Meditative, poetic, and deeply observational, writer-director Matthew Porterfield’s films of working-class life simmer with a persistent disquietude just below their benign surfaces. His debut, Hamilton (2006), set and shot in the titular Baltimore neighborhood — where Porterfield grew up and still lives — won widespread acclaim for its quotidian potency.
Porterfield’s new film, Putty Hill — a deft, seamless combination of narrative fiction and fake documentary – is named after and set in another local neighborhood familiar to him. He shot it along the city’s northeast corridor, in Southwest Baltimore’s Carroll Park, and in southern Pennsylvania, just over the state line from Baltimore County.
Since it opened to hosannas in New York this past February, Putty Hill has gradually rolled out to Baltimore, Washington, Los Angeles, Nashville, and Columbus (Ohio), with future dates throughout the rest of the U.S.
When not making films, Porterfield, 33, teaches screenwriting and production in Johns Hopkins University’s Film and Media Studies program. He was awarded the Janet & Walter Sondheim Prize last week.
Sum up your life philosophy in one sentence.
Get yours and share.
When did you define your most important goals, and what are they?
My only goal is to keep making movies.
What is the best advice you ever got that you followed?
David Lee Roth once told me, “You have the aura of burning tires: Use it!”
The worst advice, and did you follow it? Or how did you muffle it?
“You should try Salvia.” I didn’t. Special K was paralyzing enough.
What are the three most surprising truths you’ve discovered in your
1) You can do a lot with a little bit of money.
2) You’re more like your parents than you think.
3) You reach a point where you don’t like what the young people are
What is the best moment of the day?
Play time with my cats, Trudy and Mo.
What is on your bedside table?
At the moment, three books (John Waters’ Role Models, Werner Herzog’s
Conquest of the Useless, and Dieter Roth’s MOMA monograph), a deer-shaped
candle, a tissue box, and a mimikaki.
What is your favorite local charity?
The Abell Foundation.
What advice would you give a young person who aspires to do what you
Start with a story that’s close to home. Keep it simple. And forget prop guns.
Why are you successful?
I don’t scare easy.
What do you hope viewers will take away from Putty Hill?
A feeling akin to excitement.
Do you plan to set and shoot your next film in the Baltimore area?
Do you agree that Timonium and Linthicum sound like lesser-known
elements on the Periodic Table?