BYU photography professor Robert Machoian returns to Sundance with Utah-filmed marriage story

BYU photography professor Robert Machoian returns to Sundance with Utah-filmed marriage story

(Oscar Ignacio Jiminez, Courtesy of Sundance Institute)

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PROVO — BYU associate professor Robert Machoian will return to the Sundance Film Festival next year with a new project — his fourth to be selected to the prestigious independent film event.

“The Killing of Two Lovers” was filmed in Kanosh, Millard County, and stars Clayne Crawford and Sepideh Moafi. It will premiere in Sundance’s NEXT category, which focuses on films that have an innovative and forward-thinking approach to storytelling.

It’s one of two feature films to be filmed in Utah that will be featured at Sundance. The other is “Nine Days,” a science fiction film directed by Edson Oda that was shot in part on the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Machoian’s short film “The MINORS” was featured at last year’s Sundance festival. He says “The Killing of Two Lovers” and the short film could almost take place in the same storytelling universe. recently spoke with Machoian about his new film, his approach to filmmaking and what he expects at Sundance this year. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. What can you tell us about the new movie?

ROBERT MACHOIAN: “The Killing of Two Lovers” is a family drama. I wanted to make a film that dealt with a marriage that was kind of in a hard place, but I really wanted to put it in a small town where there’s not a lot of escape, if that makes sense. In this film, for example, David is living with his dad, because the couple has chosen to separate for just a period of time. But his dad is literally two blocks down, so from his dad’s porch, he can see his house.

I was very interested in how that changes a dynamic. If you lived in Provo and you chose to do temporary separation from your spouse, you could... not see them on a day-to-day basis. And so I was kind of really interested in exploring that idea.

So it’s a family working through, the husband and wife working through just a hard patch in their marriage. It’s kind of based on not my personal family but my siblings and some of the struggles they had in their marriages and how they worked in and out of the weird things that happen when you're trying to hold on to somebody.

I was successfully able to get my dad and my boys in it. They were in “The MINORS,” so that was really exciting. “The MINORS” almost actually exists in the world that “The Killing of Two Lovers” takes place in. It’s not far-fetched that those are in the same world, so I thought that was funny. Where did you film “The Killing of Two Lovers?”

RM: We shot in Kanosh, Utah, which is about two hours from Provo, south. It’s this little town of about 350 people. It’s pretty close to saying in the middle of nowhere. It’s two hours south of Provo, an hour from Cedar City, so mostly you have to drive. They drive to Cedar City to do their grocery shopping. Is the film set in Kanosh, or is it set in some other unnamed small town?

RM: It’s ambiguous. There’s no card title or point I mention. It’s shot in Kanosh, but I felt the location was really, really important. For me, it was really important with the relationship of Utah. We have these small little towns surrounded by these unbelievable landscapes, which I think is very, very interesting.

That I thought was really important as it relates to this interesting relationship that we have as viewers. The outside appearance of a marriage as opposed to the inside appearances, the inside reality of a marriage and I wanted to play with that. So in the distance in the film are always these giant, beautiful mountains. You’re an associate professor of photography at BYU, so you must love being able to photograph all of Utah’s beautiful scenery in your films.

RM: It’s a very interesting thing as a photographer. What I wanted to wrestle with from a photographic standpoint with this film is that Utah is inherently beautiful. It just is. It’s almost like you can drive to southern Utah and just set your camera down and for the most part take a beautiful picture. So how do we wrestle with that?

I still wanted the film to be beautiful, obviously, but doesn’t just rest on that beauty. I think marriages can be beautiful and ugly at the same time, and those things can actually happen simultaneously. And that’s a fascinating thing to me about marriage in general.

Sometimes you say stuff to your wife or your spouse that you wouldn’t say to anybody else. And it’s rude and wrong, and then the next minute you’re like, “So where are we gonna go eat?” And it’s functional, right? I think that’s really fascinating. So I wanted to be able to play with that with this Utah landscape; how could I look at it in a different way. This is your fourth project selected for Sundance. What were the other projects like?

RM: They were short films. I mainly work with a collaborator, Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck. We’ve worked together for 10 years now. In 2013 I made some shorts on my iPhone that ended up getting into Sundance.

But “The MINORS” was kind of my first solo real narrative film, following traditional narrative writing and shooting and so forth. That was kind of my first solo project without (Ojeda-Beck). Just scheduling, now that we live in different states didn’t allow. We shot “The Killing of Two Lovers” in the winter, so it wouldn’t allow us to work together.

Clayne (Crawford) and I have been trying to work together for 10 years. We’ve been trying to make films and scheduling aligned where he was like “I have time, do you have time?” and I was like, “Yes, let’s make it happen.” So this will be my first solo feature. So that was nerve-wracking, but then to also have it get into Sundance is really exciting. What’s next for you?

RM: We’ve been discussing either another feature, or we have a couple miniseries that we’ve written. It would be really exciting to do a four-part or a six-part series show so I could explore some ideas.

I’m trying to shoot what I can just in Utah because I think it’s an interesting landscape and different type of people. So those are my objectives. If anything we’ve got a wrestling drama based off of a wrestling coach in my hometown that we’ve been talking about for the last three weeks. I’m trying to be ready if something unique happens.


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