A recent entry into the Beneath the Earth Film Festival and a winner in the Best Acting and Editing categories, Refuge explores the living present, which Deleuze describes as belonging “both the past and the future: the past in so far as the preceding instants are retained in the contraction; the future because its expectation is anticipated in the same contraction.” For Cliff, Refuge’s protagonist, his present is an ever-fluctuating result of his past, his regrets, and his attempts to mask their realities.

There are two constants within the film. The first is the unnamed Farmer, an older man on the side of the road that offers an uncanny – perhaps even abject – reminder of Grant and his transgressions. The second is the scenery. Set in the vastly vacant and monotonous Midwest, Refuge simultaneously becomes the American Road Movie, exploring escape, freedom, and new beginnings while illustrating the futility of the Road Movie, suggesting that absconding via the familiar (the sprawling road-system of the United States) leads one in a circuit.

Everything else seems to be in flux. Cliff is on the veritable edge of sanity, constantly trying to reaffirm his decisions and absolve his guilt. His interchanging girlfriends create a wacky narrative that makes us wonder their true personalities.

Recently, I had the pleasure to interview director David Schmudde and discuss his views on time, memory, and the Road Movie trope:

As the director / writer, how do you see Refuge fitting into the phenomenon of the American Road Movie?

The American Road Movie often serves the same themes of freedom and getting lost to find yourself. Refuge occupies itself with the latter, but it is absolutely not about freedom, per se. The opposite is true. It is about being trapped. The endless road is a metaphor for obsessive thoughts that run through our head without resolution.

The subject of converging times (past, present and future) and their impact on memory seem to play a large role in Refuge. How have the tropes of “time” and “memory” influenced your narrative?

The tropes of time and memory are foremost issues in my work. Refuge isn’t about the narrative. It is an attempt to re-create the experience of remembering. As we remember, we twist and pervert the facts; we reassure, we forget. The Farmer is the only thing that stops Grant from completely rewriting his past and alleviating his guilt. The Farmer is a possible future; he is his conscious.

The setting you chose is rather fascinating in that it flows together, suggesting monotony and, perhaps, tedium. What ultimately drove you to select the backdrop that you did? 

I personally love driving across the Midwest. However, so many people comment on the tedium that it is impossible for me not to acknowledge what they see. I wanted to emphasize the worst of driving across Iowa. Nothing to do. Nothing to look at. Just you and your thoughts. Refuge is a story that couldn’t be set anywhere else.

The beauty of Refuge is its brevity. The Beneath the Earth Festival, for the most part, is comprised of short films, films that must focus on concise narratives to evoke themes and ideas. Each film is a glimpse at some theme. Refuge differs from a number of other films in that it simultaneously tackles weighty, philosophical topics and treats each one with the delicate touch that they deserve.

All films in the Beneath the Earth Film Festival can be viewed here.