Short Films in Focus: Belongings | Features

Q&A with director Alex Coppola

How did this come about? (spoilers!)

Morgan and I were actually connected through mutual friends. They were organizing a fundraiser for a youth writing non-profit, which in the past, had been a live storytelling event. Because of Covid, though, they needed to shift gears a bit and asked if we could make a film for a virtual event, instead.

Morgan was getting ready to publish his debut novel at the time and had already considered turning one of the short stories from that book into a film. And those stories are amazing. The issue was that we really didn’t have the time or resources to hire actors and a crew to produce a narrative. So I asked if he had any non-fiction that he was working on and he sent me this story about the unusual (maybe supernatural?) events in his childhood home. Including the mystery turd. And I loved it. The humor, tone—everything that makes Morgan’s fiction so compelling was all there. And so that anecdote became the spine of this larger story about loss and his relationship with his mom.

You made a movie about someone else’s hauntings and how they relate to their spiritual beliefs. Have you had any similar experiences yourself?

I’m admittedly not a spiritual person. Or a big believer in the supernatural. But I do believe Morgan. Which I know sounds contradictory. And I don’t really know how to reconcile those two ideas, myself. But I think the reason the story works at all, is because Morgan never asks us to. That is, it’s not important whether we as viewers believe in spirits or an afterlife—when it comes to questioning what happens when we die, we’re all essentially chasing ghosts.

A lot of short docs with a central storyteller go the way of animation, puppetry, or other stylized choice to help tell the story (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Was there ever any temptation to go that route with this?

I’m always tempted by the idea of incorporating animation into a new project, but again, just haven’t had the wherewithal or time to do that. And those limitations are challenging, but they’re also fun. I knew we weren’t going to be able to stage any convincing reenactments of the events that Morgan describes, so we kind of went the other direction—intentionally drawing attention to the camera and the budget (or lack thereof) and treating the visuals a little more playfully. But would an animated treatment of the exorcism sequence have been fun? Absolutely.