Rustic Wisdom: Local Filmmaker Ross Williams and the Immortality of Storytelling
Sages and philosophers come in many forms. From children spouting pithy yet insightful proclamations, as if they had just figured out some hidden perennial truth, to a venerable elder who can change your life over the course of an ad-lib monologue. However, as ancient as humankind is the process of passing wisdom from an older, more weathered generation to the fresh faced. This sentiment is at the heart of Ross Williams’ film, who found such wisdom in his friend’s father, and decided to capture this acuity before it was too late. An Ashland filmmaker, Williams recently featured Papa Joe in this year’s Ashland Independent Film Festival.
“Papa Joe is a short documentary about one of my best friend’s dad. Growing up around him, he always felt like a larger than life character,” explains Williams. “As an adult, I really grew to appreciate his stories and lust for life. He’s now over 80 years old and I really wanted him to be able to tell his story before he’s gone. To be able to preserve him for his family and the small town that I grew up in, that he had such a large influence over. It was a very small production, just me, my Canon 7D and a lav mic. I followed him around over the course of two days and interviewed him a couple different times. The hardest part of making the film was what I initially thought would be the easiest. Whenever you’re around him, he just opens up and stories pour out of him, but something about having the camera on him made him shut down and I really had to work hard and ask him the same questions over and over to get responses. But I think he eventually cracked and opened up a bit and the true him is there on screen.”
Williams was clearly inspired by Papa Joe, and Joe perhaps even played a subconscious role in bringing him to his current career. The first full-scale production he embarked on was called eRATicate, a black and white silent film that explores the duality of a relationship between rats and a human as both subversive and comforting. From there, he established Xrats Productions and xrats.com as the home to all his content, which is less rodent centric than one would expect. Each of his productions are unique, but there are recurring themes of neuroticism, human psychology, and irony.
“I really love telling stories,” says Williams. “Whether they’re made up or they’re true, it doesn’t matter to me as long as they have something of substance to say. I think everybody has a unique point of view and that film is the best medium to convey that. I want to make people laugh, or scared, or cry, or make them think about a subject in a new way. Nothing is more satisfying than making a film and having it play to an audience and listen to them react to it in the moment.”
In terms of garnering a reaction from the viewer, his work is adept in this practice, and palpable in his newest film Self Inflicted, a disturbing “romantic” comedy that delves into a masochism ad absurdum. Marquis de Sade would be intrigued by the piece. I’ll leave my review at that.
“Eventually I’d like to work my way up to making a feature, probably a horror-comedy of some kind,” says Williams. “That’s still a few years off. I need to hit on the right idea to go all in on that huge endeavor. I’m very busy, it’s hard to find the time to make my passion projects, but ultimately that’s what I live for. So they manage to come together every so often.”
Williams’ work can be viewed at xrats.com or at youtube.com/xrats.