Earlier in the year ahead of SLAMDANCE Film Festival TNC had the pleasure of talking with filmmakers Bradford Thomason & Brett Whitcomb about their documentary JASPER MALL which follows the year in the life of a shopping mall on its last legs. In revisiting this film it has struck me how apt a film this is in hindsight to our current situation caused by the pandemic.
Hi Bradford & Brett, thanks for talking to TNC, does being at Slamdance with Jasper Mall add any additional pressure on you?
For us it's always about giving as many people as possible the opportunity to see the film, and we know Park City is the place for that. It's definitely going to be a crazy week, but we're excited about it.
What does it mean to have Jasper Mall nominated for Best Documentary Feature?
We've followed Slamdance for a long time and we know the number of submissions and level of competition, so it's a tremendous honour to be nominated.
Had you known much about Jasper Mall before you started making this feature?
We only knew that it was small and hadn't been remodelled since it opened in 1981. Once we spent some time at the mall and met some of the people inside, we knew we wanted to make the film.
What was it about this place that interested you both as filmmakers?
There's just a feeling inside Jasper Mall - a feeling I'm sure you find in dying malls all over the country. It's the energy you felt in the mall as a child, but it's different now. It's quieter and at times sad, but there's still life and beauty all around.
Can you tell me a little bit about Jasper Mall, how did this film come about?
We tend to explore pop culture and nostalgia and their real impacts on human beings. We wanted to peel back the curtain on this particular type of nostalgia and see what life actually looked like in a small-town mall in 2019.
What was the experience working with Jasper Mall?
It was a fun film to make. There are lots of interesting characters and stories in the mall and it was great meeting and getting to know people. It was also strange as we'd sometimes film in a nearly empty mall at 8:30pm on a Tuesday. The shop owners and employees got used to us being there, but it was probably always kind of strange to the customers.
"We make our films with a very small group of people and everyone is really passionate about the jobs they are doing."
Since making Jasper Mall what do you think you've discovered about the role & place shopping malls now play in society?
Malls are dying in some ways and in other ways they're more alive than ever - particularly in popular culture and in nostalgic reflection. In the case of Jasper Mall, it exists as more of a community centre. There are lots of elderly people who walk in the mall. There are still some teenagers, but nothing like it would have been in the 80s and 90s. Online shopping and downtown/outdoor shopping centres have made malls less desirable, but ultimately they'll find a way to exist.
Do you find it difficult to ‘let go’ of a film once it’s wrapped or do you hold on to it thinking ‘I should/could have done that differently?
Yes it can be difficult to let go. We certainly want to make sure it's as good as it can be, but when you watch your film over and over sometimes it gets blurry and you just have to trust your instincts, finish it, and move on.
How important is the collaborative process of filmmaking?
It's hugely important for us. We make our films with a very small group of people and everyone is really passionate about the jobs they are doing.
What was the most fun scene for you to shoot?
Shooting with Kasey and Isadore at the carnival.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
We’ve always been passionate about going to the movies and feel really fortunate to be able to make docs.
Has there been any advice you’ve been given that has really helped you?
To trust your instincts and make the film you want to make.
Do you have any advice or tips for a fellow director?
Trust your instincts and make the film you want to make.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Jasper Mall?
Malls are dying, but thousands are still functioning across the country. We imagine in every mall there are stories like the ones we found in Jasper Mall. We hope the film inspires nostalgia but also offers a glimpse into a world to which most people are not longer connected.