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During his childhood as a government brat in ’50s Alexandria, Richard Squires fled Northern Virginia’s suburbs more than once. As housing tracts overtook historic farms, he says, “My family kept moving farther west.”
It would be a couple of decades before the 56-year-old filmmaker returned to his roots by renting a sharecropper’s cabin on the plantation of Nat Morison, a farmer living in Middleburg, Va. The two men struck up a friendship, and Morison’s devotion to his family’s past gave Squires the idea for his first feature.
“How would a guy who felt such a duty to his patrimony deal with losing it?” Squires asks. “It seemed to me that he’d be more likely to live in a cave than live in a rental house in a town that had his family name all over it.”
That, of course, is exactly what happens in Squires’ soon-to-be-released film Crazy Like a Fox, which tells the story of Nat Banks, a gentleman farmer swindled out of his centuries-old family home. Squires considers the film a call to arms against the slow death of Virginia’s land and heritage.
“The founding documents that created this country were written in an area that is now being destroyed by corporate capitalism run amok,” he asserts. “Capitalism gorges itself to the point that it thinks it’s maintaining the values that it’s ravishing.”
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As portrayed by British actor Roger Rees—a veteran of everything from The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby to the The Scorpion King—Banks might not couch his complaint in such neo-Marxist terms. But he still can’t bear to surrender a house that survived a Civil War–era Yankee invasion to its contemporary equivalent. So after a pair of conniving, BMW-driving real-estate developers get the better of him, he retreats to a picturesque creekside grotto on his land. While the new landowners winter in Palm Springs, Banks moves his family back home, setting the stage for a showdown against the forces of soulless progress.
Private donors supplied half of Crazy Like a Fox’s $2 million budget; writer-director Squires, who had previously directed only theatrical productions, financed the rest by taking out loans. Though shooting took only a month, editing and finding a distributor took nearly four years.
Squires, who now divides his time between a Loudoun County residence and Dupont Circle, says that his local ties provided some advantages. The cast largely comprised area actors, and Squires says he already had locations in mind for nearly every scene when he wrote the script. “I knew about the creek,” he says, “because I swam in it every day.”
Unsurprisingly, leaf-dusted shots of the slow-moving body of water abound in the film’s final cut, and Squires’ project was twice titled after it. The Goose Creek Story, however, failed to get an imprimatur from “the tea-readers in L.A.” And original title Creek Man, the director admits, suggested an altogether different kind of flick. “You could imagine,” Squires laughs, “this guy who lived in a cave by a creek and had teeth that were 3 inches long.”
Crazy Like a Fox will appear in the DC Independent Film Festival in March and is scheduled to make an April run in District theaters. If the movie does well here, Santa Monica, Calif.–based distributor Freestyle Releasing will roll it out in other markets. In anticipation of that, Squires has already written another script, titled The Big Dreamer, about a man “in the midst of a film production” who stops being able to discern his dreams from real life.
The director isn’t worried that D.C. audiences might have similar issues of perspective when it comes to his current film, in which the only two of their own are depicted as greedy bastards. “Washingtonians are pretty sophisticated,” he says. “I think they can take a joke.” —Jeff Horwitz
Crazy Like a Fox screens at 5 p.m. Sunday, March 13, at the City Museum of Washington, 801 K St. NW. For more information, call (202) 537-9493.