John Sayles made his name with literate, thought-provoking films like “Men With Guns” and “Eight Men Out.” But the writer-director has a more concrete goal for his latest film, “Silver City.” Specifically, Sayles is hoping the political satire contributes to the defeat of George W. Bush in the upcoming presidential election.
“We did this film really fast because we wanted to get it into the theaters before November,” Sayles said in an interview at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio on June 24. He answered questions about his film later that night following a preview arranged exclusively for Association of Alternative Newsweeklies members on the opening night of the AAN convention. “It took six weeks to shoot it and another three weeks to edit. It should be out in most of the country by September 17. Beating the election was really important.”
“Silver City” centers around a grammatically challenged gubernatorial candidate named Dicky Pilager (Chris Cooper). One day, while filming a fishing scene for a political ad, Pilager reels in a corpse. Sure that it was planted by one of his political opponents, Pilager and his people try to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Sayles said the movie combines several genres. “It’s a comedy, but not in the sense of a Farrelly brothers movie. It has elements of noir like a ‘Chinatown.'”
Sayles makes no bones about “Silver City” being a parody of the Bush administration. With his film coming on the heels of Michael Moore’s documentary, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” it seems independent filmmakers are on a crusade against the current administration.
“I think it was inevitable with everything that is going on with the war,” Sayles said.
“Silver City” producer Maggie Renzi said she and Sayles are so passionate about defeating Bush that they financed the $5.5 million production with their own money. “We are filmmakers, so we use the tools we have to get rid of George Bush,” Renzi said. “Getting rid of George Bush is the best thing we can do for peace in the world.”
A byproduct of the “Silver City” shoot is that Sayles and Renzi became friends with several people in the alternative weekly industry. The pair had already known Austin Chronicle Editor Louis Black before they started filming. But after shooting a scene in the offices of Westword, they got to know and love Westword Editor Patty Calhoun, who does a cameo in “Silver City.”
“I called Louis up to see if the Denver alternative was any good,” Renzi said. “He told me that it was not only good, but the editor was the best. We liked her so much we put her in the movie.”
Sayles said he can see a correlation between independent filmmaking and producing an alternative newspaper. “In both efforts, you have to be inventive to survive,” he said. “And if you avoid being part of a corporation, you get to express yourself as an individual. That’s where you get some of your best stuff.”
Michael L. Jones is a 2003 fellow of the Academy for Alternative Journalism. He is a former staff writer for the Louisville Eccentric Observer who lives in Louisville, Ky. His story on John Sayles originally appeared in the June 25 San AANtonio Convention Daily.