Patch recently had a chance to chat with Kevin Conlon, Greenwich native and co-producer of the documentary film, Absinthe, about the joys and pitfalls of making a high-quality movie on a shoestring budget, as well as the decades-long friendships among the filmmakers.
Mysterious, if not notorious, absinthe was originally a wine-based drink that became popular among the upper class of 19th century Europe.
The fragrant herb, wormwood, which gives the drink both its green color and its bitter taste, contains a substance called thujone, rendering possible certain altered states. Advocates have lauded its health benefits. Poets and painters have cited it as a muse.
Along the way, the recipe changed, bringing unforeseen consequences. After blight hit French vineyards in the 1870s, distillers substituted grain alcohol for wine. Absinthe became affordable. Bohemians, starving artists, and even café ladies, began to purchase and enjoy what was fondly deemed the “Green Fairy.”
Special effects attributed to the beverage have been described as lucidity or an elevated state, enhanced creativity and even vivid psychedelic experiences. All reminiscent of attributes associated with marijuana today.
Perhaps it was its popularity that led to its downfall. Detractors demonized the drink, citing it as a cause of infertility, epilepsy, tuberculosis, and madness, among other maladies. If that weren’t enough of a deterrent, it was said to have the potential to destroy families, and, left unchecked, lead to no less than the ruin of civilization.
Absinthe was banned in Switzerland in 1908 and in France in 1915. The drink was banned in the U.S. in 1912, eight years before Prohibition became the law of the land.
All that said, Conlon assured this reporter that a shot or “dose” of absinthe would no more harm me than a strong martini. The drink, legal again after 100 years, smells something like black licorice and is similar in taste to ouzo or sambuca. Part of the allure of absinthe is the time-honored ritual of pouring cold water through a sugar cube into the green potion.
Equally intriguing as the history and ritual of absinthe is the story of childhood friends from Greenwich, separating and reconnecting as adults in cities from South Beach to New Orleans to Hollywood, ultimately coming together to make this film. Conlon was injured at 16 in diving accident that left him, as he describes himself, a high functioning quadriplegic, though without an ounce of self-pity.
Conlon’s first big project was working as a producer for Going Greek (2004) with longtime GHS pal, Justin Zackham, of Bucket List (2007) fame. Though Going Greek was a modest success at the box office, it was an invaluable learning experience for Conlon.
In 2006, director and fellow Greenwich native, Chris Buddy, who worked in the New York film industry as a production assistant on films such as Devil Wears Prada (2006) and War of the Worlds (2005), moved with Conlon to South Beach, Miami where the absinthe project began to take shape.
“Chris’s mom had been a GHS French teacher,” Conlon recalled. “Madame Buddy instilled an interest in all things French. One thing led to another and our excitement grew.” Borrowing on talent from the old GHS crew, including Chris’s brother Seth, Jarret McGovern and Chuck Facas, the independent work moved from concept to production.
Asked about the experience of working with close friends, Conlon explained, “On one hand, it’s ideal because disagreements blow over quickly. On the other hand, going to friends and family to ask for money is humbling.” Having to raise funds lengthened the duration of the project.
Unable to trek through France and Switzerland because of his injuries, Conlon prepared for the tedious post-production back home. “At the time – five or six years ago – there were no iPhones or BlackBerries. The Buddy brothers were visiting distilleries and interviewing experts, but I couldn’t see the dailies. It wasn’t until they flew home that I saw the footage. Then I knew we had something.”
Filming in Europe took 3 weeks, but post-production, where Conlon played a key role, took months. The ongoing need to raise funds was an added hurdle. Music and other expenses like purchasing rights for images, digital videotapes, studio time, music, sound, light and travel added up quickly.
Once the film was complete, the longtime friends found a distribution agent who arranged for the film’s launch on Amazon for rental and purchase. Although Amazon limits Absinthe to a domestic market, next steps are likely to include Netflix or iTunes, which are international and would provide more versatility for viewing.
Asked about the possibility of a local screening, Conlon said a theater like the Avon in Stamford would be great. “We’re not trying to make a lot of money, but it would be really nice for people to see the film.” In the future, the documentary seems suited to the History Channel, PBS, or Discovery Channel.
The director Chris Buddy is now traveling around the country in an RV filming a documentary on blackjack (a friend’s father was an innovator of card counting). Conlon, who is happiest when he is writing, is in Greenwich polishing up a handful of screenplays, including one that is a personal story of his accident and its aftermath.
“I’d love for Chris Buddy to direct the movie version of one of my screenplays,” Conlon said. “He is an a brilliant director and nothing would make me happier.” Indeed, everyone in Greenwich wishes these hometown boys the best of success.
To learn more about the documentary, go to http://absinthefilm.com/
To rent or purchase the movie from Amazon, go to http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004MPI9CA/ref=atv_feed_catalog&tag=imdb-amazonvideo-20
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