Boyd Tinsley’s film debut is a distinctly Charlottesville experience

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Boyd Tinsley. Photo: Courtesy Virginia Film Festival Boyd Tinsley. Photo: Courtesy Virginia Film Festival

When Boyd Tinsley set out to make Faces in the Mirror, it was more of a calling than a choice. After years of plotting out film projects in casual conversation, the ideas that formed his first feature came fast and furious. “Making a movie is something that I’ve thought about doing since the mid-’90s,” said Tinsley. “All these different elements came together to where I had to make a movie.”

When inspiration struck, the violinist for the Dave Matthews Band acted quickly to form his team with executive producer Fenton Williams and follow the urging of his cinematic muse. So quick, in fact, that the score was composed first. The musician in Tinsley had channeled the music before the cameras were turned on.

The film was shot with little use of a script, and was made in reverse using the score as the guideline for the imagery and plot. “We had to literally dance the movie around the music,” he said. “We made the movie move with the music. We made the movie feel like the music.”

The film stars Ryan Orr as an emotionally conflicted son on the day of his father’s funeral. The death serves as the catalyst for a trippy journey through discovery and forgiveness. “There is very little dialogue, so a lot of the movie is expressed by Ryan Orr, who is a modern day silent picture star, in my opinion,” said Tinsley. “Ryan goes through most of this movie without saying a word, but you are absolutely intrigued by him.”

Haunting music, led by Tinsley’s signature violin playing and a long list of talented performers, serves as the dramatic device to Orr’s mostly silent narrative as it moves viewers through heart-rending flashbacks, moments of grief, and mysteriously sexy scenes like the pivotal bonfire dance. “I love to feel things in movies. Music is a really important element of that for me,” he said. “When what I see and what I hear come together and dance together, I want to feel something.”

Tinsley praised director Aaron Farrington for his “brilliant creative mind” and the ability to interpret his artistic vision. “Boyd never told me we were filming in reverse,” said Farrington. “It kind of made sense. When it came time to start shooting, there was all this music. That was the information that I had—the music. I tried to use it to inform everything we did onscreen. Not necessarily specifically, but music as a whole to the movie as a whole.”

While Orr is the central character of the film, it’s Charlottesville that steals the show visually. Johnny St. Ours’ cinematography guides viewers through a dreamy landscape via aerial shots, pans from moving vehicles, dramatic sweeps over historical properties, and many other familiar landmarks. The cast and crew are primarily local as well.

“Charlottesville is a really important part of this movie,” said Tinsley. “Everybody knew it was going on, but nobody really talked about it. It felt like the biggest known secret in Charlottesville. And there was a sense of anticipation, the same sense of anticipation that we had in making the film.”

Tinsley connects the evident sadness in the film to his own grief over the loss of friend and bandmate, LeRoi Moore. “It was [conceptualized at] a pretty dark time for me. It was right after LeRoi had died. It was in that fall, and I was down. Roi was really close, he was a mentor of mine, a really good friend of mine, and so it brought me down. I was in a dark place and I think that some of it comes from that.”

The most important take away for Tinsley is an emotional reaction. “It should be an emotional thing that goes through your body. It should be more than just something that you see—it should be something that you feel. When things are truly from the heart, you cannot help but feel it. Everybody will feel this differently.”

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