Writer/Director: Tom DiCillo
Cast: John Turturro, Sam Rockwell, Catherine Keener, Lisa Blount, Dermot Mulroney, Rica Maartens, Annie Corley.
Festivals: Venice, Sundance, Seattle, Toronto, San Francisco.
US Distribution: Trimark.
Music by Jim Farmer.
Books: Notes From Overboard, film diary and screenplay.
Box of Moonlight was supposed to have been my next film after Johnny Suede. I wrote it to get out of NYC, away from the Lower East Side rubble without a cause that had been the focus of so many films I’d worked on.
But, it took over 4 years to raise the money. It wasn't until the relative success of Living In Oblivion that I finally I found myself in Knoxville, Tennessee actually directing my 'second' film.
I spent a lot of time as a kid in small towns all across America. Box of Moonlight is an attempt to revisit that emotional landscape. There are elements of my childhood in it as well as my belief that a healthy stint of juvenile delinquency can be a productive phase in anyone's life.
I tried to maintain the family of actors who had come together on Living In Oblivion as much as possible. I wrote the part of Floatie, the slightly dented phone-sex operator for Catherine Keener. Dermot Mulroney found some real depth with the small town bully, Wick.
The core of the film though is the relationship between Al Fountain (John Turturro) and the Kid (Sam Rockwell). My respect for both actors is tremendous. Both could not have had more different acting styles. Sam had auditioned for Johnny Suede and I’d been so impressed I kept him in mind for this film. It was Turturro’s performance in Quizz Show that made me really push to get him into the film.
It was a tough shoot. It astounded me that shooting scenes of such pastoral beauty could require such effort and exhaustion. The day before we shot a scene of Turturro swimming in an abandoned rock quarry we learned someone had just drowned in it. The rescue diver who’d gone to retrieve the body was bitten by a water moccasin and also died. I did not tell Turturro any of this as he could not swim.
Turturro's character was based somewhat on my father whose relentless insistence on my learning math inspired the flashcard scenes in the film. He and my mother lived nearby and when they visited the set I put them both in the scene where a crowd has gathered beneath a tattered billboard where someone has seen the face of Jesus. To my amazement when I later saw the footage, I saw my father (a devout atheist) cross himself unbidden.
The film was accepted by the Venice Film Festival. During the screening the audience was completely silent. I was convinced it was a disaster. Then the lights came up and the entire audience rose in a lengthy ovation.
Nothing affects me as much as hearing, to this day, how strongly this crazy film has touched people. The ones it does, it touches deeply. Some critics minimized the film as a “hippy fairytale.” But, even a cursory glimpse of Sam Rockwell’s damaged and troubled Kid shows that nothing could be further from the truth.