“There’s something poignant about these disaffected teenagers texting and skateboarding around this place as if it’s almost a set or something,” Peddle observed.
Screening at the Museum of the Moving Image this Saturday, Sunset Edge intertwines two stories: that of four disaffected teenagers who spend their afternoons exploring the trailer park with the story of a young man on a path to self-discovery as he confronts the reality of his dreadful past. In the final gripping scenes, both tales merge to reveal the mystery surrounding the park.
Peddle isn’t just a filmmaker and artist. As casting director at his two-person company, The Secret Gallery Inc., he and partner Drew Dasent frequently work with fashion heavyweights such as Phillip Lim, Givenchy and Comme Des Garçons. While working that job, he found the subjects of his first two documentaries: The Aggressives (2005) is what Peddle calls a “proper ethnographic study,” spanning five years, of a subset of male-identifying New York lesbians. Trail Angels (2011) gives an insight into a group of working-class Americans who voluntarily live on the Appalachian Trail and support its seasonal hikers.
The 44-year-old says the sort of casting he does in his fashion career is essential to movies as well, and he wrote Sunset Edge with non-actors in mind. “Even if you’re making a documentary you gotta pick the people that are the most intriguing or aren’t naturally forthright and eloquent,” he says in his southern accent. “It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to use proper English but they can tell their story in a vibrant way.”
In the opening scenes of Sunset Edge, Jacob and his friends make a Big Gulp of “suicide soda,” a soda-fountain concoction that Peddle encountered in convenience stores during his childhood in Winston-Salem.
Peddle was raised by an artistic family, and he grew up using his spare time to make films. He considers Sunset Edge an extension of the elaborate Halloween parties his mother still throws. The annual events, he says, are “not just elaborate in the sense of let’s spend a lot of money, but more, these incredibly creative, complex parties.”
Of course, that DIY spirit can pose challenges: since the cast of Sunset Edge was made up mostly of high schoolers who had to rush home and put their costumes on before filming, Peddle was forced to shoot at the last vestiges of sunset each day. Still, the natural lighting heightened the beauty of the film’s “uber rural” setting and the eerily abandoned trailer park, still strewn with junk left by former residents.
Unforeseen circumstances also affected the role of Malachi, the lonesome teen who must come to terms with the shocking truths of his past.
“Malachi was originally supposed to be a play on one of the main characters in Children of the Corn, which is the same age group set in the south,” said Peddle. “I’m thinking to myself, okay, well the role is supposed to be a little inbred.”
But then he discovered Gilberto Padilla in a high-school acting class. Enamored by his audition – “he was this elegant, ancient, amazing indigenous person” –Peddle rewrote the character for him. “It’s like this feeling of fate having its way here,” Peddle said. “Fate wants this to happen and here’s proof of it in a way, to have those senses and change accordingly.”
Peddle’s willingness to “collaborate with accident,” as he puts it, also came into play when he shot scenes that called for an owl, even though he was unable to hire a trained one. “There was this owl that kept showing up – he would fly overhead right when we were shooting and it was literally almost in all the scenes that he was supposed to be in,” Peddle recalled. “Each time I would be like, ‘Start shooting the owl! There’s the owl!”
“Sunset Edge” screens August 9 at the Museum of Moving Image in Astoria, Queens and will then tour locally in the Rural Route Film Festival.