Writer/Director Wes Hurley on His New Film “Potato Dreams of America” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Writer/Director Wes Hurley on His New Film “Potato Dreams of America”

My Mom Is My Best Friend

Jan 21, 2022 Web Exclusive
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For those living in Seattle, Washington or the Pacific Northwest, at large, the name Wes Hurley carries significant weight. He created the series, Capitol Hill, which starred a number of big name drag, burlesque, and boylesque performers in the region, from Waxie Moon to Jinkx Monsoon and BenDeLaCreme. He has an eye for drama, direction, and talent.

Hurley is a focused, driven artist who uses the area around him and those with star potential (whether the world will notice or not) nearby to create beautiful, even genius work. Hurley’s latest efforts involve his life story. First it was the 10-minute short, Little Potato, and now it’s the full-length film based on it, Potato Dreams of America. The work is tender, eye-opening and full of surprises.

Born in Russia, Hurley and his mother emigrated to the U.S. in, well, an odd way. But it makes the story that much more amazing (see the trailer below). We caught up with the filmmaker to ask him a few questions about his new movie, which just earned some new distributors (Dark Star and HBO!), how it’s influenced him, and what’s next.

Jake Uitti (Under the Radar): Do you remember the first movie scene you fell in love with?

Wes Hurley: The opening credits of Curly Sue. It’s a montage of Curly Sue’s little treasures that she brings with her everywhere. Georges Delereu’s sweet but sad score is what made it special.

I know Potato Dreams of America began with a short 10-minute film. When did you know you had to make that?

There’s a thing that happened with my American stepfather that I don’t want to give away. When it happened in real life, it felt so much like an [Pedro] Almodóvar melodrama, I knew it had to become a film at some point. During the Sochi Olympics controversy, I realized that people here know very little about Russia and the gay experience in Russia, in particular.

I wrote the script for Potato Dreams of America in 2012 but getting the film made turned out to be a huge challenge. In 2016, thanks to a small grant from 4Culture [in Seattle] I was able to make the shorts, both Little Potato and the experimental VR piece, Potato Dreams. The intention behind them was to create momentum for the feature—and it paid off.

What was the process like of turning a short into a full-length feature?

The script for the feature came first. But having to condense the story into two shorts definitely helped refine the narrative in my mind. Especially after watching Little Potato with so many audiences.

The film has done rather well in festivals and has won some major awards. What has been a top achievement and does this positive attention surprise you in any way?

The most exciting thing is having the film get limited theatrical release. It’s harder and harder to get a small indie into theaters and I’m really grateful to Dark Star, our distributor, for believing in the film in such a big way.

I’m also thrilled about HBO being our distributor in Europe. And Little Potato getting picked up by Criterion Channel. Criterion was literally my film school so I couldn’t be more excited to have my little short screening alongside the greatest filmmakers of all time.

Hersh Powers and Jonathan Bennett on the set (photo by Bronwen Houck)
Hersh Powers and Jonathan Bennett on the set (photo by Bronwen Houck)

You’ve been making work for years now, often centered on queer protagonists and having to do with Seattle. What have you learned about yourself as an artist over the past, say, 10 years?

That I’m very stubborn. You have to be persistent in this industry. Resistance and rejection just make me push harder and looking back it has paid off.

What is your relationship with your mother, who is a central character in the film, today?

My mom is my best friend, just as she was when I was a kid. Growing up, it was the two of us against the world so we have a very powerful bond having weathered a lot of great challenges together. She’s my biggest hero.

When you think of Russia today, what comes to mind?

I have made a conscious effort to begin my life anew when we came to the States. Russia is very complicated for me. It’s frozen in my childhood memory. I know it’s changed a lot since then, both for better and for worse, but I’m not interested in finding out how. But I’m also very aware of how every single thing about me is shaped by my experience growing up in Russia: my political views, my relationship to being a gay man, my relationship to my being an artist.

What’s next for you?

I’m writing a couple of screenplays. One is another true story with a gay protagonist based in Seattle in the ’90s. But I’m also eager to get into horror film. Horror is my favorite genre and it will be a fun challenge to try something different.

What do you love most about what you do?

I love the pre-production and production stage of filmmaking. I have a very clear vision about what I want to do, down to every frame. But when you start bringing on creative collaborators, inevitably they make it their own. That process of seeing actors embody the characters you wrote, the art department interpreting your vision to build costumes and sets, it’s such a fun experience to see something that started out in your head take shape and seeing talented people from various disciplines take ownership of that and put themselves into it, reshaping it. It’s absolutely thrilling. I love that film requires mixing of so many different artforms and opportunities to work with so many talented people.



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