Destin Daniel Cretton, writer/director/producer/editor, is used to being asked about the provocative title of his film. “Will this question never die?” he jokingly laments after an audience member poses the question during the Q&A session after the premiere screening at the Downtown Independent on Friday. The simple answer is that it's a line from a scene that was cut from the end of Act I.
But later he tells me that it's meant to challenge your preconceptions and be slightly misleading. “You come in expecting one thing and end up with something that is sincere.”
Spanning the course of a week, I Am Not a Hipster is a heartfelt film about Brook, an indie musician, and his continued struggle over his mother's death and a pervasive sense of disconnect — even from those who love and admire him. When his three sisters (Joy, Spring and Merrily) and father come to San Diego to spread his mother's ashes, Brook is forced to take a hard look at his life as it is now.
Despite the title, Brook fits the hipster mold — at least, by mainstream society's standards. “Hipster” has become synonymous with elitism and hypocrisy (just look at the comments section of our story “Hollywood's Urban Cleansing”), but, in the truest sense of the label, it describes a group of people who value art and celebrate individuality. However, that's not to say there aren't those who dress the part (thanks to stores like American Apparel) without upholding these merits.
I Am Not a Hipster is far from pretentious. The foundation for both the story and the music come from a very genuine place. Joel P. West, the composer, drew from old journal entries of when he was going through dark times. And Destin himself personally went through a devastatingly low period in his life after suffering a loss similar to the main character's. “I didn't care about anyone,” he says. “Nothing in the world mattered.” In other words, he wasn't the nicest person to be around.
In fact, while they were shopping around the script, one of the biggest critiques they received was that Brook (played by the multitalented Dominic Bogart, whom the film was written for) was too unlikable and had “no redeeming qualities.” But Destin believes in giving second chances to people who initially come off like an asshole in order to discover what is behind that shell. “And that's what I end up loving about them,” Destin reveals. And he's hoping that is how audience members will feel about Brook, considering the fact that loneliness is a universal and human feeling.
Just as in the film, Destin's sisters, who share the same names and personalities as their onscreen counterparts, played an integral part in alleviating the emotionally painful depression he was in. They broke into his apartment, forcing him to get out of bed. And Spring took him on a road trip to Mexico. “I can't be in a funk when they're around,” Destin says. And judging by the megawatt grin that appeared on his face when he saw one of his sisters at the screening, I have no doubt.
Family is clearly very important to Destin, and it shows in I Am Not a Hipster. “The film is about finding a family, finding your own family again, and finding a new family,” he says. In fact, to insure that the actors playing the siblings would be convincing as a family onscreen, he sent them on a four-hour hike that involved many embarrassing assignments, such as kissing bugs and farting.
But familial bonds developed among everyone that worked on the project — just what you'd expect from a low-budget film comprised of a small cast and crew. “There's really nothing better than working on an indie film because you kinda just feel like it's a family of people together,” Adam Shapiro (who plays Spaceface/Dennis, the new boyfriend of Brook's ex) remarks in the behind the scenes footage included as a DVD extra.
In this making-of special feature, you can see that most of the cast, crew and background actors would fall under the “hipster” category. And, based on a superficial read of clothing, the same applied to at least 80 percent of the people in attendance at the Friday premiere; there were beanies, vintage-looking clothing and skinny jeans galore. Yet, ironically, after someone asked again about the meaning behind the title, apparently not having heard the first time it'd been asked, another audience member shouted out her own answer: “None of us are hipsters.”
Most hipsters don't self-identify as hipsters. But, in a sense, the audience member was right — at least as far as the negative connotation of the term goes. The characters in the film and the people at the premiere weren't snobbish but earnest. And Destin appeared humbled by the amount of support and praise he received at the screening — praise that was very well deserved. Because by showing the humanity behind the derogatory label, Destin has not only made a stand for those of the indie scene but has also provided a parable that urges us to seek what is behind the surface of a label, for the real person underneath.
I Am Not a Hipster will continue its run through Jan. 17th at the Downtown Independent. On Jan. 15, it will be released nationally in select theaters as well as digitally on sites including iTunes and Amazon.