“You Plan to Make a Film and Then You Try Not to Make the Film You Planned on Making”: Jake Mahaffy on Free in Deed

Filmmaker Magazine | 9/13/2017 | Scott Macaulay
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by Scott Macaulay

Filmmaker readers first encountered the singular cinema of Jake Mahaffy back in 2005, when we placed him on our “25 New Faces” list on the basis of his extraordinary, Tarkovsky-esqure War, a post-collapse saga shot on a handcranked camera (and made years before post-collapse films and television became suddenly fashionable). On the basis of that film and the two features that have followed — including his latest, Free in Deed, currently in theaters (in New York, it’s playing Cinema Village) — Mahaffy has, in my opinion, staked out a quiet reputation as one of our most accomplished and necessary of independent auteurs. His films, dealing with people who find themselves untethered from social, political or interpersonal moorings, are rigorously conceived works that are alive to life’s rhythms and unexpected in their narrative development. They don’t necessarily adhere to a pre-conceived style — both his sophomore feature, the SXSW-winning Wellness and Free in Deed are, visually, far away from the primitive austerity of War. But they are all rigorous fusings of form and subject matter and by a filmmaker for whom a deep questioning is the basis of story. In Free in Deed, about an African-American pentecostal healer, that questioning is a particularly severe one having to do with the limits and implausibilities of faith. Or, that’s one way to read it, as Mahaffy’s approach is open-ended enough with regards to its treatment of religion — indeed, near-documentary scenes shot in basement churches crackle with the passions and authenticities of their participants — so as to be read as a parable for the faithful.

Deed - Story - Milwaukee - Minister - Child

Free in Deed is based on a real-life story of a Milwaukee minister convicted of child abuse for his misguided attempt to perform an exorcism on an eight-year-old boy. Mahaffy has transposed the action to...
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