Tragedies, accidents — you see or read about them every day. A grainy photo pulled from a social media site goes up on a local news channel. The site of a wreck might be shown, with a close-up of taut police tape straining against the wind. Maybe there are a few stoic lines from the family asking for privacy during this difficult time, lost among every “I’m sorry for your loss” and “I’m here if you need to talk.” But at a time defined not by words but by silence, by the weight of the empty space on the other side of the bed, the bookmark in the middle of the novel, or the unopened Christmas presents under the tree — what can even be said or done to truly understand the trials of loss?

In his first feature film while working as director, actor and writer, Blake Robbins creates a quiet and honest portrait of grief in his film The Sublime and Beautiful, capturing the various realities a family must contend with as they find themselves suspended in the grip of tragedy. With a world premiere at Park City’s Slamdance Film Festival and a nominee in its Best Narrative Feature category, Robbins’ film welcomes viewers at the beginning into the home of Dave Conrad, an ordinary middle-aged man, college professor, father of three, husband, and sometimes boyfriend of his graduate assistant. By the film’s conclusion, the audience sees Dave end a chapter of his life, bereaved of his children, his sense of self, and any semblance of his former life.

Dave begins his downward spiral the night a drunk driver plows into the family’s car while he is out at a bar with his graduate assistant, under the guise of working late grading papers. His night ends with the task of identifying his children’s bodies in the morgue, and realizing that his wife was recovering in the same room as the perpetrator, the former he spends ignoring throughout the rest of the film while fixating his rage and grief on seeking revenge on the elderly driver.

The Sublime and Beautiful is a slow-burning study on the aftermath of heartbreak, punctuated by scenes that allow the viewer to infer on his or her own the machinations of Dave’s mind — leaving his baby’s car seat on a random lawn, freezing up in front of a classroom of students, and having a breakdown in an empty church. Cast performances are solid, most notably Laura Kirk as Dave’s wife, Kelly, especially during her chilling scene at the children’s gravesite, and a very angry, very public collapse after an attempt to make a public appearance at a Christmas party with her husband, eschewing the stares and whispers of those who pity her, who see her not as Kelly or Mrs. Conrad, but “Mom with Dead Kids.”

The 48-year-old Los Angeles resident, who was born in Turkey when his father was stationed there with the U.S. Navy, presided over the film with “complete, autonomous control” thanks to funding it through Kickstarter, alleviating him of any creative obligations to a large production company. With the input of his local cast, he saw his vision through, extoling their efforts with much appreciation. This well-established and versatile actor has had roles in various films and hit T.V. shows like Sons of Anarchy, Oz and The Office, and has starred in over 60 theatre productions, including The Man Who Had All the Luck on Broadway, all of which have given him the experience and ability to create an unprecedented look into the human condition when experiencing and dealing with inner darkness.

GALO caught up to Robbins while he was in Park City, Utah for the premiere of his film at Slamdance, where he spoke eloquently about the topic of loss and grief in the film, the dark places he and the cast had to allow themselves to go, and his motivations for creating The Sublime and Beautiful.

GALO: You’re in Park City right now for Slamdance, and yesterday was the premiere of your directorial debut. What does it mean for your film, and for yourself as a filmmaker, to have your work chosen to be featured at Slamdance? How do you feel audiences responded to your film?

Blake Robbins: Well, it’s a game changer, no question about it. You know, when you make a small do-it-yourself micro budget film without celebrities, and you execute it at the highest level you possibly can, the next thing you need is for people to say, “Oh, I liked that film,” or “Oh, that deserves an audience,” and I can’t think of a better circumstance for our film than the Slamdance Film Festival — just in the reverence I have for them and that they have in the industry for independent films, truly independent films. It’s a game changer without question. The attention the film is now getting through the selection process and the fact that they are so selective in the films they choose, just does for the film what any filmmaker would hope for, which is awareness.

GALO: You successfully crowdfunded your film on Kickstarter — which is a relatively new way to go about producing a film. What kind of liberties did that allow you as a filmmaker, and at the same time, were there any obstacles you had to face because of that decision?

BR: Never having done it before, I had nothing to compare it to, but as an actor, I’ve seen films that are beholden to people who put money into films creatively. I didn’t have any of that. I had complete, autonomous creative control and I loved it. I soaked it up. I had to make the film in a very unusual way and I didn’t need anyone backseat driving me. We wouldn’t have gotten there if I couldn’t be making all the decisions on the fly. Being supported by a crazy-talented group of cast and crew, who’s like, “Oh, I’ll go along with you, I’ll sign up for your vision,” and none of that was distracted by another creative energy.

We were all on the same page — “Let’s make Blake’s movie and support Blake.” And when they were weighing in, it was “I see what you’re trying to achieve; let me offer this,” and it just brought such amazing stuff to it. It’ll be interesting to work with other people’s money, that’s definitely a responsibility you can’t take too lightly. I firmly believe that movies should be made for the right price. I think this movie was.

GALO: What was the catalyst that prompted you to want to make a film about grief and the fallout from tragedy?

BR: My own experiences with grief and tragedy — I lost my best friend from college to a brain tumor when we were still in our 20s. It was devastating for me — a loss of innocence. It is the lens I’ve viewed life through since that happened. The circumstances of the script mostly overlap the fact that I had a real experience with a drunk driver. When I was in college, a drunk driver hit my aunt prior to Christmas, so a lot of those circumstances and some of the story were informed by that. It was very much important to me that I create a fictional narrative story, but I injected as much truth not only from my story, but also from stories that I gathered along the way.

(Interview continued on next page)