SXSW 2012: ‘Pavilion’ a Van Sant-like look at childhood

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Pavilion
Directed by Tim Sutton
Written by Tim Sutton
USA, 2012

Pavilion follows faithfully, and proudly, in the tradition of naturalistic film-making that Gus Van Sant operates in when he’s not making Oscar winning dramas. But if director Tim Sutton is a technical descendant of Van Sant, he’s a spiritual disciple of Terrence Malick. According to Sutton, Pavilion is a portrait of children in a landscape and in many ways that is what Tree of Life definitively provided. But Sutton here is steadfast in his quest to archive the experience of childhood, and this film is uncannily successful at capturing the tiniest details of being a youth.

Its plot is a more slippery beast. It follows a couple of characters, as one of them blows in from out of town and tries to makes friends with the locals. You’d be forgiven for not following the overarching story, because this is first and foremost a film about moments. Children ride around on trick bikes (a lot), boys tell each other to climb trees then play with a big walloping stick, a boy and a girl go on a hike together. Adults are largely obscured here, and the setting is vaguely timeless. It truly is a movie about children engaging with the real world, and in that sense it is both an incomplete picture and an earnest, thrillingly alive document.

The film also occasionally struggles to hold the audience’s attention. Without taut narrative strands, it’s certainly is harder to make a feature thoroughly engrossing. But Pavilion never feels longer than its lean 70 minute running time, and there is enough here to recommend. Sutton truly has a way with child actors, and the lead boys (Max Schaffner, Zach Cali) are particularly good finds. It’s unclear how much Sutton was scripting or actively directing, but it is rare and thrilling to see such pure childish behavior caught on tape. Not for the easily distracted, but, for those enthralled by the specific miracles of film-making, this is one to watch.

Emmet Duff

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