GenArt Film Festival - Life Through the Movies - April 5, 2008
Life Through the Movies
The Visual Arts Theatre– New York, NY
April 5, 2008
On Saturday, a panel discussion was held with several of the filmmakers whose films are a part of the 2008 GenArt Film Festival. GenArt’s Jeff Abramson, who moderated the discussion, described it as being a “chill, cool John Favreau/Dinner for Five-like discussion.” There was no formal theme or topic, like last year’s panel, Media Ecology, which I put in my top 10 panels of 2007. I learned so much from that. This year’s panel was more laid back where everything from how the filmmakers’ projects came into being to what their favorite films were among the questions asked.
Jeff Abramson - VP, Film Division, GenArt
Rajeev Dassani – Director, A Day’s Work
Brian Davis – Director, If A Body Meet a Body
Tim Sanderson – Director, Nightlife
Frank Weysos – Nightlife
Christina Voros – Director, The Ladies
Jon Paskowitz – Producer, Surfwise
Gene Stavis – School of Visual Arts
Abramson: The topic of this panel is life through movies. It’s intentionally vague and was conceptualized because it would go well with the film Surfwise. Why does a subject, whether in the narrative or documentary form, warrant having a film made about it? Why is it so important and prolific? How did Surfwise come into being?
Paskowtiz: It was years of people being really into our family who felt we were living a Utopian lifestyle. We gained a lot of press and attention. People were interested in learning the surfing lifestyle. My dad is an 88-year-old physician and still married. He tried to be a regular doctor, but hated it. He would rather go for health and family instead of wealth and prosperity. My dad’s a kind of Yoda in the surfing industry. I thought it was important for his voice to be heard. We were in bliss and ignorant of society. We were very happy living as opossums in an RV. The film is meant to capture my father’s philosophies on life and sex. My brother is a screenwriter in LA. You can work in the entertainment industry and have no education. People have expressed to me that their lives have changes just by meeting my father. Surfing works with all sorts of people from autistic children to someone who needs a lot of zing in their life.
Abramson: Christina, tells us about your film? Why did you choose the subject?
Voros: It’s about my two aunts who have been living together for the past 23 years. It’s a portrait of two people who amazingly love each other even though they want to kill each other. It happened because I had to produce a ten-minute documentary in film school. I happened to be sleeping on their couch during school. I was sort of going crazy and a friend said you should make a film about my aunts. It was originally conceived as a larger project. I was struggling to find a story to fit within a certain timeframe. There were moments that grabbed me that this was their relationship. I was drawn to moments that showed their love and hatred towards each other. I was making the film for me, but also making it for them.
Abramson: Brian, why did you pick the subject for your film?
Davis: It’s about a coroner’s office. I was interested in why they do this type of job and who they deal with it psychologically. It just focuses on the aspect of them dealing with their job. When I started it, it was more of an institutional film about what happens to your body when it goes to the coroner. I didn’t have all my characters then.
Abramson: What connection does your film make with the audience?
Davis: All documentaries have to have something universally appealing or something everyone relates to. In mine, it’s about dying.
Abramson: Rajeev, the subject matter in your film, A Day’s Work, is very real and topical. Why did you choose to make this film as a narrative?
Dassani: The film is about a white American family who hire a day laborer. It came about when by brother used two day laborers in his apartment. They were fascinating characters. I could have made a documentary about them. In the end, I decided to shoot it as a narrative to tell a story about people that’s more involved. It was all improvised. It was like a documentary. There was no blocking. I let the scenes develop naturally. The film connects with people because the subject is really important now, but I’m not an issue filmmaker. I tell stories with characters. This style appeals to me because we all react to things in the world and we’re watching the actors react. I wanted to shoot a documentary that wasn’t a documentary.
Abramson: Tim, you set out to make a narrative in a documentary style and in the horror genre. Why did you pick you subject matter?
Sanderson: The characters were based on reality. It’s all about connection. Walter Murch once said that of all the art forms, film is the most similar to human thoughts. Also when you dream, you dream in cuts. It’s about escape and going to this dreamlike world.
Weysos: In the end, the movie is about friends, busting balls and playing games. The whole film was like that, behind the camera, too. We’re basically vampires. We all had the same goals.
Abramson: There have been a lot of changes in society and culture throughout history. Why does cinema still resonate with society?
Stavis: Cave drawings in France show the very first evidence of man creating images. The drawings depict cattle with 8 legs because they were trying to convey motion. We had a long time to prepare for film. Film still hangs on, no matter what medium comes out. There’s no experience like watching a film on the big screen.
Abramson: Do you get a sense if documentaries are more impacting than narratives?
Stavis: It’s impossible to say. It’s whatever interests an artist. We’re dealing with an art here. Worthiness s a big question.
Abramson: What were some crucial moments in your cinematic upbringings that made you realize the power of film?
Davis: I used to live in New York working at a shitty paralegal job. I made a film with friends in Virginia. It was fun and I wanted to go to film school. I liked American Movie. I identified with those guys.
Stavis: I just showed Little Fugitive in my class. It influenced New Wave cinema and cinema verité. It’s been forgotten over the years. It was the beginning of the independent film generation. We acquired this theater because we wanted to have people experience films the way they were meant to be seen.
Dassani: My parents weren’t overly thrilled with my career choice, especially parents of Asian Indian descent. The idea of being an artist to my father was a nebulous question. He grew up watching Bollywood films. It’s possible for films to transcend that. I showed him Amores Perros. I told him this is the kind of film I’d like to make and he got it.
Abramson: Do violent films have a negative influence?
Weysos: I rented Goodfellas when I was 12 years old. Two years later, I saw Reservoir Dogs. I plastered my walls with violent posters. My mom was concerned. I never became violent, but it did affect my mentality.
Sanderson: It affected him on set, too.
Voros: I find that argument about the use of sex and violence in films is getting kind of tired. I saw a film about two Jews in Kabul that was an amazing human story. Someone got to make this and it’s playing in theaters. If you can do it in a way that’s timely and powerful, you can do it.
Stavis: People have survived 100 years of movie. The world goes in circles. There’s always going to be people who say it’s damaging and those who say it’s not. The jury will always be out on that question. I can’t tell you how many people have been emotionally destroyed by Bambi.
Audience Question: What’s your favorite film(s)?
Dassani: I have two. 1) Amores Perros and 2) The Japanese film Afterlife.
Davis Wong Kar Wai’s Falling Angels.
Sanderson: Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Abramson: Empire of the Sun, Fearless, Brazil.
Varos: Les Enfants Du Paradis, The Big Lebowski.
Paskowitz: I’m torn between the Japanese animé Ghost in the Shell and Wuthering Heights.
Stavis: The last great movie I showed was East of Eden. It always gets to me.
Abramson: You can constantly be changing your favorite film.
Labels: Gen Art Film Festival