Three Minnesota-made indie films are getting a rare screening at the Trylon. The films offer a glimpse of what the Twin Cities looked like in the 1970s and ’80s. They’re also a celebration of Minnesota-based filmmakers David Burton Morris and Victoria Wozniak. The couple had met when they were students at the University of Minnesota — Burton picked Wozniak up while hitchhiking, and the two became friends, and later collaborators and life partners. Together, they helped establish the IFP/North (now FilmNorth) and the first IFP branch in Los Angeles (now FIND). Wozniak also became a founding creator of the Spirit Awards.
In “Loose Ends,” (1974) two mechanics ponder starting their lives anew. “Patti Rocks,” is the sequel, and follows the same two characters later in life in a road movie. It was screened at the Sundance Film Festival in 1988, and received an X rating based on profanity. Finally, “Purple Haze,” (1982) follows a Princeton student who gets kicked out for smoking pot and drafted. The soundtrack features rock tunes from the Vietnam era, including Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, the Animals, Sly and the Family Stone and more. Here’s an interview with Burton and Wozniak. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
SR: I understand you met hitchhiking when you were both students. How long were you guys together before you decided to make a movie together?
VM: David picked me up hitchhiking on the way home from university. We got to be friends, and we were friends for about two years. And then our relationship turned into a romantic relationship and we were living together. I was a fine artist at the time, and David was into film, so it was really through him that I discovered filmmaking as an art form. David had gone to see an independent movie, “Memories of Underdevelopment.”
DBM: At the Walker.
VM: Yeah, at the Walker. And he came home and we were actually working on a Roger Corman film. The only independent movies that were around were from Roger Corman movies. So we were doing a thing called the “Attack of the Sewer People.”
DBM: Oh my God, that’s embarrassing.
VM: We were trying to develop that into a screenplay. And then he came home from seeing “Memories of Underdevelopment,” and we decided, let’s make a personal movie, a movie that we cared about. We really didn’t know any screenwriters or even writers. And I thought, well, it can’t be that hard. Greatest …
DBM: … Greatest understatement, yeah.
VM: But I sat down and I started writing. And that was my first screenplay.
SR: Was it hard to work with someone you had a relationship with?
DBM: No, that film actually was the most fun I’ve ever had making a movie, because there was nobody looking over us. There was only like, a handful of crew and actors, and we just kind of did what we wanted in like, 14 days for like $20,000 or $30,000.
VM: Because we trusted each other. We knew what we wanted to do. We made “Loose Ends,” and then it got into the Edinburgh Film Festival. That made us believe that we actually could do this, that we have talent and that we could make this into a career.
DBM: When you’re new, usually festivals don’t pay your way. Eventually they started paying for us. But we said we might as well get the money and go because who knows if we’ll ever get invited to a film festival again. Then a very renowned critic, Robin Wood, discovered us and really championed us. And then Roger Ebert in Chicago saw it and said it was one of the films of that year. And, Vincent Camby in the New York Times gave us a good review and it just sort of took off. We were really kind of surprised by the whole thing. We were certainly happy about it, but we didn’t expect it.
VW: It gave us a calling card. People in the industry were reading these reviews. Like, ‘Who are these people? What are they doing in the Midwest making a little movie?’ They had no idea who we were or what to do with us. But at least they knew who we were. So it kickstarted our career.
SR: Any anecdotes you could share from when you were shooting “Loose Ends?”
DBM: Do you want to tell the 35 freeway story?
VW: No, you tell it.
DBM: All right. There’s a lot of driving at night. We’re on I-35. The way we shot the dialogue in the car — Greg Cummins, the director of photography, built this little wooden contraption he would strap to the car door window outside. And then an assistant director, Jim Morrison, not the singer— was strapped to the hood, with just a sun gun shining light in the actors’ faces. That’s all the lighting we had. We get picked up as we’re driving down the freeway at night shooting this. The cop says, what do you guys do? And he says, well, we’re making a movie like this. He said, well go down to whatever exit out of my jurisdiction and just keep on because he didn’t know what to do with us.
VW: I have to tell you that I did know the family that owned the Midway Chevrolet dealership, which was a great big dealership on University Avenue. And he said well, OK, sure, Vic, I guess. And then we started shooting there and nobody was working. They were all watching. And the owner came up to me and said, Vicki, this is not what I thought it was gonna be. Nobody’s working here. They’re all watching you.
DBM: All the locations we shot at like Mickey’s Diner and various gas stations — we didn’t buy him out. We asked him if we could do it, but we never paid them or even had a written contract. We just threw our actors in and started shooting the scenes.
SR: So were there other customers there?
VW: Yeah. It was like renegade filmmaking. I think the only place that we — I don’t think we’ve made them any money but when we did that dance sequence at Uncle Sam’s (now First Avenue).
DBM: That was open.
VW: Oh yeah.
DBM: We had some hipsters on the dance floor, including you. But no, that was open. Because Allan Fingerhut put some money into it and he owned Uncle Sam’s at that point which turned into First Avenue but yeah, he let us shoot in there.
VW: I made the two lead characters mechanics because I knew that I could probably get Mr. Krebsbach to let me use Midway Chev. Then the big house in the very beginning— that was a friend of mine because we live like two doors down.
DBM: We set a lot of stuff in the thing called the Club Bar on Cleveland and Randolph.
VW: And things like that. They all belonged to friends of ours.
DBM: We had so little money. It all went into the film and process.
VW: Actually, one of the ways we financed that film — we had a friend that worked at a bank. And we went in and we cashed out whatever we had, like, savings bonds, or whatever. And we still needed some more money. And so we went and we talked to him. So he gave us an unsecured loan for like 10 grand. We had no absolutely no security. Nothing.
SR: You guys were involved in the beginnings of what FilmNorth is now— IFP when it was created. What it was like to be part of the beginnings of Minnesota’s film scene?
VW: You know, it was really good. We were trying to build a community of artists and filmmakers here.
DBM: Great parties, big parties.
VW: Great parties, there were a couple of hundred people. And the police would always show up.
DBM: Let me tell the story. We had a huge house in Deephaven. We’d have all these cars parked on Minnetonka Boulevard. One year the police came and said start moving your cars. Mayor Norm Coleman happened to be there, and I said we can start with Mayor Coleman’s car first, you go talk to him. So that’s my anecdote.
SR: It sounds like you moved back and forth between here in California more than once. I understand the draw here with family — is it just that there’s more opportunities in California?
DBM: Oh, yeah.
VW: The thing is, we were able to move from Los Angeles back to Minnesota, because we have established ourselves in our careers enough to be able to live somewhere else. It was a much better place for us to raise our children. And David was never a great enthusiast with regard to LA.
DBM: When I was young at UCLA, I thought it was pretty cool. But after that, no.
SR: What is it like now to have these films celebrated again?
VW: Astonishing. The same way we felt about “Loose Ends” suddenly getting recognition. The idea that now all these years later…
DBM: 49 years later
VW: That people want to see these pictures and seek them out, it’s so humbling, quite frankly. It’s something that I never dreamed would happen. It’s wonderful.
“Loose Ends” screens Friday, April 7 at 7 p.m., “Patti Rocks” screens Friday, April 7 and Saturday, April 8 at 9:15 p.m. and Sunday, April 9 at 3 p.m. “Purple Haze” screens Saturday, April 8 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, April 9 at 5 p.m. at Trylon. More information here.