As part of the burgeoning, Stateside film collective What Matters Most (including fellow visionary young director Khalil Joseph), Chelsea McMullan’s recent cinematic gem explores the last, lost Federico Fellini project, Il Viaggio de Mastorna Detto Fernet. With an exclusive Dazed premiere, her beautiful new short is a collaboration with cinematographer Matthew J. Lloyd and the subversive, Canadian transgender crooner Rae Spoon, inspired by this quote from the iconic filmmaker Wim Wenders - “Old cowboys are the saddest and most touching figures.”
Shot in Deadman’s Creek, a tiny town off the main highway, on a small stretch of road that takes you back in time in Canada’s only desert, McMullan’s truly special film follows the real deal, old timer cowboy Don Cope. Set to Rae Spoon’s haunting score, a montage of staggering imagery, this is a love letter to the people and ghostly landscape.
Dazed Digital: Can you introduce the story behind the film?
Chelsea McMullan: Myself and Matthew spent four days driving up and down the same stretch of Old Highway 1, our eyes peeled, looking for images we could connect together into a visual essay. On the last day we shot with the cowboy Don Cope, a friend of mine whom I met while making the film, Deadman. The song, the images, and the landscape were already deeply intertwined, I wanted to pay tribute to these rural people that have been lost to a world of big boxes and super highways, it is a way of life that is near extinction.
DD: Who is Don Cope?
Chelsea McMullan: Don Cope is no drugstore cowboy, and unfortunately over the course of the two years that I was shooting up in Deadman’s Creek I watched his body begin to fail him. Eventually he had a stroke, which forced him to stop riding; in his mind this was a sort of death. The white horse revealed at the end of the video was Don’s actual horse Ferouk, who was also his best friend. I wanted to immortalize Don Cope, freeze him in time, so no matter what he could remember himself the way he wanted, as a cowboy.
DD: Can you tell us about the surreal ambience of the film?
Chelsea McMullan: I always got an eerie feeling that these people where ghosts littered along the way and the highway was some sort of purgatory, which I felt connected well with Rae's song “I'll Be a Ghost for You”. At times traveling around there can feel gothic; one example is the bunny ranch we stumbled across. Hundreds of these disturbingly large rabbits, scurrying in their cages, trapped in the middle of the desert. After shooting there a while I started to feel unnerved, the whole situation felt post apocalyptic.
DD: How would you explain Rae Spoon’s voice?
Chelsea McMullan: The first time I heard Rae’s music, I remember having a visceral reaction to his voice. My whole body began to tingle, and I felt a sense of nostalgia for a place I had never been. When Rae and I began collaborating and he began to tell me about his life, I realised he puts all of himself in his music, wrapping secrets in his sparse melodies.
DD: How is it working with What Matters Most?
Chelsea McMullan: They encourage me to formally push the envelope. It’s a family of innovation and ideas. We all just want to make work that is worth making. Someone once described my work as ‘funny-sad’. I loved that description, I do hope that all my films have elements of humour and sadness.