When Edd Blott recalls himself on the set of his sophomore feature, Escaping Freedom, the director has retreated to a private corner. His eyes are closed as ambient music floods through his earbuds. Such solitude is fitting for the meditative drama about a Portland pastor reckoning with his sexuality.
Blott's cast, though, is more likely to remember him as part craftsman, part apparition. "Floating" is how actor and producer Patrick D. Green describes the director's presence while shooting the movie's many wordless scenes. All the while, that omnipresent earbud set the invisible tempo for how languidly the film would unfold.
"He just moves around you; it's bizarre," Green says. "For an actor, it's the best possible circumstance for your director to call action and have you run entire scenes. You can live the life of your character and just be there. That's my favorite thing about Edd on set—the earbud in his ear the whole time, and so focused on shooting."
Those two images of Blott pretty much synthesize the atmosphere of the completed Escaping Freedom, available now via Amazon Prime and Vimeo. The two-sided confessional undulates between lonely stillness and an almost suspended physicality of characters running, screaming or making love.
Plotwise, the evolution of the pastor, Vincent (Green), is spurred by his estranged sister, Krystal (Kelly Godell), who appears one fateful night, passed out across one of his pews. But even as their verbal throwdowns about the other's self-deceit partly define the story, Escaping Freedom mostly eludes explicit social commentary. It's an intensely private film, and we understand Vincent and Krystal's struggles around sex and abuse through narrated self-talk or hypnotic cutaways to Seaside, Ore., rather than polemic speeches about identity.
"We weren't talking about [the film] in acts or scenes," Blott says. "It was always in movements and musical terms."
Blott himself was raised in Spokane, Wash., in a conservative Christian environment, working in and around churches throughout his 20s before coming out. Paradoxically, then, his film is both intimately familiar and uneasy in the confines of church. With Rose City Park United Methodist on Northeast Alameda Street as the shooting location, Green performs Vincent's duties of counseling, sermon adaptation and clerical busywork with an almost forcible calm.
"[Playing Vincent,] I always felt this holding of my breath," Green says. "He knows he can't move quickly or speak quickly because he's afraid of betraying himself. I think we have this stereotype that pastors are inhuman or above human and don't have flaws. It actually made me very sympathetic toward people who do that work."
And while Escaping Freedom doesn't hold glaring political ire toward Christianity, it demonstrates how religious doctrine can deny people—both fictional and real—meaningful self-acceptance.
"So much of Christianity is about your total depravity—how everything about you is wicked and evil without Christ," Blott says. "And that just messes with you. So much of my past has been about not listening to myself."
As in Blott's own life, a flood of inspiration and change indeed arrives for Vincent, yet the film resists reducing coming out to oneself or a loved one to a single act. In fact, Blott says the thematic content of his movie will be news to many of his friends and family. Still, he's optimistic, even thankful, for the conversations to come.
"I certainly feel nervous, but my family is filled with wonderful people," Blott says. "Although we disagree about many of the essentials, I will still be loved by them. I'm not blind to the fact that this is not common for many, especially those who come out as non-heterosexual and/or agnostic in a family so deeply involved in a conservative church. I don't see myself as being 'brave' per se, but I do see myself as having a platform here that so many people aren't afforded. I can't ignore that."
SEE IT: Escaping Freedom streams on Amazon Prime and Vimeo.