room] gave me that record, which they had put out on the Mississippi label. It was a collection of old, sort of country spirituals. That was around the time that I started to write this script, and there was something about that title and the lyrics, and also the sound of it, that seemed to encapsulate the main character.
It got fused into my brain, and I was unable to think of another title for the movie. The producers were like, “It’s too long! That's never going to fit on a poster, or a VOD menu.” It's a mouthful. It's hard to memorize. But I could never come up with one that fit as nicely in my head as that one did.
You're from Virginia and currently live in Austin. I assume your experience making Green Room is what brought you back here?
I had actually written it thinking that there was a way to do it in Austin. Unlike Green Room, my movie was not meant to be set in a specific place. We were just looking for a warm, summertime kind of vibe. But our producer had a really strong crew base in Portland, and the production incentives that were offered in Oregon made it really attractive. In retrospect, I can't really imagine having done it anywhere else.
Watching the film for the first time, I was like, OK, where does this take place? I think there were a few Virginia license plates.
Yeah, we did have some Virginia license plates. It’s meant to be like, Anytown, USA, but I think that the cumulative vibe of it probably feels very Portland. Especially the forest chase-type stuff at the end. It's so lush, and so lovely. It really feels like Pacific Northwest woodland. When we were shooting, you could walk 10 feet and you wouldn’t be able to see the crew—you could still hear them talking, but the trees were so dense. It’s kind of terrifying, and at the same time it's really gorgeous.
Where was that woods location?
It was actually a Christmas tree farm, about an hour drive from Portland. You would gradually lose cell reception as you went out there and it really just felt like you were out in the middle of nowhere. They had that whole lake—basically everything in that whole chase sequence in the woods was there.
Another location that stood out to me was the flea market/junk shop where Melanie Lynskey’s character goes looking for her stolen stuff.
That place was amazing. It's Aurora Salvage [Aurora Mills Architectural Salvage, south of Wilsonville], and what you see there is like, 90 percent what it is. [Sleater-Kinney and Quasi drummer] Janet Weiss was our location scout, and she found it like months before we even knew if we had any money. I just assumed because what was written was so specific, that we would probably have to fabricate somewhere, or build it from scratch. But just from her photograph, it was like exactly what I’d written.
Is Janet Weiss doing that kind of work regularly?
Off and on, yeah. Apparently she had been doing scouting and locations for Portlandia as sort of a side gig. She did quite a bit of work for us. I was hoping that she would be on the movie when we were actually shooting, but she had to go on tour around that time.
So, just getting into Sundance as a competition film is a pretty big deal, plus you had the opening-night slot, and you didn’t have to worry about finding distribution. What did it feel like to also win the Grand Jury Prize?
Surreal and borderline embarrassing, for all of the reasons you just said, y'know? It's like, oh wow, holy shit, I got to make a movie? But wait, I got to make a movie with Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood, and all my friends, and, my family? That's crazy, wow! That's enough. Oh wait, what?
It was one thing after another, and it was disorienting. And then, finally, opening night, the crowd responded very, very warmly, and then we had this whole week and I was kind of like, OK, we've done it. It doesn't get any better than that. I went to the awards ceremony feeling very relaxed and very mellow. And then it got to the very end of the thing and they called my name and I had to go stand up there and I was just wholly unprepared.
Does being an actor make a situation like that easier?
Shit no! Hell no! No no no no no. I mean, on-set, when you're allowed to have multiple takes and you can get someone to call out your line for you and everything is pre-planned? That's one thing. Onstage in front of people, not having known that you're going to have to be onstage, and they're live-streaming? That’s terrifying! I get stage fright.
I Don't Feel at Home in This World Any More debuts on Netflix on Friday, February 24.