Matt Sobel dedicated his feature film debut, TAKE ME TO THE RIVER, to his grandmother. She didn’t live to see the film, but her spirit pervaded the shoot. Sobel had considered several other locations other than Nebraska, where the story is set, but it soon became clear to him that only her farm could capture the essence of what the story he wanted to tell. When the production team recreated what her home’s interior looked like, using the various pieces of furniture and memorabilia that had drifted into the homes of her children and grandchildren, the effect on Sobel, and on his family members visiting the set was profound.
When we talked on March 22, 2016, one of the first things I wanted to discuss with him was the nuance he had used in telling this story of family dissonance during a family reunion. Sobel explained his approach, which demands that the audience bring its own experiences and preconceived ideas to the story, turning that audience into co-creators. We went on to talk about the odd sensation of being a stranger to one’s own kin, nightmares as inspiration, running afoul of police in Cannes, and what happens when a film crew descends on Loup City, Nebraska.
TAKE ME TO THE RIVER is a film about family values, cultural prejudices, and unexpected sexual tension. Logan Miller stars as Ryder, a 17-year-old who is out to everyone but his mother’s family back in Nebraska. At his mother’s insistence, he agrees to stay in the closet while at a family reunion back in the heartland, though that doesn’t stop him from wearing very short red shorts as a personal style statement. Though he doesn’t have much in common with the male cousins around his age, his younger girl cousins find him fascinating, demanding that they draw pictures of animals for him. Nine-year-old Molly, in particular, vies for his attention and demanding that he take her to the family barn to explore the bird’s nests that are in the rafters. Something happens in that barn that we don’t see. Blood is shed. Molly is in tears, leading to a confrontation between brother and sister, uncle and nephew that has a history going back much further than the day’s events. Tensions build and the previously homespun family reunion becomes an ominous minefield of emotions and possible violence. The film co-stars Robin Weigert, Josh Hamilton, Richard Schiff, Ursula Parker, Azura Skye, Elizabeth Franz, and Ashley Gerasimovich. Sobel directed from his own script and this is his feature film debut.