If Rocco DeVilliers hadn't been speeding through Missouri a few years ago, he probably wouldn't be screening his film Pure Race for the European film market at Cannes. The 25-year-old Tempe resident co-scripted, produced, directed and edited the low-budget indie, played a small role in it and did "probably 90 percent of the stunts."
It was to the project's benefit that DeVilliers did not take it upon himself to write the music, as well, in light of the good luck that came with the composer he hired. Over lunch one day recently, DeVilliers tells how he made the acquaintance of Lisle Moore, who wrote the score for Pure Race.
"I was going like 105 miles an hour and got pulled over by some cop in Missouri, got arrested, got hauled in, no ATMs in this town, so I had to call a bail bondsman, 'cause I only had like a hundred bucks on me, and the bail was like 450 bucks. They don't take anybody from out of state typically, but I put up one of my editing machines as collateral.
"Turns out the bail bondsman's son is really into music, and has always wanted to score a film. So I ended up going to the guy's house, meeting his son, and we hit it off. He ended up scoring the whole film. Plus, his father was so excited about the project that he put in some money for postproduction."
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But the biggest payoff of this serendipitous brush with the law was yet to come. "Lisle has relatives in Cannes. We'll be staying with his aunt. That's the only reason we're able to go at all--it would have been impossible to get a room there."
Shot mostly in Idaho, but with a few scenes done in Tucson or here in the Valley, Pure Race is a conventional but heartfelt action melodrama about racism. The plot concerns two friends, an easygoing black kid and an uptight white kid, who, while traveling cross-country together, stumble into a camp of white supremacists in Idaho and are taken prisoner (their luck on the road isn't as good as DeVilliers'). What makes the picture notable is the resourcefulness with which DeVilliers, working on a budget of about $60,000, was able to execute extended chase and stunt sequences of entirely professional quality--at least as good as those on episodic TV.
DeVilliers shot and edited Pure Race on digital video, which was then transferred to 16mm. Once the film was completed, he says, "We took it to L.A. and started showing it around, and got a real positive response. Several people offered to fund a big-budget version, on film with stars. We also had a couple of distributors who wanted to take it to Cannes and push it there, and we thought, why not do it ourselves, we've done everything else so far. "So we got on the phone, got a booth and a screening room, and we're gonna take it there and try to cut some deals. It won't be in competition, but it'll have three screenings on the list. Who knows, Roger Ebert might come."
One other timing factor, the saddest imaginable, may boost Pure Race's commercial potential by boosting interest in its grim subject matter. As DeVilliers notes, "We wrapped it up a week before the tragedy in Oklahoma." The director, who is white and grew up in Utah, says he was inspired to explore racism after an LDS mission among poor blacks in North Carolina. While Pure Race is clearly antiracism, the poster art for the film, no doubt unintentionally, comes across more ambiguously at a glance--it's cast in red, and features a prominent swastika. A real Nazi might almost not mind hanging it on his wall.