About This Program
This program presents the story of poet, author, and screenwriter Barry Gifford and 1950s Chicago as the feature film. It is preceded by a short documentary of a letter found in a time capsule.
Director: Lauren Loesberg
Documentary Short, USA, 1900, 12 min, Color
Created from home video footage from 1997-2005, this documentary is set to the reading of a letter written for a time capsule found twelve years later.
Great Lakes Connection: The subjects of the documentary originate from Chicago, Illinois and
West Bloomfield, Michigan.
Project Website Instagram
Roy's World: Barry Gifford's Chicago
Director: Rob Christopher
Documentary Feature, USA, 2020, 75 min, Black & White and Color, Biography, Famous Writers
Hailed as “William Faulkner by way of B-movie film noir, porn paperbacks and Sun Records rockabilly,” poet, author, and screenwriter Barry Gifford has given the world more than forty works, including the Sailor and Lula novels that inspired David Lynch's Wild at Heart.
Featuring Willem Dafoe, Matt Dillon, and Lili Taylor, Rob Christopher's documentary brilliantly brings to life Gifford’s autobiographical collection of stories, capturing a vanished 1950s Chicago through a jazzy, impressionistic combination of beguiling archive footage, animation, and spoken word.
David Lynch: "Barry Gifford is a killer f***in' writer ... Roy's World captures his childhood and that time in Chicago, and many other places. I really enjoyed watching it and then contemplating what goes on inside a person with this history. I really love that world and the things that can happen there."
Great Lakes connection:
The film explores 1950s Chicago.
Cast & Crew:
Director: Rob Christopher
Writers: Barry Gifford, Rob Christopher
Producer: Michael Glover Smith, Rob Christopher
Key Cast: Willem Dafoe, Matt Dillon, Lili Taylor
Music: Jason Adasiewicz
Editing: Marianna Milhorat
Animation: Lilli Carré, Kevin Eskew
Rob Christopher wrote, directed, and starred in the acclaimed fiction feature Pause of the Clock, which had its World Premiere at the Denver Film Festival in 2015 and screened at the Gene Siskel Film Center in 2016. In January 2017 it was nominated for Best Chicago Film by the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.
He wrote the introduction to the young adult edition of Sad Stories of the Death of Kings by Barry Gifford and edited several Roy stories for publication on the website Chicagoist.
Also author of the book Queue Tips: Discovering Your Next Great Movie, his film writing frequently appears in Cine-File Chicago.
For many years I’ve been captivated by the Roy stories of Barry Gifford, which use a very spare and direct prose style to trace a boy’s childhood. Unlike a lot of autobiographical fiction, they’re not sentimental at all. But what especially appeals to me is that their power over the reader is gradual and cumulative; you don’t even have to read the stories in any particular order, but the more of them you read the more vivid they feel. Because they really do put you in a very particular time and place, mostly the 1950s and mostly in Chicago.
I’ve wanted to make a film about Chicago for a long time, and it seemed to me that using the Roy stories as a lens for viewing the city’s history would be the perfect launching pad for a documentary. My approach was really inspired by Terence Davies’ Of Time and the City, Laurie Anderson’s Heart of a Dog, and the work of Bill Morrison. In Roy’s World we freely mix Gifford’s biography with the fictional versions of his life as presented in the Roy stories to create a dream-like, composite portrait—an impressionistic exploration of both Chicago and Gifford’s work. Befitting a documentary about a writer, words are the thing: Gifford’s recollections of the period, told in voiceover, mesh with narration of the stories by Willem Dafoe, Matt Dillon, and Lili Taylor. All three actors are fans of Gifford’s work and were excited to be part of the project.
From the very beginning it was important to me that the film ditch a traditional “talking heads” approach. That meant no onscreen interviews, with Gifford or anyone else. No celebrity endorsements. And I also wanted to make sure there weren’t any cutaways to contemporary views of Chicago neighborhoods, meant to demonstrate “how things look today.” Instead, in Roy’s World we strive to keep viewers fully immersed in that vanished time and place. To make you feel like you’re actually there—which is exactly what Gifford’s stories achieve. Onscreen, photographs and other materials from Gifford’s personal files are intertwined with archival materials (including rare home movies, amateur footage, family photographs, and industrial films) to spotlight facets of everyday life ignored in most documentaries about the period. Animated segments by Lilli Carré and Kevin Eskew, illustrating key stories that trace Roy’s progression from childhood to adolescence, provide another way of representing the Roy stories. And binding everything together is an evocative jazz score composed by celebrated vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz and performed by the cream of the crop of Chicago’s current jazz scene. In fact, Jason composed the score and we recorded it before I even started editing. I wanted the music up front, not just lurking in the background. To sort of have a conversation with the stories and the visuals. So the sound and mood of Jason’s music pervades Roy’s World and carries you along.
The end result is, I hope, a documentary that conjures a lost time and place without coming off like a dry history lesson; that draws from primary resources to offer a neighborhood-level view of city life, of how ordinary residents worked, raised families, and interacted with one another; and that, through the Roy stories, suggests how these people, and Gifford in particular, were affected by societal factors such as corruption and racism—all themes which are still timely and relevant. And I sure hope it nudges viewers to check out Gifford’s writing!
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Beloit International Film Festival (Beloit, IL, United States), February 19, 2021, Wisconsin Premiere, Best Illinois Feature
Mimesis Documentary Festival (Boulder, Colorado, United States), August 10, 2021, North American Live Premiere
Manchester Film Festival (Manchester, United Kingdom), March 10, 2020, Official Selection
Dances With Films LA (Los Angeles, CA, United States), August 27, 2020, North American Virtual Premiere
SF DocFest (San Francisco, CA, United States), September 12, 2020, Bay Area premiere
Cheltenham International Film Festival (Cheltenham, United Kingdom), June 8, 2020, Official Selection
Soo Film Festival (Sault Ste. Marie, MI, United States), September 15, 2021, Official Selection
Buffalo International Film Festival (Buffalo, NY, United States), October 8, 2021, Official Selection