Richard Squires may not describe himself as a member of southern culture but after watching his new film "Crazy Like a Fox" and talking with him for any period of time it is clear that he has an understanding of it that few outsiders ever grasp.
"I think the south has a lot to offer, a lot of things for this country that this country isn't aware of," said Squiress while sitting in his Washington D.C. home, "I have a great admiration for southern pride."
"Crazy Like a Fox" is Squires's first film. It tells the story of Nat Banks an 8th generation Virginian gentleman farmer who still lives like he is in the past. Nat loses his farm to a pair of land speculators in an unfair deal that might be "legal" but is far from honest. Instead of leaving the land Nat hides out in a cave on the property and wages a private war against expansionism and the destruction of his historic home. All with the help of his family, friends and neighbors.
"I got to know some of the older Virginia families. I just got interested in some of the old Virginia courtly culture, particularly in contrast to the type of culture we have now in this country," said Squires, "and I thought what if these two cultures collided, as they often do, what happens."
SQUIRES MAY be a bit more of a southern man than he lets on. He was raised from the age of five in Alexandria until he left for boarding school in Andover.
"We were on the outskirts of town. I had a farmer for a neighbor. I remember it being a very rural upbringing," said Squires of his childhood, "There was everything a kid could ask for."
Squires went to college in New York at Columbia University where got interested in the culture of our country and how it was founded.
"I was a history major in college and I remembered very vividly the Virginia history I learned in Alexandria public schools. I thought it odd that the people who founded the country had changed so little culturally but the country they founded's culture had changed so much."
While at college Squires also became interested in theater and afterwards he was approached to do some work off Broadway. Squires worked as a playwright and director in New York, parts of New England, Europe and Washington D.C.
He has settled down once again in the D.C. area where he has formed theater and film projects, one of them helping produce "Crazy Like a Fox."
The jump to film from theater was a simple step for Squires, though, he says, the experiences are very different. "Anybody working in theater is always going to be interested in working in film. The story I had come up with lent itself better to film than to theater."
It wasn't all easy though, Squires says that directing was one of the most challenging things he has ever done.
"I have always liked high pressure. There are a lot of people involved and as director you have to keep the ship sailing. I loved it," he said.
THE FILMING took place over six, five day weeks with 12 hour shoots each day. The crew also did 3 days of pick ups after principle shooting.
"We lucked out. We had perfect weather for all 33 days," Squires said.
Squires also stresses that he couldn't have made this movie without the incredibly supportive crew he had. Since many large budget films are made in the D.C. area there was plenty of experienced local talent to help.
"One of the great things about directing a film is all that a director has to do is let the crew do their jobs and answer their questions," Squires said.
All the filming for the movie was done in Virginia. Since much of the film is based on real Virginians much of the shooting was done at the places of inspiration. For shots that did not involve the house or grounds of Nat's farm , Squires used a farm he owned in Middleburg, Virginia. The house and grounds and some of the barn scenes were shot at a near by, locally famous farm called Welbourne.
"We used all the houses furniture and furnishings. The only thing we changed was the paint colors for lighting purposes," said Squires.
The character of Nat Banks was based on a famous old country eccentric in Loudoun county named Nat Morrison who, like the character in the film, is a direct descendent of Ben Delaney a close friend and advisor of George Washington.
"It was great working in Virginia. It is a totally natural environment and it's that aspect that is under threat," said Squires.
BEYOND THE humorous story of the film is a look into a culture that is dying out because of continued urban sprawl and land hungry developers looking for money. Squires says that as more and more land is taken over by new houses the long term southern families are losing their way of life and the South is losing its culture.
"I hope that implicit in the film is that people understand the implicit love of nature and closeness to nature that this particular family is living with. People are losing their experiences with nature. Southern culture and that connection with nature stands in peril of being obliterated," said Squires.
The characters in the film confront these threats using the community and friendship that the South is known for. While the two prospectors are within their legal rights according to a court of law, according to moral law they are committing illegal acts.
The film hits on subjects beyond the factors of the loss of culture and into how these two opposing cultures were formed and which one is in the right.
"It's the heroes who are required to break the law. That's an important irony in the film," Squires points out," The question of does the law really have justice as its primary goal. What I was trying to show with the villains is that as a culture gets more legalistic the more corrupt it's apt to become.
In the end though southern culture wins out as the most important aspect of the film.
"I was a little bit surprised by the depth of prejudice that some people feel towards southerners, but that's all the more reason to show this film," said Squires of reactions to the film.
Squires says that the stereotype of the racist southern man is way off target. In his experience living in Virginia he has noticed strong ties between neighbors of different races.
"The deep friendships between individuals of different races in the south is something the rest of the country doesn't know about. Race relations in the south are possibly much better than the rest of the country," Squires said.
WITH THESE two subjects and the overwhelming southern pride captured in the film it is no wonder the movie will be opening in Washington D.C. and Loudoun.
Especially Loudoun which is one of the fastest growing counties in the United States. Squires says that a lot of the subjects in the film relate to what is happening in Loudoun now with farm land being developed on so rapidly throughout the county.
"We took a real risk opening the film in Regal Countryside in Loudoun," said Squires, "It might not be the most popular point of view."
Squires though doesn't blame anyone for the rapid development taking place all over the south. He says it is a product of our civilization. "I don't blame the developers personally for it. They can't be blamed for responding to what a civilization gives them. The problem is the civilization is offering those incentives to begin with."