American Film once called him the father of Cajun film. Film critic Roger Ebert called him a legendary American regional director. Writer/director Glen Pitre built his reputation on his English-language debut, 1986s Belizaire the Cajun (starring Armand Assante), along with follow-up efforts that include The Scoundrels Wife.
His latest work, The Man Who Came Back, will be featured at the New Orleans Film Festival at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 15, at Canal Place. The film is loosely based on the little known Thibodaux Massacre in 1887 during a strike in southeast Louisiana, but is told as a Western revenge thriller. It stars Eric Braeden of The Young and the Restless fame, but also features Oscar winner George Kennedy, Billy Zane and Sean Young. I reviewed the movie in this weeks issue, but also found time catch up with Glen via email. David Lee Simmons
Q How did you get involved in the project? And Im afraid I dont know Chuck Walker. How did yall meet?
A An actor named Jeff Fahey introduced me to Eric [Braeden] who was looking for a writer/director for a Western he was starting to develop for himself. Chuck Walker, producer/director of a couple of very low-budget Westerns, had written the original script.
Q Not to stereotype you, but The Man Who Came Back doesnt seem like a traditional Glen Pitre film in that it doesnt feel like an indigenously Louisiana film. How if at all did you feel like this might be a departure from your previous work? And what drew you to the story?
A When I was brought on, it was a ghost-story Western set in Texas. Eric wanted it to have more of a historical basis and social conscience. I agreed and also wanted to move it to Louisiana, a place whose history Ive spent 30 years exploring.
Q Ive always been impressed by your ability to get high-quality actors to work on your films, and Im wondering what if any role Eric Braeden played in helping assemble the cast? How did you recruit this group?
A Eric was instrumental. Hed worked with George Kennedy, with Billy Zane (on Titanic), and shared an agent with Sean Young. I of course had a history with [Armand] Assante.
Q Talk a little bit about Erics performance. I always loved his work, even in (shhh) The Young and the Restless. It seems like he brings the melodramatic gravitas to this kind of role.
A Theres something audiences love about his trademark rarely glimpsed sensitive center surrounded by a wall of hard steel and stone.
Q On that note, how did you get Ken Norton to appear in the movie? All hail Mandingo!!!
A Chuck Walker is a former pro boxer and knew Ken, the former heavyweight champ.
Q The movie was dubbed a Western thriller, but it certainly has a strong moral code to it (as do a lot of thrillers). Still, what did you want to bring different to this kind of drama, which obviously has racial and historical overtones. Theres a little bit of Clint Eastwoods spaghetti Westerns in this story, like High Plains Drifter.
A Every day I made myself remember, this is a Western. It first works as a Western or it doesnt work at all. The bits of character quirkiness and flashes of irony and unexpected humor that I love all had to fit in around the edges. The spaghetti Western reference is on the mark. I was trying to make a gumbo Western, to marry the quintessential traditional movie genre I grew up watching to the Southern gothic literary genre I grew up reading.
Q One of the things Ive long admired about your work is your love of scenery, how much you love all those outdoor atmospheres. Where did you shoot in Texas? Talk about the approach you were trying to use to capture the beauty of the scenery.
A We shot half the picture in east Texas and half in west Texas, the latter at one of those movie-set towns that John Wayne built in the 1950s to film The Alamo. His Alamo replica [was used as] our prison.
Q Whats the one thing youre most proud of with this film?
A As with every other movie or documentary Ive made, surviving the process of getting it done and distributed.
Q Whats next?
A Juggling film possibilities. I want something that will really stretch me. Meanwhile, Michelles (Benoit, his wife and co-producer) and my first play, Floating Palace, premieres in May.