Q&A with Nathan Christ, director of “Echotone”

Next week, San Antonio will play host to the premiere of “Echotone,” a documentary feature from San Antonio native Nathan Christ. Christ’s film explores Austin’s music scene with an intimate focus on the city’s artists and the relationship between artistic integrity and commerce. Viva corresponded with Christ, a graduate of the University of Texas in Austin, to gain some insight into his film and the filmmaking process. The San Antonio premiere of “Echotone” will be held at 7:30 on Tuesday, September 6 at the Santikos Bijou Cinema Bistro on Fredericksburg Road.

What inspired you to examine Austin’s music scene in this way?

It might help to explain the title. Echotone means a tension in ecologies. It’s when two ecologies overlap.  And there’s the period in between, like in a Venn diagram, where one side has to dominate, but it has to be a communication, a collaboration and a harmony, or one side takes over completely and the system collapses. That is exactly what was happening in Austin with the development downtown and how that’s affecting the venues. It also has to do, on a more symbolic level, with some of the art and commerce questions that come up in the film. Like at what level is selling your music not okay? There are a lot of overlapping tensions within the film, so [the name] Echotone seems to encapsulate all of those.

How do feel about the response this film has encouraged so far?

The response in other cities has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s been impossible to overlook that. We are expanding it into a minseries actually, and have just launched a Kickstarter campaign. We’re trying to tell the story on a nationwide level right now. Since moving to Chicago, I’ve discovered that the story of art influencing commerce isn’t unique to Austin. I find there’s tons of similarity between Chicago in Austin. It’s because there’s a [do it yourself] ethic here. I know they have that in L.A. and New York in a strong way, but in Chicago and Austin, people are able to make it, and it’s because of the community, it’s because of the support. “Echotone’s” story isn’t over. We just got done shooting for two weeks in Chicago, we’re going to shoot in New York starting September 3, and we’re going to shoot in L.A. by the end of 2011. We want to make “Echotone” a nationwide movement; this is a tipping point in our culture and five years later it’s all going to look totally different. I don’t know how it will end up, but right now it’s very unstable, and documenting it is very important.

A lot of praise has been directed towards Robert Garza’s photography. Was there a specific atmosphere or style you were hoping to convey?

Definitely. Robert and I set out to strike a balance between the gritty punk dive clubs and the sweeping Koyaanisquatsi cityscapes. In order to get our point across, we had to hit the audience over the head with dirty handheld rock n’ roll and the more composed, thoughtful establishment shots. We also made sure to employ the cinema verite “fly on the wall” approach whenever filming our subjects in their elements. We tried to stay away from boring “talking head” interviews as much as possible.

Why might Echotone be of particular interest to Trinity students?

The story we are telling is not just about artists and musicians. It’s about where America has been over the past years, where it’s headed, and what it values in its communities. This is not just about struggling for your art. It’s about being heard in your local government, it’s about running a small business, it’s about sustaining in this culture on your own terms. There are some critical questions, conflicts, and messages that I wish I had known coming out of college.