“Sam basically just put faith in me to tell the story how I saw it,” explains Reed. “When he saw [Sam Now], his first reaction was relief. He was relieved that I showed how messy family is, and he was relieved that he wasn’t made out to be some perfect hero — that his vulnerabilities were revealed.”
“In the conversations that we had after, there were many moments of release for the family members,” Reed continues. “People hold on to their versions of these stories in certain ways that harbor pain.”
Using art as therapy, Reed and Sam decided that Sam’s superhero alter ego, the Blue Panther, should find his missing mom. Sam Now doesn’t talk down to these fantasies; instead, it brings them to life, in vivid, hyper-saturated color. Set to the music of The Sonics, the Pacific Northwest’s original rock stars, the Blue Panther sequences are a rollicking treat, more than worthy of a head bang.
The Sam Films of their childhood, including the original slapstick-y Blue Panther reels, serve as a time capsule that hinted at the filmmaking future to come.
“I was the kid that rented every independent film at the video store, and then I was like, ‘Okay, now I’m gonna go make movies with a camera I found in my dad’s garage,'” Reed reflects. “There is some creative brilliance in that young version of myself, and then there’s also so much mistake-ism. It’s got a lot of grit and rawness, and that was something I learned that I loved.”
Sam Now is full of tonal shifts, as the viewer is yanked from fantasy to reality and back again. After the reprieve of the Blue Panther comes a world of terse silences. The grainy camcorder replaces the warm Super 8 camera. The effect is like repeatedly being woken up from a dream. Indeed, Sam Now continually upends audience expectations. The viewer can never pin down its genre, let alone predict its emotional endpoint. Will the film end with Jois being found? With Jois explaining herself? Or with Jois repairing her relationship with her sons?
One of these twists, executed like a perfect backflip, is the film’s 10-year time jump from 1995 to 2015. Suddenly, beards have grown, gray hairs have sprouted, and wrinkles have formed. Sam goes from a headstrong teen to a thoughtful adult; Reed grows from a budding filmmaker to a professional. Nokias are replaced with iPhones; answering machines with email. Reed calls his long-haul project “patient filmmaking,” comparing it to time-lapse photography that reveals how a flower blooms.
“I was able to do patient filmmaking because it’s my family and because they weren’t going to go away,” reflects Reed. “I did a lot of intentional non-filming. If it didn’t feel right to film, I wouldn’t. If it felt like I was pushing boundaries, I would be like, ‘Okay, I’m not filming’ …
“With Sam, I developed a process of: we have to hang out at least as much without any camera or talk of filmmaking as we do with the camera. I think we did a really good job keeping that balance,” Reed continues. “That was really helpful for us moving forward after the movie — to recognize that we put our relationship before the filmmaking.”
With this time jump, the past resounds in surprising ways, becoming ripe for reinterpretation and renegotiation. As a kid, Sam was nicknamed “Candybones” because he seemed immune to injury. In Reed’s dreamy Super 8 movies, he’s always the one falling down, getting a pie in the face, or racing down the street in his comically oversized bicycle. Now, that very resilience, which allowed him to cope so well with Jois’ disappearance, seems like a curse.
To draw out these fractured narratives, Sam Now takes big artistic risks. The lovingly crafted film creates timelines, fridge poetry, and projector reels out of the Jois mystery. This is a film that rewards rewatching; each frame is packed with visual flourishes that double as emotional clues. With its smorgasbord of filming styles, Sam Now creates its own idiosyncratic aesthetic. There’s the harsh light of the camcorder, the dreaminess of Super 8, the avant-garde allure of black-and-white, the grown-up sophistication of the digital camera. The childhood Super 8 footage is a standout, oozing with nostalgia, like youthful exuberance bottled up. Every lens flare, speck of dust, skip, and scratch makes it feel so warm, so textured, so indelibly alive.
“It’s a movie where I create my own palette within the movie, and my evolution as a filmmaker is revealed within the movie,” explains Reed. “It’s a very vulnerable thing for me to do, but I loved it, and I wanted to do that from the get-go. I really like any projects that show the artist’s hand — even as a brushstroke. It’s always been helpful to me as a budding filmmaker when I can see things where I understand what the filmmakers are going through.”
Sam Now is a tough film to categorize, and it’s all the better for it. It’s an experimental crowd-pleaser that’s certain to leave few dry eyes in the theater. Reed has whittled down 25 years of footage, ephemera, and memories into a tight, 90-minute jewel. For him, this kaleidoscopic approach felt the most honest.
“The mixture of all of those things, I think, is maximum authenticity. It’s all of these levels of my voice; it’s all these levels of my relationship to my brother,” he reflects. “How many ways can I tear my chest open so that my heart can see? I don’t know what gave me the impression that that would be a good idea — but it’s been a completely arduous and beautiful experience.”
Sam Now Film Trailer