Post(s) tagged with "interview"

12 YEARS A SLAVE director ‪Steve ‬McQueen talks to AFI Conservatory fellows about how to “be yourself” on set.

12 YEARS A SLAVE director ‪Steve ‬McQueen talks to AFI Conservatory fellows about how to “be yourself” on set.

A Conversation with Antonio Campos

By Joey Ally, AFI FEST Now

Before anything else, in the interest of journalistic integrity I should admit to the following: I am absolutely Antonio Campos’s #1 fanboy (or, in this case, girl). I first became aware of Campos’s work five years ago when — still a New Yorker and still (kinda/sorta/sometimes on Wednesdays) trying to make acting my main jam — my scene study teacher was plucked for a role in AFTERSCHOOL (AFI FEST 2008). The work since produced by his film company — Borderline Films, comprised of Campos (writer/director: AFTERSCHOOL, SIMON KILLER), Sean Durkin (writer/director: MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE), and Josh Mond (producer of all three, in addition to numerous others), who met during their time in undergrad film school at NYU — has been nothing short of incendiary, engendering discourse and (gasp!) even agreement throughout the independent film world. Everyone digs these dudes.

Yet sitting down with Campos on Tuesday in Beverly Hills, it was immediately apparent that in spite of the Hollywood-hoover-cloud swirling just above him, Campos possesses one of the most calming demeanors I’ve yet to come across this go round the sun. The lull of his voice, the minimalism of his motions, and the intention behind his eye-contact — as though saying “yes, I’m here with you” — make it apparent why he is able to command such delicately tremendous performances. Actors trust him because he’s a guy you trust, plain and simple.

For 40 minutes, we chatted about SIMON KILLER, AFTERSCHOOL, the New York from which Campos draws his inspiration, and why existentialism shakes his cage, among many other things (such as why the choice of handle for the titular character in SIMON KILLER is not, in fact, a reference to the game “Simon says”….though if you’re reading, Antonio, I maintain that the hypothesis was not totally unfounded).

Here’s some of that conversation.

AFN: First of all, I just want to say thank you for meeting with me. I’ve actually been following you, and Borderline Films, since the casting stage of AFTERSCHOOL because I was in Alexandra Neil’s scene study at the time.

AC: Oh I’m so happy to hear that — I really like Alex. I had it in my head that Alex Neil’s character was sort of connecting the AFTERSCHOOL universe and SIMON KILLER. We were gonna put Brady (Corbet, who portrays the eponymous “Simon”) in a “Brighton Academy” (the fictitious school that serves as the backdrop for AFTERSCHOOL) sweatshirt, like he was the brother to the twins that died or something, but it was too much.

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A Breakthrough Filmmaker Discusses His Craft

11/04/12 - Chinese 4, 3:30 p.m.
11/07/12 - Chinese 6, 2:00 p.m.

By Kim Luperi

AFI FEST Now had the chance to sit down with German filmmaker Jan Ole Gerster to discuss his debut feature OH BOY, which had its North American premiere at AFI FEST.

AFN: OH BOY is featured in the Breakthrough section of AFI Fest. Can you tell me how the film was selected to be included?

Jan Ole Gerster: We sat down, looked at the festivals we loved, submitted it, and it was accepted. It’s hard to believe, because there are so many great filmmakers applying here, and it’s a great honor to be here.

AFN: What was it about this idea that interested you? Was any of it based on your personal experiences?

JG: I went through the same phase as my main character when I came to Berlin in my early 20s, and, at one point, I noticed a lot of my friends went through a similar period. This is the time when a lot of people start to question their decisions when they get older — am I on the right track? will this be what I do for the rest of my life? does it make me happy? — so I thought one or two people may relate to that story.

AFN: OH BOY is your feature debut, and you are credited as the writer and director. What was the writing process like?

JG: First of all, without thinking about shooting the script or going out with it right away, I wrote it because I had to; it all came out of intuition. I wrote scripts before but in a very analytic way — how to write a script, how to create a character, how to build dramatic conflict — all these things they teach you in school, and I was a little unsatisfied with these scripts, because I felt like I was a hypocrite and I didn’t know what I was talking about. At that point, I thought it was worth having a closer look at my personal life. They also taught that in film school — stories have to be personal but not necessarily private. It’s easy to say but hard to do.

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Mike Ott on Survival and Escape

11/04/12 - Chinese 6, 7:00 p.m.
11/07/12 - Chinese 1, 1:45 p.m.

By Katie Datko

On a map, the real Pearblossom Highway looks kind of like a scar bisecting northern LA County, a jagged stretch of mostly two-lane highway heading from the suburbs just north of LA east to the high desert. It’s probably no coincidence, then, that PEARBLOSSOM HWY, Mike Ott’s follow-up feature to his multiple award-winning indie film festival sensation LiTTLEROCK (which played at AFI FEST 2010 and won the Audience Award) is about wounds — specifically, the need to heal the fractures caused by denial or neglect and the longing for belonging and acceptance.

Partly based on the real lives of the main characters, Cory (Cory Zacharia) and Atsuko (Atsuko Okatsuka), PEARBLOSSOM HWY is a humanistic yet barbed tale, darker and in many ways more poignant than its predecessor. The characters may be familiar to Ott fans, but both Cory and Atsuko have been given new back-stories. Cory is an unemployed whippet-huffing, orphaned rockstar-wannabe who longs to make it on reality TV. Atskuo, Cory’s friend and videographer who’s also an urchin of sorts, has been sent by her Japanese grandmother to live in Antelope Valley with her uncle’s family while trying to pass the U.S. citizenship test.

In PEARBLOSSOM HWY, Ott pushes the envelope on all levels. The intertwining narrative threads of the two main characters’ rites of passage mirror each other: Cory makes tapes for his TV show audition and manages to reconnect with his older brother, Jeff (John Brotherton); Atsuko raises money to go back to Japan to visit her ailing grandmother the only way she knows how — by selling herself — becoming increasingly more detached as the film progresses.

It might seem as though Cory’s story is front and center, but it’s really Atsuko’s journey that commands the viewer’s attention. Even though it’s unnerving on many levels, we get a clear sense of her slow unraveling — framed through mirrors, windows and montages of highways and truck stops. Atsuko’s first scene with a Japanese client shows her standing against a curtained window, her client’s voice off-screen. While she may seem childlike and innocent, she nevertheless stands her ground, asserts herself and, interestingly, speaks back to him not as a coy, deferential call girl, but using an informal, familiar tone. Even though Atsuko’s image becomes increasingly refracted, it is through her language that she seems to hold onto her sense of ‘self.’

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Dialogue on Film: HITCHCOCK Director Sacha Gervasi

11/01/12 - Grauman’s Chinese, 7:30 p.m. 

This interview comes to us via the latest issue of American Film™, AFI’s monthly e-magazine.

Sacha Gervasi (pronounced Jur-VAH-zee) makes his feature film directing debut with HITCHCOCK, starring Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren. Billed as a love story about the famed director and his wife Alma during the making of PSYCHO, AFI FEST hosts the movie’s World Premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood on November 1. Born in London in 1966, Gervasi got his screenwriting start with THE BIG TEASE, which he co-wrote with Craig Ferguson, and went on to pen THE TERMINAL directed by Steven Spielberg. He directed the rock-umentary ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL in 2005, which later won an Emmy Award and Best Documentary at the Independent Spirit Awards.

American Film: You live in Los Angeles, don’t you?

SG: I do, I live here. I actually moved here some years ago to go to UCLA film school and I’ve been going back and forth between London and here for quite some time. But now, here’s my home.

AF: What attracted you to the story of HITCHCOCK?

SG: The central relationship—because, as a fan of Hitchcock, having seen most of his movies at film school and before, one thing I really didn’t know about was the degree to which Alma Hitchcock, his wife, was so intimately involved in every aspect of his process throughout almost his entire career. What drew me to the story was the chance to tell the untold story of a great collaboration as well as a marriage, and I just felt there was something really resonant about telling a story about a mostly unsung, unacknowledged partner who made such a critical contribution to the work of a great artist.

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Don’t Dare Call THE TURIN HORSE Bleak: A Short Conversation With Béla Tarr

By Paul T. Bradley

Béla Tarr has been called one of the world’s greatest living filmmakers. His films have their own pace, their own rhythm, and at times, a very forced perspective on some very intricate details in time. In watching them, you may find yourself rapt in the repetition of people doing what people do. You may find yourself transcending what may sound boring, into a higher echelon of visual poetry—Tarr showing you a woman’s daily trip to the well may indeed beatify banality. He is, after all, unlocking the logic of the universe before your very eyes with the power of his camera. 

Sadly for all of his fans, Mr. Tarr is not touching that camera again—he has said that THE TURIN HORSE will be his last film. Simply asking him “Why?” does not suffice for an intellect of his caliber. He doesn’t like to repeat himself, and he feels that he has said everything he wants to say with film. What do you ask a man who is tired of answering questions, and just wants to get on with the mere living of life?

Mr. Tarr was nice enough to answer just a few more questions for me, even though the drudgery of festival touring was, admittedly, beginning to wear on him.

Q. Your film THE TURIN HORSE is based on a somewhat important philosophical event. What is your experience with philosophy?

I have never been a philosopher. I have never studied philosophy. When I was young I wanted to be a philosopher, but life was different. In the end, I never went to university and I never studied philosophy, but everything in life connected me to film. I became a filmmaker and now I am a former filmmaker. 

Q. Ah, that’s right, this is your last film and now you are a Former Filmmaker? What about becoming a philosopher now?

No. Not now. When you need reading glasses, your life is totally changed there less of a chance for philosophy. To be a philosopher you need to read everything, newspapers, magazines, books—you must know a lot of things…not a lot of things: everything about the world and the whole universe. And that is if you really want to be a real philosopher and not just someone who just takes notes on Heidegger or something. For me, I am too lazy, too old, and too tired to start to understand the whole universe. But, I am fine with that. 

Q. And you are okay with that? Well, you seem to understand the details of people very well. Maybe you don’t need to read to be a philosopher.

That’s what I like: to be with the people, to understand them, to follow them and to show them with all of my sensibilities and my knowledge…and I have to show them with tenderness. That’s what I used to do. And now I don’t. 

Q. Well, you could always be a bartender now?

No. No. It is totally different. 

Q. How are you going to spend your days now, then? I don’t want to harp on you for your retirement. I know you don’t like to repeat yourself. 

My day always depends on the situation. Normally I am listening, except in the interviews. Now I am talking.

Q. Well, I could just talk to you, then?

Yes, that might be much more interesting. 

Q. Ha! I highly doubt that. In watching your films, the music always plays a crucial role in punctuation. Do you spend a lot of time with musicians, how have musicians influenced your work?

Yes. Our composer…I have worked with him since 1983, we have been friends for such a long time. I do go to his concerts and to his rock ‘n roll shows. When we work, though, we never talk about the arts or the craft, we talk about life. Life is much more interesting than art.  I have lots of friends who are critics and artists. But you are stupid if you are only talking about film or music. It’s nice to talk about food or architecture. 

Q. Do you talk about the future?

Of the world?

Q. Sure. Especially. 

First of all, I am not a prophet. I am not into judging. I cannot say, “This world is good, this world is bad.” This is our creation. Your creation and my creation. That’s what we cooked and we have to eat. The problem is, maybe sometimes we cooked something wrong and our creation is a piece of shit. Because people never respect each other. People never respect human dignity. They never respect nature. They do not respect anything that is eternal. They just always want to use the world for daily life. Just to have it. They do not learn. Maybe I felt this way when I was young, but now I prefer to share—not just have it. But maybe you need age to learn these things. 

Q. But THE TURIN HORSE might be seen as showing bleakness in growing older, or a bleakness with age. 

Why do they always use this word “bleakness”? What does bleakness mean for you?

Q. Bleakness may imply an inevitable absolute darkness, and I, personally don’t believe in an absolute darkness, an absolute end. 

I really don’t like this “bleak” word. Because I really just made a movie about the logic of life. What is happening?  You are always doing your daily routine. Every day is different, you do the same, but every day, you are getting weaker, you have less and less energy, less and less hope. In the end, life just disappears. What we see now is life just disappears…you quietly slip away. There is not an apocalypse—the apocalypse is just a TV show. Of course, when you die, you will be alone. Of course, when you die, the darkness will be total. The film is talking about this. It is not talking about the conditions of the world. It is talking about the whole of life—which is, of course, unacceptable—we want to refuse and we hate. But fact is fact. It will come. That is why I don’t like saying “bleak.” Because I want to show this is the heaviest thing. When Kundera wrote The Unbearable Lightness of Being…I wanted to show the Heaviness of Being. 

Q. So, if not bleakness then, just inevitability?


Q. How is it that you gained this perspective? Where do think it started?

I worked in a ship factory for my first film. I learned everything about people for that film. Then, film by film, I learned more. Now I just listen to people, and if you have empathy, this is a perfect universe. 

Q. Do you have any sense that people may change, in a hundred years, or a thousand years? 

I don’t know. I said I am not a prophet! I am just interested in what is there now. Right now. And right now I need to smoke a cigarette.

Q. After that, are you going to see any other films at the festival?

I always see the main ones. But, how can you compare films? How can you compare a Bresson film with a Hitchcock movie? Two different worlds in the same planet. This is why it is quite nice to always watch movies, because you can see how colorful the world is. 

And with that, Bela Tarr went out to smoke a cigarette. 

Many thanks Mr. Tarr. Best of luck facing your next stage of the inevitable. I promise not to call it retirement. Or bleak.

Paul T. Bradley is a freelance writer, cinephile and former ditch-digger. He is a regular contributor to LA Weekly’s arts section, where he covers haute nerdery, semi-refined vulgarity and hastily-scrawled, pro-Los Angeles jingoism. He reluctantly tweets from @paultbradley.

A Conversation with KINYARWANDA’s Alrick Brown

KINYARWANDA was honored with the AFI FEST World Cinema Audience Award; it will be opening theatrically December 2.

By Joey Ally

En route to meet Alrick Brown at the Roosevelt Hotel on a recent uncommonly blustery yet stereotypically sunny L.A. Sunday, I attempted to prepare myself for what would undoubtedly be a very serious conversation.  Brown directed this year’s KINYARWANDA, the first Rwandan produced film on the 1994 genocide. Between that, his masters in education, his Peace Corps years in Côte d’Ivoire, the sociopolitical tone of much the rest of his filmic canon, and his NYU film grad pedigree—all by the age of 35—I figured he had to be one intense dude.  Which he was.  Only, not in the way I would have expected.

The man I met in Hollywood was formal neither in dress nor in any other way; he was a good-looking guy donning duds indicative of a New York fall—newsboy cap, oversized scarf, jeans—and it was immediately evident that, like his getup, this guy was effortless style with no frills.  Similarly, any fear over interviewing an “artiste” was quickly dispelled—Brown is an artist, to be sure, but he’s an artist who proclaims on his own website, “There is a place where we can still dream…My porch is where my peoples and I chill, plan, and dream of the future.  What is said on the porch ultimately becomes reality.  It’s not magic, we just make it happen.”  And, in his case, all metaphorical conceptual blahblahblah pretension aside, he really is talking about a porch—his mom’s porch—in Plainfield, New Jersey.

After sitting down and swapping the typical hodgepodge of prerecording pleasantries, Brown asked me, What is your dream? The question was so casual, so easy, so sincere, so direct—typically, I’d be flabbergasted into relative incoherence at receiving such a question from a filmmaker whose work I respect so immensely, but answering seemed perfectly natural—even after the three minutes or less we had known each other at this point, it already felt like we might as well be old friends chatting over coffee.  In that moment, I received insight into exactly how an entirely Rwandan production team was able to trust this American outsider with their stories.  

This was Brown’s most winning quality throughout the interview: his respect for human life on a macro level, writing and directing films that seek to change the world, trickles down into his behavior toward human beings on a micro level. On that Sunday, in a city notorious for ever-increasing fakery, the depth of Brown’s character shone through. (Incidentally, we laughed a bit sadly as the irony kicked in that we were sitting discussing African genocide in an interview suite with floor to ceiling windows facing Madame Tussauds). This is a man who believes in art, and believes in people, and believes in art as an agent of and for the people. Brown is the real deal.

Because Brown is only serious, only intense, about one thing: in his words, “the work.” He should be maddening—this guy decided one day to go to film school and was studying with Spike Lee one year later; his fervor for philanthropic artistry is so great that without his miraculously laid-back temperament he would surely topple over into sermonizing—and yet he’s stunningly likeable.  I’m no less jaded and cynical than the next guy, but something about Brown strikes as unnervingly authentic—even as he’s discussing the moment he knew he wanted to be a filmmaker while sitting on a rock on a beach, or his coming from a “Hitchcock school of filmmaking,” or purporting that the Academy Award isn’t the ultimate goal (gasp!). 

Initially allotted 20 minutes for the interview, Brown pushed commitments around to give us more time—he wanted to make sure I was able to get my story; 45 recorded minutes later, as I shook his hand in awe of all that had been communicated, all I could think was: this guy has devoted his entire life to helping other people with their stories, now he deserves to share his.  Here is some of that story.

J.A.: The story of KINYARWANDA is by a Rwandan man, Ishmael Ntihabose.  Can you tell me how you came to be linked up?

A.B..: When I went to NYU, one of my Peace Corps colleagues, Josh, ended up eventually working in Rwanda, and Ishmael was an aspiring filmmaker and genocide survivor. Josh hooked us up through email, said, “Ishmael if you want to know about filmmaking, this is the guy you need to talk to.”…I’m a filmmaker helper so I wanted to help.  So I said, “Y’know, whatever you need I’ll help you out with.”…  Eventually I ended up going to Rwanda to help him make this story.

J.A.: The intriguing aspect of what you’ve done here, is you’ve made a film about genocide with the people who suffered that genocide.

A.B.: This was a land woven of stories, and all I had to do was respect that.  To tell a story that’s this crazy or tragic or this encompassing it’s actually better to focus on these individual characters and these people from their perspective.  That’s probably a more truthful representation of any tragedy, as opposed to seeing one side versus the other in political accusation… I picked six stories and I started writing…. there was Lt. Rose, who was the president’s advisor at the time when I was in the country, and I sat with her to talk about her experiences.  She helped end the war, y’know, she was one of the soldiers.  And so that character is based on her, but the line that I took from her directly when I met her, she told me that when she went to Uganda and she came back her son didn’t recognize her.  The moment she told me that I wrote it into the script.  

J.A.: How did the screenplay actually come to exist? And, considering the production was almost entirely Rwandan, were there any rehearsal or mid-shooting edits made in collaboration with the cast and crew?

A.B.: My training taught me that the script is the bible, I’m a slave to the script, so I got it right on paper before we started shooting.  We didn’t have any rehearsals, really.  If I met you, the audition was the rehearsal, and then we got on set and we did it again… And my Assistant Director, he had never A.D.’d before, but he was a soldier in the war so I said, “you be my A.D.”  So there’s an accuracy and a truth to that entire process.

J.A.: The film is almost stunningly non-violent for a film of this ilk—was that something you chose to do because of who you were doing the film for, or was that something that just came out through the writing and telling of the stories.

A.B.: I don’t believe that you change those situations by showing bodies and statistics.  I believe that wars end and genocides are prevented when people are humanized…when one drop of blood is valuable, when one life is valuable, when you know the names of the people, when you see them as mothers, as sisters, as sons, as cousins, as uncles, and you laugh or they turn you on or they look sexy or they smile—that’s when it’s harder to drop a bomb or to swing an ax or a machete or… And I’m from a Hitchcock school of filmmaking…I think the psychology of violence is much more terrifying than actually showing it sometimes.

J.A.: You’ve mentioned in previous interviews that there are a few different moments that you recall when you knew you wanted to be a filmmaker, one of which was at the slave castles of Elmina in Ghana.  Can you talk a bit about why that experience was so transformative?

A.B.: I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the slave castles…these are where the slaves were housed for like 90 days before they got on the ships to go to the Americas.  [A lengthy, horrifying description of sub-human dungeon conditions follows.]  It’s a traumatic place, there’s a lot of stuff there… I was walking along a beach going to the next village, I kind of got lost, I started thinking about my life, I started thinking what if I died right now and nobody found me, and I was talking into this little tape recorder leaving a message to my mother and I just asked myself simply if I died doing something in this world what would it be.  And I calculated everything I had done: the places I had lived, the languages I’d spoken, the things I wanted to do in this world, being a teacher, everything.  And honestly, I sat on a rock, and film was the answer.

And it’s just like one of those things where you say it and everything made sense, every single thing I love about storytelling, wanting a bigger classroom—which is what a screen is for me…having an impact on people, knowing how to speak to people in a way that other people can’t.  I know what I’m capable of; it was calculating all of that and then that moment I said “film school” and that was it.  And I eventually found my way to the village I was going to and I got back to my country, which is Ivory Coast, and I started applying to film school.  I had never made a film before.

J.A.: Well, I’m flabbergasted, so I’m going to go right back to the questions. The common thread between your films seems to be a focus on outsiders, largely immigrants, and it is interesting that you began your life as something similar—when did you come from Jamaica to New Jersey and do you feel that making that transition had an effect on the kind of storytelling you want to do?

A.B.: I came to the United States when I was five years old, and I think much more than being an immigrant it was the outsider thing or the underdog.  We moved into a black neighborhood, and I remember being ridiculed and made fun of a lot for being dark skinned—it was before being dark skinned was cool—and being Jamaican was a no-no, and I would deny where I was from. African Americans are not used to a black person being so confident: they were taught to hate themselves, to hate their own skin color. White people were taught to fear me. I took karate classes and found a lot of racism around the Korean community that I was in when I was doing martial arts.

And I just started understanding why people are angry, where the hate comes from, and, so as a writer, as a humanist, as a human being, every time I look at a story, I try to understand people and not impose my beliefs on them, and respect where they’re coming from, whether it’s wrong or not. So I have always sided with the underdog. And I don’t know, maybe it’s my mother, it’s being the Jamaican immigrant, maybe it’s because I lost my father at a young age, I’m not sure.  

Q: How old were you when your father died?

A.B.: I was four and he was killed; he was shot and killed in Jamaica.  So, I know I’m not here to do the work that other filmmakers do, I was given a chance to be here to do something special and I’m not going to waste it.  And I know that.  I knew it from a young age.  It just so happens that film is the medium. When I sat on that rock I knew I had a responsibility to the world.  

J.A.: So from that rock, to now, sitting across from Madame Tussauds, having won the Audience Award at Sundance, having been featured in the IFC documentary FILM SCHOOL,  having picked up a number of accolades for other films—how do you feel?

A.B.: I don’t covet awards or accolades.  There’s so much work to be done.  There’s a story that was conceived in those slave castles that I want to tell.  No matter how much I approve of myself, the way Hollywood works it says, “You can’t tell that story, you’re not good enough yet, you’re not seasoned enough yet,” and I have to get to a point where I can tell that story.

I think there’s a saying that the minute that you convince yourself that you’re successful you lose your success.  I’m broke, I live in my mother’s basement, I don’t go out, I wish somebody would pay me to write. I want to just write my next project.  The hustle continues.  Whatever glamour people see on the surface, my pocket is still empty and I go to an interview and they drop me off in a limo and I’m standing on the street corner like, “Okay, what am I gonna eat?”

Sundance, festivals, it’s a game.  Your film gets into a festival, it doesn’t make it good.  And just cause it doesn’t get in doesn’t make it bad.  I don’t covet, I don’t look back; my mission is the next project I have to make because that project is gonna change somebody’s life and that’s what I’m trying to get to. Every project I’ve done, I’ve done with the mentality that: would I be proud leaving this behind if I died the next day?  And I am.  

J.A.: That’s a pretty weighty question to be putting on yourself every single second of every project that you’re doing…

A.B.: It is, but it’s not, in a weird way.  It’s balance…like, it’s a movie.  So it has to be weighty, and it has to be significant, but it’s still only a movie, so…relax.  Y’know, like Bruce Lee?  [Here, Brown holds his right arm at length, looking out the window just past his pointed index finger, then at his finger.]  Look at the moon, but don’t forget the finger in front of your face, and look at the finger in front of your face but don’t forget the moon.

J.A.: What’s next?  What should we be excited about? 

I just finished directing a new television show for ABC called FINAL WITNESS that’s gonna be out in January which is pretty cool—primetime TV.  That was the first time I’ve ever been paid to direct, and that meant a lot.  Unfortunately that money all went to making sure I got all the rights and the licensing to release KINYARWANDA December 2, but that’s an awesome thing.

Y’know, filmmakers get all hyped up about film festivals and theatrical releases, but in truth, with primetime television, your work reaches millions of people.  And I was fortunate with that series that the producers and the people involved are looking for artists, and they were working like artists, and they’re looking for craft and real storytelling, so the series looks amazing.  The visuals, the cinematography, the style, the storytelling—it’s unlike anything I’ve seen on television, particularly network.  So it’s gonna be a cool show.  

But that leads me to this theatrical release.  We have a limited release with a firm, the African American Film Releasing Movement on December 2, and in Los Angeles we’re going to be at Laemmle, and, for a little film like this that we started in Rwanda through emails…to have the chance for people to be able to go into a movie theatre to see this, to see my cast and crew who had never acted before…

J.A.: I read the update on your website, where by the way, I loved the banner at the top, the whole porch metaphor, “this is a place where we can still dream,” I mean, did you have a porch growing up, or is that something that you just…?

A.B.: No it’s my porch in Plainfield, my mom’s basement where I crash, that’s where all my boys used to come and hang and that’s where I did all my dreaming.  My porch.  

J.A.: KINYARWANDA played at the 34th Street Theatre in Manhattan, which I know is a big theater and one in the city you’ve lived in—what was that like?

A.B.: It was magical, because a lot of people from my hometown came to that theater to see it.  I mean, as a kid you sat in those theaters and you watched these big movies, and then to sit back in the dark and to think that these people in here are now watching a movie that I made…I think that’s why I need to be in a relationship at some point, because after something like that who do you share that with?  Y’know, you go home and you go “look at what I just did, what I just went through.”  And it’s maybe one of those things where it’s not going to make sense until I look back.

I don’t know if it’s going to get better than this.  Like, the newness of it all.  I don’t know if it’s going to get better than this…playing 34th Street Theatre, playing at the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre right now. I just stepped on Bruce Lee’s star and my movie’s playing right inside there and he walked on these streets, and Hitchcock walked these streets, and I’m playing this theatre?

J.A.: What is your favorite Hitchcock film?

A.B. I’d have to say NORTH BY NORTHWEST.  My high school English teacher, Mr. Richard Weigel, introduced me to that film—white teacher, black and latino students who don’t want to see old time movies—and he made us watch the film in 10th grade maybe…and I was blown away. Hitchcock became a recurring thing in my life. I think it was one of the seeds that was planted early on about what I was gonna do with my life. 

J.A.: What is it about Hitchcock’s films that intrigues you so deeply?  Or what aspects do you try to emulate as a director yourself?

A.B.: The moment I sat down to watch NORTH BY NORTHWEST to the very last frame, I was riveted.  And if I take anything away, it’s that when I try to make a film; whether I’m talking about police brutality or the Rwandan genocide, I want the audience to sit there and go on a journey and be completely riveted moment to moment, scene to scene, shot to shot, I don’t want anyone to want to get up or text or go to the bathroom, I want you to stay engaged in it.

I took a writing seminar that Tony Gilroy did at NYU—Tony’s the write of BOURNE SUPREMACY and BOURNE IDENTITY, I love him—and in one session he changed my whole idea of screenwriting.  But one of the things he said in that class is his greatest fear is losing the audience’s attention for one second.  And I think that’s a part of my fear, too. What Hitchcock did is he brought us into this world of common, regular people going through extraordinary circumstances. And he did it without violence, without cursing, without a lot of the shock value.

J.A.: Without the gimmicks.

A.B.: I have mad respect for that dude, man.  And I love the fact that he never got an Academy Award for directing.  I love it.  I mean, so many actors and talents who—I’ll ask them, “What’s your dream?”  And they’ll tell me they want an Academy Award.  They don’t talk about the work.  They want the Award, right?  And I love people like Hitchcock.  It sucks that he didn’t get it, but it’s like, he’s one of the greatest directors that ever lived.  And if he didn’t get it, it’s okay if I never get any of those awards.  I’ll be fine, as long as I go down in history as having told strong and beautiful stories.  

J.A.: I was so intrigued by Edouard Bamporiki’s performance in KINYARWANDA, by the fact that he plays one of the aggressors of the genocide in a way that is still so human and three dimensional, and I know that he’s also a filmmaker, poet, etc. How did you find him and what was that relationship like?

A.B.: Edouard was a gem. So I went to meet with this group of guys at Almond Tree Films, Isaac [Lee Isaac Chung, Writer/Director of MUNRUYANGABO, in which Edouard acted] helped these guys start Almond Tree. I went to them to do our ‘behind the scenes’ video.  And as I was sitting in the living room and talking to them I met Edouard and I saw his personality and I said, “Dude, you should be in my movie.”  And he said okay.

And I had written that role on the page, but Edouard brought a lot to it. He’s a Hutu, and by the way those terms are not used in Rwandan day-to-day life anymore, they call themselves Rwandan, but for the purpose of accuracy he was a Hutu. He was 11-years-old during the genocide and sick in a hospital where over 50,000 people were killed. Including his school teacher, who happened to be Tutsi.

So he came to this character with the weight and the responsibility of all of those killings and killers, but he’s devoted his entire life to peace and prosperity and writing books about the shame and the guilt. Because he saw those guys, and the energy that they brought when they were killing, and the power they felt when they had that kind of control, when they were holding their machetes, and y’know…we were on the same page, and it was a pleasure.  And he’s just brilliant, he’s a brilliant actor and a brilliant human being.

J.A.: It’s stunning to realize that this was the first entirely Rwandan-produced feature-length film ever. What are your feelings about the future of Rwandan film? Do you think that a seed has been planted?

A.B.: Yeah, I mean the seed was not planted by me.  It was planted by Isaac and even by HOTEL RWANDA and all those…and Rwandans didn’t particularly like some of the politics in that film, so they started picking up cameras to tell their own story.  Like I said, it’s a land of stories.  So, the seed was planted as soon as they saw that film was a viable medium, and it’s gonna continue, I think they—like Nigeria before them, and all these African countries—see that film is a way of telling their stories, and of empowerment, and also of entertainment.  And it’s gonna happen.  There’s a few film schools, a few exchange programs, people are building rental houses, so there’s a lot happening there now.  And the digital age has turned it into something.  And I think after the genocide so many people were running to Rwanda—Americans and Europeans—and Rwandans kind of latched on and saw it and said, “Why don’t we tell our own? We’ve got all these people coming in to tell our stories.  Why don’t we tell our own?”

Joey Ally is a writer and actor who comes from New York City, lives in Silver Lake, and has driven cross-country three times in the past year-and-a-half.  Joey was Jesse Pinkman for Halloween, and can be found on twitter at @joellenally.

Alex Ross Perry On THE COLOR WHEEL

Alex Ross Perry

Chinese 1, 11/5/2011 10:30 PM
Chinese 1, 11/7/2011 1:15 PM

By Ben Greenblatt

Q. I haven’t seen your first film IMPOLEX, but I’ve read about it.  It’s a World War II story that has many Thomas Pynchon Gravity’s Rainbow influences, and this new film seems more indebted to Philip Roth, but I was wondering what the transition was like between the two?

Alex Ross Perry: I don’t think they are super different, for me.  Both of them came from me looking at these novels that I love and then saying “this is very cinematic, but there’s no movies of this author.”  And there couldn’t be necessarily exact film adaptations of their work, but just twice now I was reading an author and they really blew my mind.  I decided I wanted to explore making a film in their style, kind of indebted to the ideas that they have bestowed upon me.

So they both came from that.  It was a very similar spark at the beginning of both projects.

Q. I read in an interview about you being frustrated with post-college life, and trying to fulfill your dream, whereas other friends of yours have taken the easy road and given up.  Can you elaborate on where the idea for THE COLOR WHEELcame from?  And the dynamic between the brother and sister?

ARP: I made this one movie, and I was pretty pleased with myself, and I was very excited to have made it.  I had been out of college for two years, almost to the day when we started shooting IMPOLEX.  And that just seemed very logical to me, and it was very exciting.

I looked at the fact that I had left my job at a video store, very much excited to direct this feature film, which had been the goal for me.  But people I had known would come to screenings and just wouldn’t be supportive.  I became very frustrated and confused as to why at one point we had had the same goals, and now all of the sudden, two to three years later, there I was, having done exactly what we hoped to, and these other people had not.

Part of the film school thinking is that you have to wait for someone to get up and give you permission to do this, and eventually I realized that that was just nonsense.

Q. Do you find that people are more supportive with THE COLOR WHEEL now?

ARP: Not those people.  But I’ve met new people that are very interesting and very kind to me, and eager to support me; other filmmakers who have actually done these things.  They are my core group now.

And at every festival I go to, I meet more people like this.  I’m very happy now to be in a place where I can meet the people that I thought I knew all along.

Q. I think that’s important, to have a group of like-minded people, who can support you and challenge you in a positive way.

ARP: Yeah, it’s just a big part of it.  With my first movie I didn’t really know who to go to for feedback, to show cuts to, but on this new one, every time I had a different cut, I could show it to different friends who had directed films of their own.  Having a huge support system of other filmmakers, all of whom I really like and respect, to give me feedback on my own film, and to help me edit it, was great.  And it really made me feel good.

Q. IMPOLEX was just written by you, but THE COLOR WHEELwas co-written by co-star Carlen Altman (JR in the film).  What was the writing process like between you and her?

ARP: Basically I had ideas, and I was interested in exploring them, and I came to her and decided we wanted to do a movie about a brother and sister.  We spend a couple months talking about both of our characters and what should happen to these people.  So we had conversations and took notes and came up with a loose outline as to what the story would be.  And then I went away, first alone, to my apartment for a couple months, wrote the first draft.  Then I brought the first draft back to Carlen and both characters talked exactly like me, so she worked on her own dialogue, and made her character something that she was comfortable performing.  And that was our second and third drafts, and from there we just rehearsed and revised the script as we went along.

Q. So it was a good collaboration?

ARP: Yeah it was good.  Having her bring her own writing to her character was very helpful, because her character would not have been very three dimensional had they both been written by me.  And the amount of time we spent rehearsing really gave us a lot of time to figure out how to play the characters.  We started writing the movie in June 2009, we had our first draft of the script done, and were rehearsing and revising starting in November, then we started shooting June 2010.  We had eight or nine months to write the script, revise it, and rehearse, so it became very lived in.

Q. You co-wrote, co-starred, edited, produced and directed this film.  What was this process like?  Was there a benefit to this way of filmmaking, or was it too nerve-wracking, and you wouldn’t do it again?

ARP: Oh yeah, I wouldn’t do it again.  Nerve-wracking doesn’t even describe it.  It was incredibly difficult, and incredibly complicated.  It wasn’t done for fun—it was done out of necessity.  I would have loved to have had somebody else handling any number of tasks while we were working.  It was kind of by default that I ended up having to do all that on my own.  It was very complicated and in the future I would like to be able to work with a producer so I’m not doing every phone call myself, and taking care of every problem that arises on set while I’m trying to direct and act as well.  It’s stressful, but it keeps the size of the crew down. 

Q. With the small crew and wearing so many different hats, did you find that you were able to maintain your ideas and vision?

ARP: Yeah it definitely becomes easier for you if you didn’t have to go through a lot of people and everything.  Every idea I thought we should do I didn’t have to explain to four different people.  It was just straight from my head and then all of the sudden we were doing it.  All you need to do is talk it over with the cinematographer and then we’re shooting it.  But it is stressful, and very complicated, and I would love to some day find someone who can help me make movies where I’m not wearing all those hats on my own.

Q. How was it working with your cinematographer Sean Price Williams?

ARP: It was great.  He shot my first movie and I really value our collaboration, and I love working with him.  He’s very distinctive in a way that I respond to.  We don’t have a monitor or anything like that when we are shooting.  He doesn’t want it, because he doesn’t want it to be plugged into his camera, cause that would slow him down.  And I don’t really need it, because I trust him.  Plus I’m in most of the scenes.  If he says the framing is good, then I trust the framing is good.  If he says that we didn’t get it, then I trust that we didn’t get it.

Q. What was the shooting ratio like?

ARP: We ended up with about eleven hours, and cut that down to an hour and twenty minutes. 

Q. So much of this film looks, and I hate to use these words, “spontaneous” and “improvisational,” but I know that it was well-rehearsed and well-planned.  So it’s got this really amazing quality.  And I’ve seen Sean’s other work like FROWNLAND, and it’s just off the wall.

ARP: He’s great.  He can make the dull seem a little bit more interesting with some of his ideas and choices.  When we show up and the space is smaller than we thought we were going to have, his solutions do help.  And it’s like what you’re saying, there is a certain vibrancy and life in the movie and in the camerawork that we have that helps set the tone, and it helps it seem at times a little bit spontaneous.  A lot of times people are very incredulous when we say that there is really no improvising in the movie.  I think a lot of that is from the acting and the way the movie looks and the way it feels, because it moves around a lot. It gives it a vibrancy that sets a tone that people respond to.

Q. I agree.  Working with Sean, how much did you two discuss influences?  I know you’ve mentioned Jerry Lewis, Vincent Gallo and Robert Frank, but did you two go into specifics?

ARP: Sean and I are very united in our love of going to see films, and we both see hundreds of films a year.  But we don’t really talk a lot about influences.  We usually just fixate on two or three films and just go for that, cause anything more than that and we’re just throwing too much stuff out there.  Jerry Lewis is his favorite director, and a hero of mine.  We just talk, not about the look of those movies at all, but about the energy of them and the tone and the spirit, and the way that it feels watching somebody in that movie who is a director and what that means, and what kind of film that becomes.  So it just became kind of a guidepost, not like ‘let’s make shots look like this,’ but to get our heads in the right space.

In terms of look, the only thing we talked about were the films of Bill Fosyth a little bit.  We talked aboutLOCAL HERO and HOUSEKEEPING, which Sean described as “needlessly beautiful comedies.”  That was sort of our signpost – a comedy that doesn’t need to have nice camerawork, but it does and it becomes a little something else.  And we watched Woody Allen’s MANHATTAN just for five minutes because we wanted to see the driving footage in that – we wanted to see how they shot driving in cars.  Obviously also a black and white movie.

Q. It’s funny you mention studying MANHATTAN for the driving shots because in THE COLOR WHEEL, there is no shot of you and Carlen talking in the car, only driving.

ARP: Well that’s partially out of necessity.

Q. It works though.  It’s a road movie without physically being with you on the road talking.

ARP: I’ve seen stuff like that in movies a lot, and it’s not super interesting to me.  The shots inside the car I’ve seen in a thousand movies, and there’s nothing I can really add to that, especially without proper equipment, so we decided to not even try to half-ass it.  And once we decided that, the decision came at the same time we realized they’re driving this whole time and not saying anything. 

Q. Going back to the question before, about Jerry Lewis and Vincent Gallo, and a personality taking over the film, Carlen’s character JR seems to inhabit that quality, but not necessarily your character.

ARP: The thing about the character that Jerry Lewis plays in his movies is that he is always the bringer of chaos—he’s always the character that cuts through order and brings absolute insanity to the situation.  I think for our movie both characters fulfill that function.  But I  think we split it up a little bit.  In the Jerry Lewis movies he always says the wrong thing to the wrong person, which I think my character does at every chance.  I had all the pratfalls of the typical comedy, but we tried to make both characters part of the figure that cuts through the room and ruins everybody’s situation, which Jerry Lewis does in every scene in every movie.

Q. I always liked yours and Carlen’s characters in the film—I didn’t necessarily feel sympathetic towards them, but I liked them.  And even keeping in mind their role in bringing chaos into the world, they were always the best people in the room.  Especially in the scenes with the Professor and the Party.

ARP: Well what we wanted to do was make every character they interact with as difficult as possible.  And in that process, smooth out the JR and Colin characters so that they get to the point, which you just described, that you are kind of endeared to them.  In the beginning they might seem loud and annoying, but once you see a handful of people really beat them down and just destroy them at every chance they get, you start to feel very very bad for them.

Q. Turning the question to style, I know you shot this film on 16mm black-and-white, and with your cinematographer discussed Robert Frank, but you said in an interview with Miriam Bale, “If we shoot a chrome diner in color it would terrible. But if you put it in black-and-white, all of the sudden it’s an image people recognize, it’s a tone people understand.”  The film has a sort of timeless quality—besides the Honda that you and JR drive throughout the movie, there is no other hint of modern technology—no cellphones or computers.  Was this a decision?

ARP: You see the settings—the motels, the diners—and it feels familiar, but you see the characters in it and what they’re doing, and it feels different—a little bit modern.  Not entirely, because we did shy away from any of the modern technological contraptions, just because there is no drama there, it’s taking it too far.  If you see a diner in black-and-white, great, but if you see a guy on a laptop in black-and-white, it just becomes kind of a joke—you’re just putting a modern movie into black-and-white.  Seeing a cellphone or a laptop into this movie would’ve just been anachronistic to the tone that we tried to get at as soon as possible.

Q. Olivier Pere, Director of the Locarno Film Festival, wrote an essay titled “Guerrila Cinema” and your name is mentioned alongside other AFI FEST alumni Lisandro Alonso, Albert Serra and Harmony Korine.  I don’t know if you set out to make a political film or a political work, but what’s it like to be on this list?

ARP: It’s amazing.  I’m a big Olivier fan and I’m honored that he included me in that.  It’s one of those things where seeing my name next to those other names you just listed really blows my mind.  To even just have my name on an essay…

It goes back to what I was saying earlier, these are guys that, when I was talking with my friends in film school, were all heroes of ours, and to be seriously mentioned in the same breath with anyone like that is very very strange for me and incredibly exciting.  It makes me feel like I did something right.  

I was just at the Viennale film festival, and they have this poster that they do every year, which is comprised of one still from every film that is playing in that year’s fest in a mosaic.  And I bought this.  It’s a still from my movie next to a still from Cronenberg’s movie and one from Gus Van Sant’s movie.  People who, when I was in high school and film school were incredibly important to me, and I have this poster where we are all just there.  It’s very exciting, and also very humbling.  

It’s part of why I’m very excited to come to AFI FEST because they are showing lots of movies from Cannes and Venice.  They’re showing the new Polanski film, and then my film.  It’s very exciting to be apart of festivals like that.

Ben Greenblatt is a filmmaker in Los Angeles.


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