Michael Stevantoni goes experimental with award-winning film ‘The Banality’
It is undeniable, the sense of satisfaction that comes after watching a great movie. Everyone around the world knows this to be true, always on the lookout for that next great hit, flocking to cinemas to see the newest highly anticipated movie. It is a form of entertainment that unifies people, evokes emotion and captivates generations. It is one thing, however, to enjoy a great movie, and something very different to make one. Very few can do it, as it takes a true artist with a distinct vision. Canada’s Michael Stevantoni knows this well.
This celebrated filmmaker has created many films that have enchanted audiences throughout his remarkable career, and at only 23, he has no plans on slowing down. As a production designer, his distinct touch is evident in the success of music videos like Yuna’s “Blank Marquee” featuring G-Eazy, which has surpassed 2 million views online and “Bossa No Sé” by Cuco featuring Jean Carter, which has over 6 million views. As a director, he creates artistic and heartfelt pieces, such as Salton Sea and Eduardo, to name a few.
“The world’s inherent chaos will also shape your film, especially with a low budget, it requires you to hold on to your ideas, but also be open to the influence of unforeseen circumstances, ultimately creating something that is well beyond the original idea. So, it’s always a surprise. You can think you are chasing one thing, but it turns out to be another, and you learn a lot about yourself when you have no choice but to rely on those kinds of instincts,” he said.
Last year, Stevantoni had another hit on his hands with his film The Banality. Set in a small farming community in the American South, The Banality is the story of Father Moss, a priest in remission after a battle with ocular cancer, and his newfound search for clarity in the face of a local tragedy. As the answers begin to reveal themselves, those involved in the case must grapple with the balance between forgiveness and judgment.
Stevantoni was the sole production designer but wrote and directed the film with his longtime collaborator Strack Azar. The two directors are perhaps best known for their viral parody video "Dancing in the Street - Silent Music Video" which has 32 million views online. Stevantoni had been frequently accompanying Strack Azar to his hometown in Greenville, Mississippi and he fell in love with the environment. He was instantly intrigued by the abundance of diverse and storied landscapes, not to mention its historic dependence on the natural world, and knew the Mississippi Delta the ideal setting in which to tell their next story.
“After coming back from visiting the area, I wrote down every location available to us on index cards, taped them to a wall and then designed the film to take full advantage of this geographic range, as the story finds its characters exploring vast farmland, swamp like forests, time-worn structures, and many more locations that suggest in their image a past fossilized in the present,” he said.
The Banality was Stevantoni’s most experimental film to date. He decided to adopt a very flexible approach to filming, trying different techniques with each take, going into every day with goals but no set-in-stone script. They knew what locations and characters they wanted to sculpt from but did not exactly know what the final product would look like. The end result evokes a feeling of importance while maintaining a raw vulnerability, clear in its emotional intent but as abstract and inexplicable as life itself.
“Throughout its early years, the American storytelling tradition sustained an emphasis on stories that analyze lessons of morality and our often-contentious relationship to nature. It simultaneously portrayed the day-to-day lives of those living and working in challenging rural landscapes, and invented an elaborate folklore comprised of tall tales and legends that endure in the present moment. Following in this tradition, we intend to bring a story to the screen that utilizes the quintessential mechanics of American storytelling to craft a more complex and ambiguous portrait of its archetypal concerns; a portrait that applies to the realities of contemporary time,” said Stevantoni.
After its premiere at the Georgia Shorts Film Festival where it was nominated for Best Experimental Film, The Banality went on to have an extraordinary festival run. It took home several awards, including Bronze Remi at WorldFest Houston, the Award of Merit in Directing at the Southern Shorts Awards, and the Award of Merit in Production Design, to name a few of its accolades. Stevantoni could not be prouder of what he achieved.
“It’s been very rewarding to track the success of the film, and it ended up working as a proof of concept leading to The Banality being developed as a feature film by Trikon Productions. We had no idea how long we would spend meditating on this world when we first started but it’s been a rich journey,” he concluded.