Mark Polish

MARK POLISH, co-writer and cast member of Northfork (see review), visited town for SIFF to discuss the third feature he's made with his twin brother, Michael (after Twin Falls, Idaho and Jackpot). The three films are collectively being described as a mountain-states trilogy, appropriate, since the brothers hail from Montana. "The whole movie is about death, about dying," says Polish, "about transition, about what's going to comfort you: the Bible or something else." In the case of Northfork's stricken young boy, Irwin, the angels and other icons in the film are suggested by Irwin's bedside keepsakes. "He creates his comfort. It's tragic but at the same time very happy for him. Everyone has their own angels; it's your definition. What's going to help you in your transition from life to death? You're going to create your own destiny. What you choose to believe in is going to be there for you." The town of Northfork itself is undergoing a similar transition. Says Polish: "I wanted Northfork to be the star, to almost be a character in the film that's dying off with everything else." He describes Northeastern Montana's massive, beautiful Fort Peck Dambuilt during the '30s WPA era and featured in a lovely ViewMaster credit sequence using period photos as "the tombstone that they're building for the town." Northfork's death may even be sadder than Irwin's, since it represents the demise of the pioneer spiritand perhaps of the American dream itself. "As a kid, people used to say, 'This is as close to heaven as you can get, Montana.' People get kind of offended when they're going to take that peace away from you. They've worked hard; they've earned it. You're not used to the government coming in and taking something away from you. At any time, your life, your land, whatever can be taken away from you, with no just cause, just in the name of progress." Unlike the droughts and snows and hardships settlers faced on the frontier, Northfork concerns a different sort of catastrophe, Polish observes: "This is a man-made problem." Polish sounds proudest of the concluding sequence, which is also the part I liked best about Northfork: the gravelly voiced elegy of the town preacher (Nick Nolte) spoken over a montage of harsh, beautiful Montana scenery that's about to be drowned forever. "That was actually an ad-lib. It wasn't even in the script. It was Nick talking about his mother who died. He so kindly let us use it. It was so graceful, and the speech kind of summed up the movie. While there's a death, there's a birth."

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