The Genealogy of Hell or High Water

The dedication at the end of the film says it all.

The biggest surprise of this film awards season is arguably Hell or High Water, a modern-day Western shot in New Mexico by a Scottish filmmaker. At tonight’s Critics’ Choice Awards, the movie is nominated for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Acting Ensemble and Supporting Actor (Jeff Bridges, Ben Foster).

Another striking aspect of the film is the dedication that appears at the end. The inscription is in memory of director David Mackenzie’s parents, who died within four months of each other in Perthshire, Scotland during the making of the film.

Mackenzie’s mother Ursula Mackenzie passed away peacefully at age 75 on July 11, 2015, followed by his father John Mackenzie on Nov. 26, 2015, at age 86. Dad, a former Royal Navy Rear-Admiral who went on in retirement to serve passionately as the executive director of the Atlantic Salmon Trust, received extensive write-ups in Scottish newspapers The Scotsman and Daily Herald.

The memory of dad also came up during an interview given by the director to the Irish Times:

Mackenzie’s late father, Rear-Admiral John Mackenzie, was, he admits, somewhat perplexed when David and his actor brother, Alistair Mackenzie (star of Monarch of the Glen), went into the arts.

“I did have a great aunt who was a sculptress in the 30s and 40s,” he explains. “But my father was very much a naval man and he was quite confused by our career choices.”

A keen photographer, Mackenzie trained at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee, and took a job in a rep cinema, where he binged on canonical films.

“I had this revelation when I watched 2001, Alphaville, Stranger Than Paradise, Koyaanisqatsi and Caravaggio all in the same week,” he recalls. “Each of them blew my mind.”

One of the songs on the Hell or High Water soundtrack is Gillian Welch’s “I’m Not Afraid to Die.” That was most likely true of Mackenzie’s dad. RIP.