Lift off: WNC-based filmmaker Melanie Scot sends “Sangria Lift” to festivals

CAR TALK: Towns W. Sanford, left, and David Topp in a still from Sangria Lift

Sangria Lift, the new short film from local filmmaker Melanie Star Scot, doesn’t just have a surprise ending — it’s one long twist from beginning to end. The story follows a car named Sangria that is stolen for fun by a group of teens. But even though some of the film’s characters surmise the car will be found, stripped and up on blocks somewhere, what actually happens is wholly unexpected.

It’s based on a true story: “My son’s car was stolen on Halloween night in 2013,” says Scot. “He kept saying, ‘Everything significant that has ever happened to me happened in that car. She’s coming back to me.’ We had people from all over the place praying and sending positive thoughts. Miraculously, the car was found three days later … nothing was taken out of it and there was no damage to it.” When Scot relayed the story to a friend, that friend said, ‘If that car could only talk. I wonder whose lives that car touched while it was gone.'”

That statement inspired a script that Scot wrote and originally thought of filming in Idyllwild, Calif., surrounded by the San Jacinto mountains. A Western North Carolina native, Scot lived in Los Angeles for a couple of years while she pursued film making and her son, David Topp, who stars in Sangria Lift, worked as an actor. “But this is home base. I knew I would always come back here,” she says. “Being a filmmaker, you can live anywhere and make films if you have a good team.”

Case in point, two-thirds of Sangria Lift, filmed last August, was shot in Jacksonville, Fla. and one-third in Asheville. There’s an Anywhere USA feel to the setting, but astute viewers will spot certain Asheville landmarks. The non-specific locale does help to underscore the universal themes of the film, including a message of faith.

“I told the whole team that it’s very important to me to be taken seriously. I [didn’t] want this to be corny,” says Scot. One approach was make parts of the story from the car’s perspective. Those scenes play in black and white.

But this is not Scot’s first experience with working around an obstacle. “Women have different challenges as filmmakers,” she says. “You have to be assertive. You feel a tad bit bad about dropping names, but you kind of have to do that.”

She adds, “The relationship with your director of photography is extremely important. A lot of men are not comfortable taking orders from a woman [so] you have to make sure you jive together. That’s the most important relationship on the set.”

Scot has made three films now. “I’ve had some interesting lessons,” she says — experiences she can apply to the local film industry. “I’d like to see it grow more,” she says. “There’s a lot going on, but it’s secretive. …If you increase the market, you increase the number of cast and crew and everybody has to up their game to keep up. Also, films bring a lot of money into an economy [and] in Western North Carolina we have about every kind of filming location you can imagine.”

Helping to bolster local film making efforts tops Scot’s list, but so does entering Sangria Lift into festivals. She’s hoping to show at HollyShorts Film Festival (“They’ve made a commitment to watch every film that comes through”), Portland Film Festival and, of course, Sundance Film Festival. “I’ve got probably about 30 that I hope to get into,” says Scot. Sangria Lift is about to log some major mileage.

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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