BFE director Shawn Telford escaped from a small town, then returned to make a movie

Urban legend and rural myth alike send the message that the world of drugs and sex and violence and pain was developed within the dark alleys of the big city. Whether the message is reinforced with the moral derision of suspicious schoolmarms or lionized by club kids who view celebrate the great urban underbelly, most anyone who grew up in a small town knows this message is crap. Teenagers in the sticks do drugs, sleep with one another and engage in the same vices as city kids, and sometimes do so with greater regularity simply for lack of better ways to spend their time.

Shawn Telford in Post Falls, Idaho.
Shawn Telford in Post Falls, Idaho.

Filmmaker Shawn Telford knows this. He spend his teen years in Post Falls, Idaho and knows plenty about the lack of options there for teens on a Friday night. He also knows how hard it can be to escape, to get away from a place that, for all its dangers, shortcomings and lack of opportunities, remains your home. So why did he go back to make a movie in his hometown? And can Post Falls ironically provide him with his big break? After BFE premieres at this year’s Sarasota Film Festival, he may learn the answer to the second question. As for his answers to the first, check out what he told SRQ Backlot by heading below the fold.

BFE follows the lives of a group of teens growing up in a tiny Idaho town as they score drugs and party without purpose. The film is divided into three separate but connected stories. The first is about Ian (Ian Lerch), a teenager living with a grandfather who starts partying hard with the teenagers but with clearly self-destructive ends. The second is about Zack (Alek Greenleaf), a virgin who tries to sleep with a friend’s mom when his girlfriend puts off his advances. The final tale is of Ellie (Kelsey Packwood), who lived with her mother’s meth-dealing boyfriend but has to deal with even bigger problems.

Throughout, it becomes clear that any ideal of a quiet, small town life is lost on a group of kids whose lives revolve around intoxication. All of it begs the question, in what sort of community did Telford grow up?

The director quickly clarifies that none of the events in BFE are based of real life. “Nothing in the film is autobiographical,” he says. “It’s all from my imagination. However, my imagination is comprised of the influences of the people of that town.”

He knew old men like Ian’s Grandpa who seemed so beaten by life they seemed equal parts wild and suicidal. He had friends who grew weed in the country (though none cooked meth; that problem erupted in Post Falls well after Telford skipped town). He knew girls who got pregnant in high school, and he was once one of the teenage boys hanging out with buddies and who would become so obsessed with the idea of getting laid that any consequence seemed worth the risk.

In real life, Telford left Post Falls to get away from his family, running away at 18 and traveling the globe before landing in Seattle, a metropolis five hours away from his hometown. His own relationship with relatives has healed with time, but the odd connection with the small town life and big time challenges of growing up in Post Falls remain central to his artistic point-of-view.

The story of how BFE came to be is itself fairly representative of a small town player trying to make it big in the city. Several years ago, he entered a pitch for a small film, The Last Virgin, into a contest only to see it lose, then set out to make his film anyway. He ended up shooting The Last Virgin in his home town, where he could use family and friend connections to secure settings and even to appear in the film. The film went on to play the Seattle International Film Festival and to garner significant acclaim.

In the short film, the character Zack, alone at a party his girlfriend won’t attend, drugs the only adult woman at the party and sets out to have sex with her, but is interrupted when the woman’s ex-boyfriend shows up with his own agenda.

“A lot of men don’t think of rape as an act of violence,” Telford said. “Especially when they are young, they get overwhelmed by the moment. I never did anything like that as a kid, but I remember the desire to have sex being so strong you don’t always think. But rape is an act of violence, and I don’t feel like I am alone in that idea that it’s violence, but as a society we still haven’t come to grips with that.”

The Last Virgin was ultimately rolled into BFE as the second segment of the feature film, with certain parts reshot to handle casting changes. The stories of other characters in the film were expanded significantly, particularly the character Ellie, the young girl who skipped the party but whom Telford also felt had a powerful backstory of her own happening at the same time.

The story also showcases that even those who live with the worst consequences of living in a remote town can find it difficult to escape. It’s something Telford could see in the lives of many of his childhood friends who remain in Post Falls.

“You get the sense that it’s a trap,” Telford said. “I know a lot of people who had trouble getting out of those small towns. I know a lot of people who got out, but there is a ton of vacuum that keeps people there. Of course, it’s a beautiful part of the world and I have a lot of friends who are happy; I’m not judging those who stay. The house I bought in Seattle? I could have a mansion in Post Falls for the same price. I get, though, that many people are trapped there.”

BFE will host its world premier in Sarasota on Tuesday, April 8, at 6:15pm at the Hollywood 20. A second screening will be held Wednesday, April 9, at 6:45pm.

 

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