Call + Response: Last Signs of June
Composer: Idit Shner + Filmmaker: Deejuliano Scott
Who Can Resist Jazz?
by Kristin Thiel
photos by Liz Moughon
“Your dad,” Unc says haltingly, not meeting his niece Ori’s eyes, “said the only time he ever saw him was when he played music. He said he likes…jazz.” After the two characters in Deejuliano Scott’s film “Last Signs of June” share a small, uncomfortable laugh, Unc finishes, any levity gone from his eyes:
“Bigfoot likes jazz.”
It may be one of the most unexpected lines in the 2021 Call + Response. Have any real Northwest’s Bigfoot hunters tried jazz to lure their prey? Scott explained his thinking for pairing the famous, and elusive, creature with jazz: “Because Bigfoot is a mythical creature, we wanted to paint it in a different way than what may be the norm in most films. But,” he added, “truthfully, who can resist jazz?”
Scott’s father-daughter Bigfoot hunt—but more importantly, Ori’s search for her dad, June, who disappeared while going after Bigfoot when Ori was a young girl—begins before we hear one note of Idit Shner’s composition “Fingerprints.” This was at first unintentional, as Scott realized he was being “overly ambitious” and needed to provide more story context for the viewer before the music started. But it ended up being a smart artistic choice. Scott said, “I think because of that, the music really drives the story though. It became a point of emphasis and an integral part of the visuals. We made a lot of decisions in the film based on the song.” In fact, as Ori (portrayed by Andrea Vernae) begins her journey to find her dad, she puts a cassette June left behind in her car’s player—and it’s of Shner’s “Fingerprints,” pulling the real directly into this fictional world.
Though Scott was at first nervous about being a first-time director, he was firm footed as he “push[ed] my creativity in the story.” He spent days listening to Shner’s song and then brought his good friend Joseph Matos in to help him brainstorm and refine his ideas. (Scott credits his whole team with allowing him to succeed in the project’s unique process, time, and budget framework. In addition to Matos, Scott singles out Andi Hummel and Joe Bowden, Scott’s producer and director of photography, respectively. They “were absolutely amazing in handling the logistics that I tend to overlook. Andi especially killed it in every way! She is a spreadsheet boss! Forever grateful for their flexibility and willingness!”) All this effort and support allowed him to reach his ambitious goal: to tell a story that takes place in the woods, “to create a Black narrative in a genre that doesn’t often have Black people represented,” and to respond to “the constant shift” in details when, every time they listened to the song, “a new idea sprouted.”
New thoughts may have flown during brainstorming, but they were usually rooted in pieces of Scott’s, and Matos’s, background. “I am an avid backpacker,” Scott said. “I know crossing paths with animals is a risk you take when backpacking. So as Joseph and I were brainstorming, we liked that June accidentally stumbled across signs of Bigfoot, sending him into an obsession that so many may reject because of the myths around it. As June flirts with what he believes to be truth, and understanding how crazy he may sound, he takes on this obsession to prove to people that Bigfoot exists, but also that he isn’t crazy. Although this insight isn’t completely portrayed in the film, this was our launching point for why Ori was in the woods.” He made June’s child a daughter because, he said, “growing up between two sisters, l saw strong personality traits that have flourished into my sisters being boss women! They both are doing what they love but also still carry a joy for the outdoors.” What sealed the choice of a daughter over a son was meeting Vernae—“we felt she was exactly who we were looking for to play the main character.”
Before the goosebump-producing final scene, there’s a trippy “is this real or not?” interaction between Ori and Bigfoot that also incorporates a part of Scott’s background: Bigfoot hands Ori June’s cross necklace. Scott explained, “Pulling from our [Scott’s and Matos’s] lives, we grew up Christian, and my dad was always rocking a cross. Joseph’s dad was a pastor, and we wanted to pay homage to how they raised us. It was an integral part of who they were; this had a direct impact on who we are today. So, it felt culturally right to have the dad [in the film] wear the necklace. I also liked having that symbol of faith in there because Bigfoot is viewed as a mythical creature, and you have to have some form of faith behind Sasquatch’s existence. It just felt very different to see that in there, and I liked it.”
After a weekend of the cast and crew camping together to film the movie, Scott said his “love for nature, hope, acceptance, and relationships and a sense of love in the mystery of Bigfoot came out in our creative choices,” which ultimately made a lot of sense for his contribution to Call + Response. As he explained, “It wasn’t so much the final product but the time spent together creating it. This project created lifelong friendships…and that is the story I will tell when reflecting on this experience.”