Somewhere to Disappear directors Laure Flammarion and Arnaud Uyttenhove admitted to the packed audience at the Q&A session following the film’s NYC premiere that they initially had no real game plan when setting out to follow Magnum photographer Alec Soth, the subject of their new documentary. While there may not have been a detailed outline of what the duo would capture, they told Cool Hunting that as fans of his work and self-proclaimed “photo book addicts,” they knew Soth was an avid traveler and a good storyteller, so they thought documenting his process would make a great road-trip movie.
Shooting for roughly one month at a time on three separate occasions over the course of 18 months, Paris-based Flammarion and Brussels-based Uyttenhove documented Soth as he roamed across America in search of reclusive individuals, for what would become his photo book “Broken Manual“—although none of those stills actually appear in the film. The directors offer a valuable glimpse of the photographer’s slight yo-yo-like process, on how he goes about finding his subjects, interacts with them, and ultimately gains their trust to sit for a portrait.
While at the beginning you may wonder if the young filmmakers are going to find their focus, in the end you understand the rhythm of the film follows that of Soth’s. At times it’s exciting, there are moments of real discovery, and then there are long shots showing the vast countryside (which both directors say they really miss) and Soth sometimes frustrated with “wasting time.” A list taped to his steering wheel attempts to keep him on track of things or people he’s looking for, but throughout the film it becomes clear that Soth mostly follows his instincts when in his search of people retreating from civilization.
Encountering some extreme personalities and occasionally frightening living situations, Flammarion says “for us those people are not weirdos.” As the film beautifully depicts, many people share this feeling of wanting to disappear, including Soth himself, who remains in search of his own personal cave.
One of the more dramatic scenes—that Soth dubs as “Silence of The Lambs”—is almost tear-jerking, as a malnourished man in his boarded-up macabre home tells them the sad story of his life, comprised mostly of parental beatings and drugs. This scene features a dark and moody original song by Ghinzu‘s Greg Remy, which Flammarion says was their “way to express what they did not show.” While the rest of the film is set to an original score by L’Aiglon (who often tours with the band Phoenix), Uyttenhove says as one of the more fictional moments in the film it was important to him to set that scene apart.
Somewhere to Disappear is an authentic take on an oft-overlooked American subculture. From a man living in the desert for 27 years to hermits hiding out, the film is an ultimately interesting portrayal of Soth, the people he photographs and their shared fantasy of wanting to escape from it all.
While the three-city tour has come to an end, Flammarion and Uyttenhove are taking the film on the road to festivals around the world. To find out where, follow the film’s Twitter feed.