Set in Kipton, Ohio, against a backdrop of industrial and economic decline, Jason’s enigmatic, conspiracy theorist uncle arrives to bury his father, telling Jason the chemicals emanating from Cleveland’s Industrial Valley were the cause of death. The film flows between reality and fabulation as Jason attempts to reconstruct the family history that might reconcile their tense relationship and explain his uncle’s sudden departure and bizarre behavior towards their hometown.
As a directorial team of three, we began working on Deadlock in December 2017, under the auspices of the new Research and Innovation Fellowship awarded by the Cleveland Museum of Art. We were initially interested in the visual scene of Kipton, Ohio, a small town centered around an unpeopled playground that abuts on former train tracks and the decaying relic of a factory. Grounded in local archives, our research on Kipton’s story inspired us throughout the creation of the film. Deadlock starts with a voiceover describing a fatal train collision that took place in 1891 because the trains’ conductors did not synch their watches correctly. This crash resulted in new standards for railway conductors and their equipment on a national level; Kipton commemorates this event with a monument situated between the playground and the condemned factory. The way this train crash lives on in the town’s communal memory captures the core interests of our film: the afterlives of American industrialism, ironies of temporality, and negotiations of loss. Kipton is a kind of elegy to modern American industry; deadened, nearly abandoned, and overgrown, it is the industrial sublime, degraded.
The ”deadlocks” we see in Kipton’s history and in the present inspired the story of our 13-year-old protagonist, Jason. The return of his Uncle Adam at a moment of family trauma—the death of Jason’s grandfather—sparks a series of half-fantasized recollections in which Jason tries to come to terms with his attachment to his uncle and Adam’s abandonment of him. Those dream-like memories, part identification with Adam and part rejection of him, give expression at once to anxieties of contamination and forms of longing. Adam’s arrival also forces Jason to confront his feelings about his uncle’s homosexuality, the new family he is creating, and his subsequent departure from Kipton. What results is a complicated reaction colored by a utopian conception of gay love, acts of playful violence, and a mystical sense of environmental doom.
In translating script to screen, we created a visual and sonic idiom to connect the intimate story of Jason’s family and psychological dramas with the larger historical and economic story of Kipton. Images of factories, billowing smoke, and clouded water, and the recurring sounds of trains, occupy a zone between diegesis and fantasy. Working that zone allowed us to expand the scope of the audience’s affective engagement with the story beyond identification with the filmed characters. Feeling is both embodied by characters and expressed by the film’s form. In Deadlock, character and form articulate two overlapping histories: Jason’s history with his Uncle Adam and the history of a town—at once traumatic and hopeful, forgotten and forever present.
Eliza Loyola, Isabella Miller, and Claudia Ross graduated from Oberlin College in 2018 with degrees in Creative Writing, Cinema Studies, and Art History respectively. They are the recipients of the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Research and Innovation Fellowship, which allowed them to produce their second film as co-directors, Deadlock. Deadlock was an official selection of Oberlin College’s Best Films of 2018 as well as a selected film of the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Graduate Institute and Brooklyn’s Rebel Minded Film Festival. Loyola is the recipient of Oberlin College’s X-Arts Fund Fellowship in 2018. Miller and Ross won the 2018 Allen Memorial Art Museum Award for Best Conference Paper for a presentation related to their work on the film. Deadlock allowed them to explore their individual talents as well as their capacity for interdisciplinary, creative collaboration.