TAELOR Ranzau’s life was turned upside down when in her mid-teens her billionaire oil-tycoon father was mysteriously murdered. After family disputes, Taelor emancipated herself from her mother and set out down a free-spirited path of her own.
Nicolas Peduzzi’s documentary Southern Belle gives an unflinching look at Taelor’s life and an American culture of drugs, alcohol and guns. With the Southern Belle’s UK premiere at Raindance Film Festival on the horizon, Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge caught up with Nicolas to learn more about his highly-anticipated film.
Q: How did you meet Taelor and when did you decide to make a film about her?
A: I decided to make the film the first time I met Taelor. It was ten years ago, we were in a relationship first and then just really good friends for a few years. I went visit her family in Texas many times and I was fascinated by this place where the airport is named after George Bush. It was something of a hell in earth for Taelor, she hated Houston but had to go.
Taelor immediately struck me as someone very touching and interesting. She carried something tragic and funny at the same time, an archetype of a Southern Belle. She was free and rebellious but a victim of her environment. People would judge her because she was very different and looked like a doll, but then she was so smart and funny that they would immediately have to respect her.
Q: Did Taelor have any reservations about being the subject of a film?
A: AT first she was the engine of the film and she even wrote the entire voice-over! But when her family, especially her mother, showed that they were very much against it and suing us, she retracted against the movie too.
Her relationship with this film is changing all the time. One moment she’s proud of it, the next she hates it. Taelor is very complex and tempestuous woman, that’s why she interested me.
Q: Guns, addiction and old money are just a few subjects explored in the film. Can you talk about the themes you address in Southern Belle?
A: I think the main theme is the curse that money can sometimes be. For Taelor money represents a malediction, it is symbolic of the things that hurt her the most in life – the death of her father and also her imprisonement in a Mormon camp by her mother.
Another theme is the fact that 90% of Americans are diagnosed ADD and given amphetamines that, like she’s says in the movie, ruined her life and created a nation of addicts. But yes, guns and old money are part of the Southern culture and they are omnipresent. Many of Taelor’s friends died from guns and she also was shot when she was teen.
Q: What does the film say about modern America and how is that reflected through Taelor?
A: SHE talks about the sadness and the confusion of many people, but not just in America. I think America is a good precursor of what is happening in Europe in terms of decadency and confusion.
She’s a typical American girl, of course, but she represents a certain part of America and carries the contradiction in her of everything we love and hate about it. Taelor has always been trying to escape America. I think she feels judged in this city. She is very conscious of America and Houston, as she says ‘this city has claimed a lot of lives.’
Q: As you say, you knew Taelor well before this project. How did your relationship develop over the process of making the film?
A: AT first she was really key to the film and was involved in a lot of aspects. In fact, she introduced me to her oncle David (a very edgy character in the movie) and many other people that you can see in the movie.
But our relationship was difficult because she was blaming the movie for everything bad that happened in her life during the filming. Like I said, Taelor is very complex and her life has made her overly suspicious of people, so it was hyper difficult to carry on filming at times. She pointed a gun at me two times, but at the same time she was trying to buy spy cameras to film inside some secret places in Houston.
Taelor had very contradictory feelings all the time and then she also had face the criticism from her family. But we are still like brother and sister today and I hope to make another movie with her.
Q: The film begins with Taelor in a bar singing Sam Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come. Why did you want to open the film on this image?
A: BECAUSE Taelor is very strong and extremely fragile at the same time. She’s a fighter and, despite everything and the madness of the humans around her, she still hopes and wants change. In fact, she knew that change would come as she had a baby right after the movie and went to live with her husband in Canada.
Q: Judging by the trailer and stills of the film, Southern Belle has an intimate camera style. Can you tell us about your visual approach?
A: THERE was not much thought about the visuals, it was more a practical thing. We wanted to only have a few people on set to stay intimate with her and very close to the characters. We also needed to be flexible because Taelor moves a lot and she is very unpredictable.
Q: I love the title. It has a French connection, but also harkens back to the old South literature characters. Why did you chose the title ‘Southern Belle’?
A: I am also a big reader of Southern literature and I always thought that Taelor carries in her an archetype of the old South and characters like Blanche DuBois or a Scarlett O’Hara, but less in a sophisticated way and more in a modern punk way. Also, she has this very lyrical way of talking that is unique to the South.
Q: How did your perception of Taelor and Houston, Texas change over the course of the making the film?
A: I love Texas. The people are very kind and I also found the underground culture interesting because it comes from a real rebellion. Of course, it is a very conservative State where people are still executed in 2018, so it has a terrible aspect and contradiction to it that also interested me in this movie. It is also absurd that you can buy a gun at the supermarket!
Q: I believe you will be in attendance at Raindance Film Festival in London. Do you have a message for UK audiences ahead of the screening?
A: I love English movies. The UK is a very cinematic place and an important place for cinema. I am very proud to show my movie in England and specially as part of this great festival. I hope it will be understood or that people will be curious about it.