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Tuesday, April 28, 2009
2009 Tribeca Film Festival - 30 Years of Sports Filmmaking - April 24, 2009
Panelists: Barbara Kopple (episode: The Steinbrenner Family Business) Albert Maysles (episode: Muhammad and Larry) Barry Levinson (episode: And the Band Marched On: The Colts Sneak Out of Baltimore) Dan Klores (episode: King of the New York Streets)
Synopsis: Whether played out on the field, in the ring, or on the court, every great sports drama is ultimately a human tale—of conflict, determination, passion, triumph, and loss. In honor of ESPN’s 30th anniversary, ESPN Films launches 30 for 30, an unprecedented documentary film series featuring 30 of today’s finest directors bringing to life 30 of the most remarkable sports stories from 1979 to 2009—the ESPN era. These films represent an extraordinary and diverse mosaic of the impact of sports on America and world culture.
Connelly began by getting a sense of what each of the filmmakers contributed to 30 for 30 starting with Kopple, who said she was really fortunate to do her film pointing out a woman in the audience named Nicole Renna who struggled to make this all possible as a friend of the Steinbrenner family to try get Kopple to interview them and get as much access as possible. Kopple said the Yankees are about heroes, traditions, and now the changing of the guard with the closing of the old stadium and the opening of the new. “For me, it was some of the best filming I’ve ever done in my life,” she said.
In contrast, Connelly joked with Levinson about being a long-time Baltimore Orioles fan. “I’ll tell you how terrible I was in Baltimore,” Levinson said. “I hated the Yankees.” But he did recollect a story of one time when the Yankees came to town, and he would not even get Mickey Mantle’s autograph. Levinson, who’s mostly known for his narrative fiction films such as Rain Man, Good Morning Vietnam, and Avalon, was asked by Connelly what his documentary piece is all about. He said he was fascinated when the Colts left town back in 1983 and to see that the band that used to march for the team continued to march for 12 years without the team, always in hopes of getting another team. The fanaticism of sports and sense of community and belonging would make for an interesting story to tell, he said.
Connelly next moved onto Maysles film about Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes, commenting that it has a genesis going back many years, “a kind of documentary archaeology.” Maysles said the film goes back more than the 30 years since it was made when he and his brother David film the two of them preparing for their fights. When someone is at his or her best in making a documentary, Maysles said something personal hearkens back to your childhood. When he was a kid growing up in a Jewish family in Boston surrounded by Irish anti-Semitists, there wasn’t hardly a day where a kid wouldn’t come up to him and tell him he’d meet him outside to fight. He recollected one particular fight when after there was a little boy five years younger standing there crying and he walked him home. It was his brother. Fighting was the only way he could get close to the Irish as a young kid, but many years later he fulfilled his dream of becoming friends with the Irish when he and his brother made the film Salesman.
And finally, Connelly went to Klores about his film. While Maysles film takes in so many years of history, Klores’ film is focused on only “18 unbelievable seconds,” Connelly said. Klores said the film is on Reggie Miller who purchased the New York Knicks in 1994/95. What captured his interest was when he received a photo of Miller taking a big shot in Madison Square Garden. But it wasn’t the shot that interested him most, but the horror on everyone’s faces in the background. Connelly asked how he took a historical event that happened on TV and brought new life to it in a way that heightens the moment and makes us take notice again. Klores said the 30 or 35 people he interviewed all have different interpretations of the same exact thing.
2009 Tribeca Film Festival - The Burning Season - April 27, 2009
2009 Tribeca Film Festival
Behind the Screens: The Burning Season Monday, April 27
Moderator: Ira Flatow, host of NPR’s Talk of the Nation: Science Friday
Panelists: Cathy Henkel, filmmaker Elizabeth Rosenthal, NY Times international correspondent Dorjee Sun, CEO of the Carbon Conservation and star of the film
The Burning Season was a charming film, following the main character, ambitious entrepreneur Dorjee Sun, as opposed to preaching about rain forests and the horrors that orangutans face. I know someone who saw a prior cut of the film that said it had shots of a running orangutan’s butt on fire. In this cut they instead use these human-like primates as more of a mascot. They personify a message. Four to 5,000 orangutans are killed a year—a rate that will cause early extinction. This paints a depressing picture for a theme: orangutans are so close to us as humans, if they go, how long will it take for us to go along with them?
The film was fairly sprinkled with commentary from policy makers and small farmers. It outlines Sun’s vision for a Carbon Trading system. You see that he is really just trying to solve a problem more than tell you trading carbon credits is the be all, end all solution and the filmmaker seems to treat that fairly. There were moments with animation that were very stylized, which was cool, but just didn’t seem to organically fit the overall feel of the film.
The idea for a film related to global warming was conceived when Cathy Henkel when she first saw An Inconvenient Truth in 2006. The burning season is when Indonesian farmers burn the land for palm oil and have no regard for the pollution or their contributions to global warming. As an Aussie, the filmmaker knew of the plumes of smoke and researched it.
Henkel met Sun at a film finance party. He was the solution for making the film. He called her to ask how to save orangutans, she pitched the idea to these broadcasters from Sydney and they gave her development money. Sun felt the world lost someone doing good when we lost Steve Irwin so he wanted to connect with his wife and his memory when executing this idea.
Sun says that it’s not easy to say “stop cutting and burning.” We also need to solve the issues with employment, etc. The small farmer needs income and should not be blamed for the world’s problems. The film illustrates this well with a guy who just wants to feed his family send his daughter to a good school. They end his story arch with his grasping of the effect his work has on the planet. Even though he is not one of the corporate farms who do it on a large scale, he broke down when he realized his contributions.
China invited the film to play in their country. Representatives said that it was perfect for young Chinese entrepreneurial students at universities who want to be motivated by environmental films made for a wide audiences—not an environmentalists niche. Henkel has a 16 year old daughter and does not want her to be despondent.
One of Sun's investors, Merrill Lynch, has to date, put money in London Commodity fund—a holding account. When transparency is covered by due diligence and written off by legal, then the brokerage will officially have bought carbon credits to kick-start Sun's vision. A state government in Indonesia will finally get paid back as they have been fronting the money in the mean time.
Carbon Trading happens to be a debated issue—opponents claim the message is dangerous. Sun’s view is that he wants to place value on standing forests. The film gets across his idea for compensating Indonesia for keeping the rain forests alive as opposed to burning it for the palm oil revenues. Hecklers in the audience stood to challenge Sun who was not only undaunted but quite pleasant in explaining how he wants to be an entrepreneur stepping up as environmentalists always have, yet with the language that makes the world go around—with money.
The bottom line is that we have to try something. Sun seems adamant that even though it’s possible for his proposed solution to fail, it’s better than doing nothing. He’s a kid who woke up one morning and wanted to save the world, and is doing the best he can.
2009 Tribeca Film Festival - "Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench" - April 23, 2009
2009 Tribeca Film Festival Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench April 23, 2009
Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench is Damien Chazelle’s very impressive debut narrative feature that made its World Premiere at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival. Shot in black and white 16 mm film, Guy and Madeline tells the story of Guy played by Jason Palmer, a Boston jazz trumpeter who juggles a relationship with two woman, one Madeline, a waitress with bigger aspirations to move to New York City, and the other Elena, a girl looking for more of a commitment. The simple narrative is interwoven with high-energy musical numbers and tap dancing in the old MGM musical style.
Palmer, a trumpeter not only in the film but also in real life, played a few bars from the theme before the discussion began, and had to leave early to go to a gig. After the screening, the moderator drew comparisons to Guy and Madeline to the movies of Cassavetes, Godard and MGM musicals, asking Damien what inspired him to make his film. Damien said the project began as his senior thesis in college and he knew from the beginning he wanted to do a musical, but he questioned doing it with the resources he had. He just learned how to make documentaries shooting 16mm going on the street with a camera over his shoulder. “The idea was to wed those two things together to try to make a musical that was still a full-fledged musical but paid as much attention to real life as much as possible,” he said.
Opening the floor to the audience for questions, the first question asked was aimed at the composer Justin Hurwitz, what was the process of writing the music and lyrics in the film? Was it written beforehand or in the process of making the film? Justin said the songs and music were written and recorded before, but some of the score was written concurrently with the shooting. For some of the score, he needed to know what the material was written for the scene. Chazelle added that he had asked Justin to write the music, and without Justin, the movie wouldn’t have happened.
How did Damien come up with the idea of the two woman? He wanted to do a classic archetypal musical plot…"the guy and the girl who break up for whatever reasons and they find their way back to each other,” he said. He wanted to spend as much time with both of the characters, not just making one the home wrecker, trying to flesh both of them out as much as he could. “We never met till today,” said Desiree Garcia who plays Madeline, referring to her co-star Sandha Khin, who plays Elena, since they don’t share screen time together.
A question was then thrown out to Damien asking him what his favorite scene in the movie was, and then later on everyone else from the composer to the actors were also asked which scenes they liked the most. (FYI, when I later saw Damien and company at the Narrative Filmmaker Press Meet & Greet, I too was asked what my favorite scene was.) Damien’s favorite…the first big musical number at the jazz party, partly because of how difficult it was to pull off. It was the first scene they shot and they spent so much time on it and when it came back from the lab, all of the footage was accidentally destroyed when they put the B&W film in the color vat (doh!). After a while, they decided to shoot it again, which he actually thought turned out better than the first time through (phew!). Justin…"I like the ones with the music in them" (LOL!). Desiree…liked the last scene in the film because it’s drawn out and creates tension (I won’t say what happens). Sandha...the tap dance scene because she was jealous that she didn’t get to sing or dance. And my favorite scene…I liked when Madeline was walking in the park alone, as I often like to take walks in the park by myself.
When I arrived at the Doc Press Meet & Greet, I was scanning the room for documentary filmmakers, but seemed to keep bumping into a couple of the narrative filmmakers I met at the Narrative Press Meet & Greet two days earlier, so I enlisted the help of some of the trusty press folks in the lounge to use their ‘Doc-dar’ and reel me in some nonfiction notables. I got some pretty good catches. Sadly, I dropped and broke my digital camera, so I was unable to get any snapshots, but here’s a list of all the documentary filmmakers I saw with their screening dates and times, so please make plans to go see these great films at the festival.
Borderline (Part of Tribeca All Access) Shirli Michalevicz – Director Claudia Levin – Producer
Team Qatar (Feature) Liz Mermin – Director Mon, Apr 27, 7:15PM , AMC Village VII 7 Thu, Apr 30, 5:00PM, AMC Village VII 6 Sat, May 02, 11:00AM, Tribeca Cinemas Theater 1
Partly Private (Feature) Danae Elon – Director Mon, Apr 27, 10:15PM, AMC Village VII 7 Wed, Apr 29, 4:30PM, AMC Village VII 5 Fri, May 01, 8:30PM, AMC Village VII 2 First Steps (Short) Jason DaSilva – Director Mon, Apr 27, 6:45PM, AMC Village VII 4 Thu, Apr 30, 1:15PM, AMC Village VII 7 Fri, May 01, 8:45PM, AMC Village VII 5 Sun, May 03, 3:30PM, Tribeca Cinemas
Mustang - Journey of Transformation (Short) Will Parrinello - Director Mon, Apr 27, 6:45PM, AMC Village VII 4 Thu, Apr 30, 1:15PM AMC Village VII 7 Fri, May 01, 8:45PM AMC Village VII 5 Sun, May 03, 3:30PM, Tribeca Cinemas Theater 2
As a journalist and documentary filmmaker, I was profoundly moved by Fixer, an exploration of the relationships between Western journalists and the Afghani counterparts or “fixers,” who facilitate their reporting on the ground. In this particular story, one such relationship had brutally fatal consequences for a young Afghani man.
The film raises, but doesn’t necessarily answer, many ethical questions about topics ranging from journalistic integrity to negotiating with terrorists, which is part of what made the Q & A following the film so fascinating. The panelists were:
Moderator Bob Dietz, Committee to Protect Journalists (BD) George Packer, journalist (GP) Naqeeb Sherzad, former Afghan fixer featured in the film (NS) Christian Parenti, The Nation reporter featured in the film (CP) Ian Olds, Director (IO)
BD: Can all of the panelists give a brief introduction?
IO: I’ll talk about how we started making the film. I received a grant to make a film about a Special Forces camp with Garrett Scott but, sadly, he died unexpectedly of a heart attack so I decided not to move on with the project. I proposed to the grantor that I use the money instead for a fiction film, but Christian Parenti suggested that I come to Afghanistan for a month to do some research about fixers. I took him up on it, and thought that there was a film to be made about journalists, fixers and the stories that they are trying to tell, as a way to show a bigger picture about what’s happening in Afghanistan. When I came back to the U.S. to get funding to make that film, Ajmal [the fixer who Christian had been working with] was murdered, and so then I felt an obligation to use the footage we already had of him from the research trip to tell his story.
CP: Some of the footage used in the film was just home video footage from when we interviewed members of the Taliban. It wasn’t meant to be part of a film.
NS: I used to be a fixer, and a great friend of Ajmal’s. We worked together for four years. The movie takes me back to those memories.
GP: This movie fleshes out the strange relationship that journalists have with their fixers. You and your fixer talk about all of the things that you can’t talk about in an interview. The relationship is a balance of power. We depend on them utterly. When things got really bad in Iraq, we had to ask our fixers if it was safe to cross the street! But there is always somewhat of a distrust because you have different motivations.
IO: Yes. Daniele [Italian journalist who was kidnapped with Ajmal] only needed an “important name” to include in his newspaper article, which is ultimately what led to their kidnapping.
GP: I wonder if the trip to the Taliban [made by Ajmal and Christian Parenti] was necessary. Sometimes it’s not worth it.
CP: Writers are always under pressure from their editors to get a new angle. But fixers are doing that, too. Ajmal was always pitching me stories using the relationships he had. He’d say if I had the money, we could do this or that. There are market dynamics at play.
IO: Now that the Taliban are creating their own media, they don’t need Western journalists to get their story out, so it may be more dangerous for journalists than it used to be.
NS: The Taliban makes these films to discourage people from working with Westerners as much as to encourage new recruits.
CP: Also to terrorize urban populations. There are several conflicts going on, including urban vs. rural.
BD (To Naqeeb): What are you doing now?
NS: I am living in Sweden. I got asylum in January 2008. It was not because Ajmal was killed. I received life threats before he was killed.
Audience Question: Can you explain the timing of the exchange of the Italian journalist for the Taliban's requested prisoners, and how Ajmal got left behind?
IO: We spent a long time trying to unpack all of the details. We showed the simplest possible version in the film that we believe to be true but it’s actually very complicated. No one knows all of the details.
CP: What is seems happened is that the Taliban required five prisoners and 2 million dollars in exchange for the return of the journalists. The American government won’t negotiate with terrorists, so the Italian government was doing this deal behind their backs. In the chaos of the negotiation, the Italians didn’t realize that one of the requested prisoners had actually flipped and was a spy for the Americans, so they substituted him for Dedullah’s little brother [Dedullah was the leader of the local faction responsible for the kidnapping.] But that was not the person who the Taliban requested, so they held Ajmal behind instead of giving him up. All of the attention helped them realize that Ajmal may be worth more dead than alive because his death would create tension between the Afghani people and their government. The people questioned how the Italian journalist could be released but not the Afghani one.
BD: The Center for Protection of Journalists discourages paying ransom for journalists. We’re also guilty of initially focusing on the Italian journalist, but when their Afghani driver and fellow prisoner was killed, we swung into high gear for Ajmal. We even wrote a letter directly to the Taliban pleading his case but in the end it’s pointless. We always have to weigh the risk of giving too much publicity to a case because it can raise the price for an individual captive, or the Taliban can use the fact that a prisoner becomes high profile to “prove” that they are spies.
Audience Question: Tell us more about the court scene. [A scene in which a local Afghan judge tries to prove how well the justice system is working by having the filmmakers shoot a staged trial, unbeknownst to them.]
IO: We shot that scene during my research trip and that was when I started to realize, “Oh. There is a movie here.”
CP: It became clear to us that it couldn’t be real about 30 minutes into the trial, because everyone seemed to be reciting lines from a script. It turns out that they were re-enacting a famous trial from the 70’s.
Audience Question: I don’t know if I buy into the morals and ethics of “not negotiating for terror.” Who are we to decide that someone’s life is not worth fighting for? Could you all speak about that?
BD: For us, it’s a practical approach, not a moral approach. It puts others at a heightened risk in the future if demands are met for release of prisoners. We’d prefer to encourage journalists to be more careful.
GP: I think that the Italian government does not look good in this film by not making the release of Ajmal part of their original negotiation. The same thing just happened in Iraq where two Italian women working for an NGO were kidnapped for ransom. The Italian government met their demands and the next day, an Irish journalist, Margaret Hasan, was kidnapped.
NS: The Afghanis were really angered by this. They think that the Afghani government is not actually there for them—that it is ruled from the outside.
CP: There’s a trajectory. There was a wave of kidnappings after Ajmal, and people stopped doing Taliban interviews, but criminal gangs also get involved. The kidnappings are not always initiated by the Taliban.
Audience Question: Do Western journalists really look at fixers as equals in the journalism field?
CP: Not all fixers are journalists themselves, but Ajmal was a reporter for a Japanese wire service and sometimes sold raw video. Arranging these interviews for us is not like arranging for a sandwich—it is serious journalistic work that involves research and investigation.
GP: Many of these countries didn’t even have journalism before. Westerners came in and instituted a journalistic standard. Educated Afghanis and Iraqis saw being a fixer as an opportunity to learn about the field. However, there was a time when some Americans were taking all the credit for their fixers’ work. Now, newspapers will credit local fixers by name if the person wants them to.
It was a beautiful sunny day in New York. Quite a nice way to start off the Tribeca Film Festival. Actually, I attended my first screening the night before. I saw Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, a very impressive debut narrative feature from young director Damien Chazelle, who was one of the many filmmakers in attendance at the Narrative Filmmaker Press Meet & Greet held at the Union Square Ballroom. Below are some snapshots I took of some of the filmmakers and their entourages along with the screening dates and times of their films. Be sure to put them on your festival calendar.
(L to R: My Last Five Girlfriends director Julian Kemp with star Brendan Patricks and Heeb Magazine writer Michael Liss)
My Last Five Girlfriends Sat, Apr 25, 5:45PM, AMC Village VII 5 Sun, Apr 26, 11:00PM, SVA Theater 2 Mon, Apr 27, 9:15PM, AMC Village VII 3
(Here and There director Darko Lungulov)
Here and There Sun, Apr 26, 1:00PM, AMC Village VII 2 Fri, May 01, 12:00PM, AMC Village VII 1 Sat, May 02, 8:45PM, AMC Village VII 5
(Fish Eyes producer Jun Seong)
Fish Eyes Wed, Apr 29, 6:45PM, AMC Village VII 4 Thu, Apr 30, 6:45PM, AMC Village VII 4 Fri, May 01, 2:00PM, AMC Village VII 6
(L to R: Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench director Damien Chazelle, friend Richard Kagan, executive producer Adam "W.W." Parker and composer Justin Hurwitz)
2009 Tribeca Film Festival - "Inherit the Wind" - April 25, 2009
Tribeca Talks: After the Movie Inherit the Wind Saturday, April 25 at 1pm (SVA Theatre 2)
Inherit the Wind was a 1960 film that covered the “monkey trial” in 1923—a real life case about teaching evolution in public schools. It centers around the teacher, played by Dick York, who broke the law by teaching kids evolution in his science class. Spencer Tracy swoops in to be his Chicago-based lawyer just trying to fight for a human’s right to think, who is then opposed by Matthew Brady played by Frederic March.
Fascinatingly, we, as a country, haven’t seemed to have changed much since 1923.
Jon Amiel felt Stanley Kramer’s point of view was apparent in this film as the selected shots. As the filmmaker on the panel, he felt that Kramer did one of the worst mistakes in story telling which is undermining the opposition. He made a bombastic idiot of Brady. With that Kramer undermined the potency of the moral victory.
In the scene in the preachers meeting, where Brady spoke passionately of humanity- that was one of the few moments where you saw the man’s principles for what they were. They were not shrouded in his own crisis of faith. In reality, the Brady character was in fact very pro-working people, as for women's' suffrage, child labor laws and other progressive ideas. The wife in the mo vie was also a descent reflection of what he was capable of, yet in this movie the focus was on picking apart his take on the Bible.
The film seems to more reflect the culture in 1960 than in 1923 when the trail took place. It was a period of McCarthyism. The Crucible was a hit play. Kramer himself was directly subjected to the Nuremberg trials. Secularism was taking hold. Also, in retrospect, people’s take on the trial was shaped by the movie over the decades. And since then, it’s been warfare between creationism and secularism.
Apparently, the actual trial was even more riveting.
Amiel continues that the film works now because of the strong characters. I know when I was watching the film, I found it seamless how it went between the character’s inner conflicts (the fiancé’s pull between father and husband-to-be, the school teacher’s back and forth about if it’s worth taking a stand- and further illustrated his dilemma with the innocent boy damned to hell, and finally with Spencer Tracy almost giving up on the town folks’ ignorance). It seemed so organic from one scene to the next—modern movies just seem so cliché when attempting to pull off what this 50 year old movie did. It may have even invented the cliché all the others were based on yet still pulled it off with me.
The panelists agreed that one of the most moving scenes was the last one where the conflict shows on Tracy’s face as he puts the origin of species on his bible, put them in the brief case and then left.
One of my favorite panelists was Dr. Eugenie Scott. She’s an expert on this issue as she specializes on science education in the US. I learned a lot from her.
First, it seems that creationists like to paint the picture as right or wrong and forces a situation of choosing sides. It is not a good/bad dichotomy in reality. But can evolution and faith coexist? Of course they can. Imperialistically, they can.
This is where I started to learn a little something about education in this country. In present day America, the ideas of our culture being susceptible to corruption by outsiders, and the media elite— is also the total rejection of reason, research and rationale. This in-your-face-you’re-not-gonna-tell-me-what to do attitude is hysterically ridiculous when choosing the fate of our culture… common sense should not even be debatable! The fearful insularity is a problem. It’s a factorial problem.
The politicalization of educational system, decentralized history and culture comes from 15,000 school districts. It turns out that only highly motivated people vote for the school board. Motivated people tend to be religious and conservative. In Kansas, there was a two year stretch of very extreme people in power who did not represent the people. This is a 50 year war and it is an education issue. It’s also not just an American issue.
The main thing people have to understand when pondering creationism versus evolution: Science is defined as testable information. Super-natural/faith-based stuff is not testable. Therefore, anything based in faith should not be taught in a science class. It can be discussed in religion class or something, but not biology.
Science isn’t something you “believe in.” It just is.
The author of The Beak of a Finch, Jonathan Weiner, said that the book’s subjects, Rosemary and Peter Grant were always asked if they were “for” or “against” evolution. As he followed their story, despite the repeated testing of evolution, it is still questioned as valid.
Darwin too was conflicted. He went to theological school, was a deist, and waited 20 years to publish his book knowing what it meant. He decided that the love of deity is a product of the human mind. It would be a betrayal of god’s given mind to not share his views. He realized that they could be considered disrespectable and that was something Darwin took very seriously.
Ironically, the creationist argument today is the opposite as in the trail of the movie. In it, the creationists were trying to ban the teacher’s freedom to teach something and nowadays they want the freedom to teach intelligent design.
After saying all this, a creationist columnist for NJ Voices still manages to get up and say that he thinks kids should be given a choice and should be taught both origination stories in schools. Obscenely, he seemed steadfast in this belief even though obviously we shouldn’t give kids the choice in what they learn. Otherwise, they wouldn’t go to school at all.
The moral of the story is that if you get flu shots, have domesticated pets, consume agricultural products or would get treated for cancer—shut up. The modern world utilizes concepts rooted in evolutionary theory and unless you riot against its boon as well, can it. Keep church and state separate. It’s like that for a reason.
One-on-One Q&A: Kris Swanberg, Director/Co-Writer, "It was great, but I was ready to come home."
One on One Q&A with Kris Swanberg Director/Co-Writer, It was great, but I was ready to come home Interview by Erin Scherer
Kris Swanberg (left) with Jade Healy in It was great, but I was ready to come home
Kris Swanberg's directorial debut, It was great, but I was ready to come home debuted at the 2009 SXSW Film Festival to glowing reviews. This marked Kris' first major foray into narrative, after previously working in the documentary milieu in projects such as the short, Bathwater, and her Nerve.com web series, Boys and Girls. It was great, but I was ready to come home will next play on Saturday, April 18th at the Atlanta Film Festival.
Erin was inspired to interview Kris upon seeing such phrases as "it was great but i was ready to come home" and "ready to come home swanberg" turn up on the Google Analytics page for her blog. The interview was conducted via e-mail.
Erin: How did you become interested in film? How old were you, and what were your earliest endeavors?
Kris: I first got interested in being a filmmaker at the end of my teenage years. I went to a high school in Germantown, Tennessee, right outside of Memphis that had a great television program. Unfortunately, it was pretty discriminating against female students and I wasn’t really allowed to work the cameras or do anything technical that the boys were encouraged to do. That, of course, infuriated me and I went off to college determined to learn those very things. I had always been interested in different cultures and had decided to become a documentary filmmaker. I spent most of my time in film school doing just that.
Erin: You met Joe while you were a freshman at Carbondale. Did you two collaborate on anything while you were still in school?
Kris: Yeah, Joe and I helped each other on a lot of projects in film school, but I don't think we really collaborated on anything specific. We mostly just helped the other one with whatever they were up to.
Erin: I once read an interview with Joe, and he said that Kissing on the Mouth was based on an idea you had in college. What was the original idea, and did it differ from the final result?
Kris:Kissing On The Mouth was in part inspired by a Super 8 project I did for my intro film class in college. It was called "ex" and was an audio documentary project about people's most recent breakups. It was sort of experimental and had some visual narrative elements running parallel to the interviews. It was something that Joe really liked and when we talked about what project we wanted to make out of school that came to mind. Kissing On The Mouth, of course, became a very different project than "ex" which was only about 5 minutes long. It definitely had some similar elements though like all the audio documentary interviews that ended up in the final film.
Kris Swanberg (right) during the making of Kissing on the Mouth with Kate Winterich
Erin: Do you think that working with Joe gave you a lot of confidence to make It was great, but I was ready to come home?
Kris: Absolutely. Joe has always had the confidence to make anything he has had the inspiration for. I've always admired that and watching him follow through with all of his projects has definitely inspired me to make mine.
Erin: Following your graduation from college, you worked as a school teacher, and you are in the process of finishing a master's degree in education. However, you told me at the Indie Go Go party at SXSW that you had been laid off from your job. Are you looking for another teaching job right now?
Kris: I taught high school in a low-income neighborhood in Chicago for two years, but last year the school closed down and all of the faculty and staff was laid off. Even though I was sad to say goodbye to all my students and to a job that I thought I was really getting good at - I definitely felt like it came at a good time. Not only have I had more time to work on my film, but I've also started my own business making ice cream and I'm glad to have more mental energy to work on those things. But I'm not entirely finished with being a teacher. Education is still a great passion of mine.
Erin: While you were teaching, what did you teach specifically? (Did you teach elementary school? Junior High? High School? Any specific subject?)
Kris: I taught film and video to 10th-12th graders.
Erin: In your short documentary "Bathwater," you profile the bathtime rituals of mothers and their children, with the mothers addressing their children in several languages. What was your intent in making the movie? How did you find the families?
Kris: At the time (and today!) I had a great interest in language and in the transference of language from parent to child. I was also interested in the ritual of bathing a child. Its something that we share across cultures and even species. I thought of combining all of those things into a short documentary using verite footage. I found the subjects on craigslist. I just advertised that I was looking for bilingual mothers and I got a lot of responses.
Kris Swanberg's Short Documentary
Erin: With the exception of It was great, but I was ready to come home, most of your own film work (exclusive from Joe's) has been documentaries. Do you think you will return to the form, and perhaps even make a feature length documentary?
Kris: Right now I think I'm more interested in making narratives, but I could definitely see myself making more docs in the future.
Erin: It was great, but I was ready to come home debuted at SXSW last month, but you shot the movie in December. How did you manage to turnaround so quickly and get it into competition?
Kris: Well we shot the film over three weeks in Costa Rica with David editing a lot of it while we were in production. In early January I flew David to Chicago so we could finish editing here and he was able to get a pretty good cut outside of a week. Then we overnighted it to Janet [Pierson] at SXSW. As for getting it into competition - that wasn't something we asked for or even expected. We were very surprised and grateful.
Erin: How did you script the movie? Did you have an outline, or did you do what Joe and Greta did with the latter half of Nights and Weekends, and get together with Ben Kasulke over breakfast and discuss what you wanted to shoot that day?
Kris: We didn't have a script or an outline. I had phone conversations with everyone involved before we left but we didn't start to have real plans until we were already in Costa Rica together. Our entire trip was sort of a constant production meeting and we were always checking in with each other and looking at footage an reassessing what we were doing. It was almost as though we were writing the script as we were going along.
Erin: I take it that It was great... came from the desire to explore an idea--in your case, female friendships--and the story grew out of that. Am I right?
Kris: Yes. I have been wanting to make a film that explores female friendship for a while. The other themes explored in the film came about after that initial intent.
Posing for the camera with Jade Healy (left) in It was great, but I was ready to come home
Erin: At the premiere of the movie, David Lowery stated that the movie he saw on screen was different from the one you had gone to shoot. What were you originally intending on shooting, and how did that differ from the final product?
Kris: I'm very proud of the film we made and as far as I can remember that's exactly what I wanted to make!
Erin: How did you coordinate the shoot? Did you have a tightly planned schedule? Shooting the movie in Costa Rica, did you have a problem with customs? (Getting equipment, etc.)
Kris: Costa Rica was an amazing country to shoot in and we didn't have any problems at all. As far as our schedule it varied depending on where we were in the shoot. Most days we shot between 3-5 scenes but some of those were heavily planned and some weren't and then of course some days we shot more or less. It depended on where we were and what we had to get done.
Erin: I read in Paste and at The Spout Blog that you are now running an ice cream business. Can you tell us more about it? What are your current flavors, and where can one buy it?
Kris: Yes, I have an ice cream business in Chicago called Nice Cream. You can check it out at NiceCreamChicago.com. I sell my ice cream in pints to different grocery stores and cafes in the city. I change my flavors seasonally so right now for the Spring flavors I have Earl Grey Tea Ice Cream with Shortbread Cookies, Vanilla Bean Ice Cream with Lavender and Graham Crackers, Cream Cheese Ice Cream with Carrot Cake, and Chocolate Ice Cream with German Chocolate Frosting. They're delicious!
Jan Harlan was a close confidante of the late Stanley Kubrick. Harlan was Kubrick's brother-in-law, and also served as executive producer on many of Kubrick's later films, including Barry Lyndon, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut. In 2001, Harlan directed Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures, a documentary chronicling Kubrick's life and career.
A good portion of the conversation discussed Kubrick's last two movies, Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut. Harlan thought that the young soldiers in Full Metal Jacket were fighting without really knowing what they were doing. He thought that there was a similar situation happening now with the Iraq War.
Elvis Mitchell commented, "I read Matthew Modine's book where he talks about that entire process, and about a month or two into it, he felt like they were soldiers brought into this whole thing, and that they were part of Stanley's army."
Harlan called making Full Metal Jacket, "The best year of my life."
Mitchell and Harlan discussed Arthur Schnitzler's Traumnovelle, the book that was the inspiration for Kubrick's final movie, Eyes Wide Shut. Traumnovelle's dreamlike narrative served as the basis for the sexual explorations of Tom Cruise's character. Kubrick did not set out to make Eyes Wide Shut with Cruise in mind. Stanley Kubrick saw Nicole Kidman in To Die For, and noticed how Kidman could hold a close-up for a long time. Kubrick cast Kidman, then Cruise.
Harlan's son also worked on the film, taking the photographs that would help Kubrick replicate New York City on a London soundstage.
Said Mitchell, "Eyes Wide Shut is essentially trying to figure out what romance is."
Mitchell also diverged into the critical reception of Kubrick's films at length. Reviewers, according to Mitchell, have a habit of going back and reviewing Kubrick's previous movie instead of the movie at hand. Rather than reviewing Eyes Wide Shut, they would expound on Full Metal Jacket. Mitchell noted that Kubrick's movies are often first panned, then praised, and used Eyes as an example. 2001: A Space Odyssey had moviegoers lined up around the block in New York, despite Pauline Kael's notorious pan.
"Ideally, you should see the movie more than once," Harlan said of Eyes Wide Shut. "If you've only seen it once, see it again."
"I would say that about all of them," Mitchell added.
When asked if his idea of who Kubrick was changed after he made the documentary, Harlan answered, "What really suprised me is how much people liked his work. Everybody wanted to come out, even Jack Nicholson--he won't even come on camera to talk about himself! He didn't do it for me, he did it for Stanley. Woody Allen came, Martin Scorsese came. The only guy I didn't get was Marlon Brando. I guess he wanted to stay on his island. Everyone else who knew Stanley, who worked with him, wanted to come on."
Moderating the Networking in Media Panel at MCNY - Feb. 26, 2009
Back in February, I transformed from The Film Panel Notetaker into The Film Panel Moderator when I had the great pleasure of moderating the Networking in Media panel discussion at Metropolitan College of New York (MCNY). Joining me were panelists Liz Nord, Stephanie Cockerl and Fred Chong Rutherford. Thanks to Paula Landry, co-writer of This Business of Film, who shot and edited the videos of the panel below, and beneath that is more information about our panel. Enjoy!
(Introduction. Video by Paula Landry)
(Part 2. Video by Paula Landry.)
About the Panel:
Networking is an essential part of any media professional’s career, whether it be for a job search, finding new clients, establishing important relationships and more. From film to TV to the Internet to Theater to Music and beyond, networking is becoming more and more important especially with the advent of online social networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook, but where do you draw the line in terms of sharing private and personal information online? What are some do’s and don’ts of networking and how can we best optimize our contacts, time, and resources to successfully navigate networking in the ever-evolving media landscape? Professionals from various media are here to give some insights into these questions and more as you may find them helpful as you embark on completing your Constructive Actions (CAs).
Stephanie M. Cockerl is the owner of nextSTEPH, which specializes in online marketing, web site analysis, web site design, and development. With over 10 years of experience, nextSTEPH has won numerous awards including being a finalist in the Stevie Awards for Women Entrepreneurs, and receiving the Bronze Award from Portfolios.com. Stephanie has been featured in MediaBistro's AvantGuild; in Webgrrls.com; in Silicon Salley Magazine; and as a "Featured Technodiva" on iVillage.com. She is also a contributing author. Stephanie received her MBA in Media Management from Metropolitan College of New York and a Bachelor of Architecture Degree (B. Arch) from Cornell University.
Liz Nord is a producer and documentary filmmaker. Most recently, she ran MTV's Street Team ’08, a groundbreaking collaboration with the Knight Foundation and the Associated Press, wherein 51 state-based citizen journalists covered the ’08 elections from a youth perspective, across all media platforms - web, mobile, broadcast, and virtual. This effort contributed to both MTV's winning an Emmy Award for Public Service, and to the most influential youth vote in history. In 2006, she toured the world with her critically acclaimed film about rebellious young Israelis, “Jericho’s Echo: Punk Rock in the Holy Land”. When she’s not gallivanting around the globe with film projects, she is a media educator, lecturer, and columnist. She recently relocated to New York from the Bay Area, where she ran a media education non-profit and served on the Board of Directors of the Bay Area Women in Film and TV.
Fred Chong Rutherford has over a decade of international experience in digital media production. Works he's produced have appeared at the Seattle International Film Festival, the San Diego Comic Con, Satellites Independent Film Festival, and a plethora of online outlets. He specializes in interactive marketing for the web, digital TV, mobile devices and more. Fred is currently based in New York City. He holds a BA from Western Washington University and his MBA from MCNY.
(L to R: Margaret Brown, Ellen Kuras, Thavisouk Phrasavath, James Marsh, and Jody Shapiro. Photo courtesy of Indiepix.)
Powers: (To Brown) It’s been a year since your film played at Sundance. It’s quite a remarkable film that’s so rooted in the community you came from. What was this year’s journey like with the film…taking down to Mobile (Alabama)?
Brown: I think that night was probably the most surreal night out of my life because it’s the audience that gave the movie and also you’re sort of giving it back. The film had a standing ovation after we showed it there, but there were some walk outs, too. It was definitely mixed. It was really weird because the audience was talking to the film. It was a very interactive experience.
Powers: (To Kuras) With your film, you worked on it for over 20 years.
Kuras: (She invites Thavi to the stage and he gets a round of applause.) Thavi and I worked on this film for 23 years. It started out back in 1984 before I met Thavi. I started making a film about another family. When I met Thavi and when he wanted to learn how to speak the language, he was living in Brooklyn. I put the word out in the community that I wanted to speak Lao. Thavi called me up and said, ‘Who are you? Why do you want to speak Lao? Do you even know where Laos is?’ Since that time, I ended up working with Thavi making the film about him and we made the film together. It was really a film where two people came from two different cultures and could speak the same language, that’s the film language. It really was an amazing creative exploration of ideas and making documentary a different form, because Thavi was the subject of the film and ultimately became one of the filmmakers. I worked with him to make a film with a personal point of view, which is a very difficult place to be.
Powers (To Phrasavath): You were also the editor of the film. With such close personal material, what was that like for you to spend all that time editing it?
Phrasavath: To look at myself on the screen and also thinking there’s a character to tell the story…and tell the story that needs to be told instead of ‘G-d, look at my teeth, why did they film it that way?’ It’s been a phenomenal experience for me.
Powers (To Marsh): One of the things that we observe is the way critics and reviewers and the way documentaries get digested is often as individual films and not really recognizing a director’s career. How do you see Man on Wire fitting into your overall career?
Marsh: Before I made Man on Wire I made a feature film called The King that was widely loathed by many people…Man on Wire came along as a way of salvaging my career because The King had sort of become a dead end. It was much more of a hostile world the world of fiction filmmaking. People are much more unpleasant in it just generally. The great kind of discovery on Man on Wire was the film playing at festivals and meeting a lot of people who are in this room and having passionate respectful conversations with other filmmakers…As far as my career goes, I didn’t really feel I got one. It’s what Philippe (Petit) says, you sort of blunder on from one fool hearty adventure to the next and sometimes you get lucky and on this one, we got lucky.
Powers: (To Shapiro) You had produced Guy Maddin’s fiction films before this. Was there anything different about doing a documentary for him and the process?
Shapiro: It actually was a very difficult project for him to tackle. As a fiction filmmaker, and he’s even made autobiographical films as a fictional filmmaker, he’ll tell stories about himself, but they’re totally fabricated. This time, he actually had to be truthful and reach inside himself and figure out what Winnipeg meant for him. It actually proved to be a long process. We thought when the film was commissioned we could do it in six months, but it actually ended up taking over two years.
Powers: (To Brown) What do you see your future (for your career)?
Brown: I think actually I’m working on a narrative next. I shouldn’t say that in front of this audience…I think of myself as a storyteller and not just documentary. I want to be able to do both. I’m not sure what I’m doing next. I’m still thinking about it.
Powers (To Kuras) With 23 years from the first one, do you think you can maybe do one for ten?
Kuras: Very funny. I’ve made about 40 films in between as a cinematographer. I think when you become a director…everybody asks you, ‘are you going to direct?’ As a cinematographer, I’ve made so many films and I really enjoy being a cinematographer. I love working with directors. I love having that collaboration. It really depends on the project. I’m not about to leap into doing the next romantic comedy…I think it’s really like as Margaret said, telling stories…and having an aesthetic and having a more eclectic taste…these are ideas I want to explore.
A Conversation With Todd Haynes and Richard Linklater @ SXSW, 3/17/09
A Conversation With Todd Haynes & Richard Linklater Tuesday, March 17 at 1:00pm Austin Convention Center, Austin, TX
Linklater and Haynes took the stage with no moderator, sat down, and began a conversation like the old friends they are. Linklater was the first to speak, making some comments about a private screening of Superstar that took place the night before. Linklater commented on the fascination that many of the younger viewers experienced while they were viewing the film.
Haynes and Linklater first met in the late 1980s, at the IFP Market. Haynes had done Superstar, and Linklater was in between It's Impossible To Learn To Plow By Reading Books and his breakthrough feature, Slacker. Linklater wanted to bring Haynes to Austin on behalf of the Austin Film Society.
Parts of the discussion touched upon the changing state of Independent Film. They mentioned that it's becoming more difficult to finance movies, even with stars. Haynes recalled a recent conversation he had with a financier who told him that, paraphrasing, "We're going to have to start reading scripts again." Haynes thought that financiers might have to read scripts again could be a good thing.
Linklater said that he too had difficulty getting funding for his upcoming film, Me and Orson Welles, despite having Zac Efron in the cast. Many funders passed on Me and Orson Welles on the grounds that The High School Musical Crowd wouldn't find it appealing. Another obstacle was that the actor that Linklater cast as Orson Welles is a newcomer who had previously played Welles onstage.
Questions were asked throughout the course of the panel. A member of the audience asked Linklater about an ongoing project he is shooting, which follows a boy from the ages of 5 to 17. Normally, you would see different actors play the same character at different ages, having the same actors age normally. Linklater is shooting a little bit each year over the course of 12 years, and mentioned that he had just finished shooting year six.
Another question came from Jim Fouratt, a legendary gay rights activist and journalist, who asked Haynes what it was like to come of age just as AIDS was emerging into the public consciousness, and did that effect him in any way. Haynes said that it had a profound effect on him. Haynes was a founding member of the activist collective Gran Fury.
Both recalled a story about Madonna attending a screening of Poison in LA. Madonna came into the theater, and the trailers began. The first one was for Slacker. The opening scene for that trailer had Teresa Taylor carrying around Madonna's Pap Smear. The whole audience--many gay men--turned around, looked at Madonna, and Madonna walked out.
Haynes shared with the audience that he was very reluctant to pursue his most recent movie, I'm Not There, about Bob Dylan, because of the previous troubles he had getting rights to songs. Superstar is not legally available, and David Bowie refused to let Velvet Goldmine use his songs. At the time he had moved to Portland and was working on Far From Heaven when he began listening to Dylan's songs. Haynes knew Dylan's son Jesse, and after meeting Dylan's manager, sent a one page proposal. Dylan liked the idea and gave it a go-ahead.
When an aspiring filmmaker asked both Haynes and Linklater what criteria he should consider when embarking on a project, both Linklater and Haynes agreed that you should find something you care about, then pursue it.