Fort Tilden | Sarah-Violet Bliss, Charles Rogers | SXSW 2014
There is no doubt in my mind that Fort Tilden will be one of the most polarizing films that you see all year. If you thought the characters in Lena Dunham’s Girls are bad, you won’t possibly be able to stomach the two girls of Fort Tilden, the film that took home the Grand Jury prize this year at SXSW.
It comes from the minds of Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers, serving as both of their feature length debuts (they both co-wrote the film as well). Fort Tilden tells the simple tale of two girls named Harper (Bridey Elliott) and Allie (Clare McNulty) trying to get to Fort Tilden in order to “see what happens” with Russ (Jeffrey Scaperotta) and Sam (Griffin Newman), two guys that they met at a rooftop party the night before.
Harper is an “artist” who survives through the money that her father wires to her. Allie is gearing up to join the Peace Corps, set to be stationed in Liberia. Both are the type to live very much in the now, more worried about getting the perfect ice coffee and hooking up with guys like Russ than figuring out any solid life plans, or being decent people. They try to get to Fort Tilden, but the journey proves to be too much for them, seemingly never ending.
The plot is as thin as the moral compass that the characters simply lack. I can’t think of the last time that two characters were so infuriating. These girls live in the world of “first world problem.” You know, the type of people that populate the sororities of college campuses throughout the country. They come first and are the only thing that matter in their tainted world. They borrow their neighbors bikes, then leave it near the trash when it becomes a burden to their plans. They find kittens left for dead in a trashcan, consider rescuing tem and then leave them there right before it rains, lying to themselves that they would “go back for them.” These aren’t issues for them, but yet they whine about every little thing that doesn’t go their way, even though they don’t do anything to better themselves.
Harper says more than she does when it comes to her art career, far to reliant financially on her father. Allie is avoiding the frantic calls and texts of her recruiting officer, figuring that tagging along with Harper on the Fort Tilden journey is a better option..for now. While both are indeed flawed (an understatement, surely), there are at least some redeeming qualities buried somewhere with Allie. She at least shows moments of having somewhat of a heart. Unfortunately the same sentiment can’t be shared with Harper.
While the characters and plot left plenty to be desired, I found that the film itself was entertaining enough thanks to Bliss and Rogers. Even with all my frustrations, I could see that the duo are clearly talented filmmakers. The direction and look of the film is easy on the eye, as is the vibe that they seem to create naturally and effortlessly. Their script does have its fare share of hilarious moments, even if most were brought on more so by the insanity of these characters than anything else (meaning laughing at them). Elliott and McNulty are fine as actresses, clearly getting the point across with their characters. It was the feature length debut for both of them, and they both brought it.
I did get to enjoy some laughs, but the balance wasn’t enough between all the mind-numbing aggravations that the films journey brought me. Fort Tilden is not going to be for everyone, but I think most people will at least see the promise shown by Bliss and Rogers. It will be interesting to see what their next move is, especially after getting some notoriety.