Monday, January 30, 2012

The Courage to Fight the Devil

Find Pray the Devil Back to Hell on Video

The Courage to Fight the Devil

(from 11/4/08)

praythedevilleymah.jpg Leymah Gbowee
There were two impressive women on the big screen during this spring's Tribeca Film Festival that I haven't stopped thinking about. You'll be able to see both this month in New York. Little known Irish actress Eileen Walsh ("The Magdalene Sisters") deservedly won Best Actress at the festival for a star-making performance in "Eden," Declan Reicks' powerful film about a crumbling marriage that opens November 14. I hope she gets an Oscar nomination and we'll see a lot more of her. A great actress.
Also a virtual unknown, Leymah Gbowee is the central figure in "Pray the Devil Back to Hell," a passionate, eye-opening documentary about a recent but obscure chapter in Liberian history--and perhaps the greatest chapter ever not written about women leading a political moment. (It's kind of like "Salt of the Earth" in which women "manned" the picket lines for their striking miner husbands--but on a much larger scale.) The modest but charismatic Leymah was at the forefront as 2,500 courageous Christian and Muslim women relentlessly waged a lengthy and dangerous protest to bring to an end to an endless Civil War, save their children, eradicate rape, dispose of a dictator, and bring democracy (and a female president) to their country. After watching her stand up to the imposing Charles Taylor in the movie and literally change history, it was quite humbling and thrilling to chat with her, as well as the talented filmmakers. Producer Abigail Disney (who knew that the grandniece of Walt Disney would be a progressive?), director Gini Reticker, and the remarkable Lehman Gbowee (who arrived late due to getting out of a cab two miles, rather than two blocks, away) took part in the following roundtable at the festival. Their uplifting must-see film opens Friday at the Cinema Village, as part of a national release.
Danny Peary: When did you come upon the story about what happened in Liberia?
Abigail Disney: I was traveling to Liberia with a group of women who were interested in Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf's presidency. She had been inaugurated about three months before I got there. It's almost exactly two years ago now. We were there just to be supportive of the presidency in whatever way we could. It's hard to really comprehend how broken that country is and, really, every bit of help you can bring to it, you need to bring to it. I met with women activists who had been around the women's peace-making committee for a long time, and they would tell me a lot of different things. They kept referring to what had happened in Liberia a though I knew it already. So, it would be referred to in passing, and I was seeing before me this emerging jigsaw puzzle that was missing half the pieces. I kept asking more about what happened without getting the full amazing story about how Christian and Muslim women of Liberia banded together and stopped what looked like a never-ending civil war. They wanted to save their children and stop the rape of women. And the other result was the end of dictator Charles Taylor's reign. I realized I was witnessing the process of erasure, the historical processes by which we as a civilization forget some of the things that people did. The reason women, such as these women of Liberia, are not represented in history is because we consistently cross them out of the record. And because there was no record being written, the story was coming to me as half truths and half lies. I admit I had cynicism myself about the story because I was the type of New Yorker who believed if it wasn't in the New York Times, it didn't happen. Then on my last night there, I met a guy from the European Union who had been at the peace talks. And I said, "You know, I've heard some things and I'm just curious what you think?" He was the most regular guy you're ever going to meet and I thought this is the guy who's going to debunk the fairy tale. But he said we would not be sitting there in peace with Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as president if it hadn't been for what those extraordinary women did. So I came back to America with the idea that somebody had done something great and the story was on the verge of being wiped off the planet like so many things have been in the past. At that point Gini and I, who had known each other many years before, reconnected. We talked endlessly about the story. And then we had another great stroke of luck. A friend of mine happened upon Leymah at a hearing of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, and she connected Leymah and us. So many parts of the puzzle were missing because I hadn't met Leymah yet. Because she is a person with really extraordinary charisma and a capacity to tell a story really well. When she told it to us, we knew we had to run with it.
Gini Reticker: The first people we interviewed were Leymah and the woman who tells the rape story. We pieced their stories together in a historical time line, and from that I knew who else I wanted to interview. We went to Liberia on a scouting trip and got twelve to fifteen women together, and I chose from them who else I wanted to interview. Then we figured out what other kinds of shots we needed to get and did a tremendous amount of archival research, piecing this story together. The hardest thing in making the film was that it was the story of a group of women, not just Leymah's story. So how do you get intimate enough with other women, too, so that you get to feel that you know who they are, and at the same time place their stories into a historical context?
This was all taking place at the same time the United States was invading Iraq. While we were making this film I had people all the way up the human rights chain saying to me, "Oh this didnt happen because we weren't part of it." And I'm like, "Excuse me?" And then we had encounters with people who were shocked by women who had said, "Oh they looked so pathetic. I thought were nothing." And we had people say to us, "The women didn't really play a big role. They weren't key players. They were just the conscious of the country." And I said to them, "Okay. I'm a little confused. In a place that has completely lost its moral compass, the women who were the conscious of the country didn't play a major role?"
Q: What role did the women have in the editing the film?
GR: Leymah has been back and forth many times to New York doing work for the United Nations and if we were missing a line or needed something, she would help. And if we weren't clear about something other women would help, too. But they had no editorial input.
Q: What was really moving was the fact that Leymah was an average woman wanting to save her family and she grew into an activist and true leader of the movement. What did her story mean to you?
GR: We saw that ordinary people can do extraordinary things. Leymah is an extraordinary person but she grew into that. Her story actually started when she was seventeen-years-old at the beginning of the civil war. She actually went through a long period were she was like a party girl. She just drank. She felt like what's the difference? This is just war. But she had four children and at a certain point she began doing social work and it progressed from there. It's amazing how many of the most significant events in the civil war she experienced. Even back in 1990 she and her family were in a church and got warning that there was going to be trouble, so they escaped just in time. There was a major massacre and six hundred people were killed.
Q: What as the hardest part about structuring your film?
GR: The hardest part was deciding where to start the story because the history was just so long. We tried to start it in 1990 but the war went on for so long and it looked so much the same, unfortunately. Eventually I said the real core of the story is what the women did to end the war, so we decided to go from there. From the very get go it was really important to me that the women tell their own stories without any interference. It was just trying to get the pieces to work together. Leymah would come back and forth and help me with narration if I didn't get what I needed in the original interview with her. Later on we had her talking about what the war was about.
AD: The most painful thing about making this film was to decide what we couldn't cover. It seemed so important that the film had the quality of a ride. We needed to get on and go all the way to the end without digressions. And there were too many stories and so many layers to cover. For example, we couldn't get into all details about the women meeting with Charles Taylor. Taylor had told them to come back, but only if there were twenty women. And I liked when Leymah said, "I'll be back." She came back with 2,500 women.
DP: Were you surprised to get hold of the footage that's in the film?
AD: Yes. We were in Liberia doing interviews but we also were actively doing research. Because this was history that very recently happened, we didn't have any book to go to. And nobody had footage. But our associate producer found this guy who had been the official videographer for the Executive Mansion since about 1977. He'd been there through coups, assassinations, and massacres. Charles Taylor periodically sent him out to do reconnaissance on the front line. He would helicopter in and video the fighting. He said that at one point he had video of a bullet going through the lens of his camera. He had been downsized out of a job by Ellen Sirleaf and was just sitting around with all of the masters. We reached out everywhere and wouldn't say no and I think we were really lucky to find this guy. Honestly, I don't think anybody else could have.
At this time Leymah Gbowee and arrived and joined the conversation. Before anyone could ask, she introduced herself.
Leymah: I was one of the women who initiated the Women's Peace Building Network. We started that network in Liberia. I worked as a caseworker for different church programs and then I was coordinating the work of the women. I couldn't handle both jobs so I resigned my full-time job and decided to take on the women's peace-building job. We were without any budget and without anything but my own conviction that women could be good peace-builders. Because I was the coordinator at the time, I was asked to lead to process. There were other women who could have been the spokesperson in that phase of the movement, but they all decided there and then that I should be that spokesperson and that I should be the face of the movement. So, one minute I'm organizing a program for women peace-builders and the next minute I am the leader of a mass action campaign of over 2,500 women.
Q: Leymah, the Christian and Muslim women worked together, which is pretty surprising. What kind of relationship did the women have in Liberia prior to this?
LG: We always had a good relationship on the surface. The Christian-Muslim thing never really became an issue until we started working together on that first campaign.
It was called the Peace Outreach Project, and it was meant to raise awareness among women. It was then that we realized there were tensions underneath. The women were saying things like, "These Muslim women are the reason we weren't successful in this community." Or they'd say, "These Christian women were the reason why we didn't get this group to talk us." We decided to have a three-day roundtable meeting of Christian and Muslim women. That was when we knew we really had religious problems that we'd been sweeping under the rug for many years. Because once the women were inside the room, automatically it was Christians on one side and Muslims on the other side. It became an issue of Christian and Muslim. But by the time we started using phrases like "Does the bullet know a Christian from a Muslim?" And we asked, "How many Christians have died?" and "How many Muslims have died?" And "Are soldiers asking if you are a Christian and a Muslim before they rape you?" All of these things really got to them, especially the Christian women. They were the ones who felt their faith would be diluted if they worked with the Muslim women. What we did was bring in two older women who had been friends for over fifty years. One a Christian and one a Muslim. In their community they had been condemned as witches. And we brought them to sit and tell their stories of how their friendship, minus their faith, kept the two of them going. And that hammered in the message that if the women had the chance to succeed they needed to forget about religion and realize they shared similar problems and issues.
Q: Were men present when ideas were being talked about?
LG: Not at all. Not at all! The beauty of the work that we did was that we did it on our own. We were bringing women into the movement who always had consulted with their husbands. We convinced women to come on board and prepared them to mix with the larger group. By using terms like "Women Building Bridges for Reconciliation," and "Christian-Muslim Women Working Together for Peace," we got women to say, "We can do this."
DP: Near the end of the movie, you say, "We did the unimaginable." Talk about the importance of that line. Leymah: Well, in my mind until tomorrow I think no one thought that we could sustain a protest for two-and-a-half years. No one. It was unimaginable. No one thought that with little education and with all of the problems we had, we could challenge the structure. It was unimaginable, too. There were other unimaginable things that we did that the video didn't capture. Like going to the transitional chairman one morning and walking straight into his office and saying, "Sit down. We need to talk about corruption in your government." And going to the Minister of Commerce very early one morning with ten women after the Minister had refused to release papers on taxation on rice that the transitional government had done. He refused to give it to the transitional Parliament, he refused to give it to the press. We got there that morning and sat with him for three hours and at the end he gave us all of those documents. So, those were unimaginable things. Places that we never thought we would go, we went. Like in the rural areas where women went into the bushes and brought combatants out and told them, "In order for you to reintegrate you have to sit down and we will cut your hair and then you can go back to your community." I talk about it from the point of traveling to all fifteen counties of Liberia and working with women from these different parts, through the tears, through the happiness, and doing unimaginable things. I will give one last example of the unimaginable. There was this night when violence had broken out in the provincial city of Gbamga, in Central Liberia. And the women from Totota took a bus and walked to a checkpoint in Gbamga and the Pakistani troops told them, "You cannot go in. It is terrible." And these women said, "We're going in." And the troops said, "We will not safeguard your lives." And they said, "We're going in." So, with white cloths waving while singing songs of praises to God, both Christian and Muslim women went in.
The fights stopped. All of the looting, all of the disturbances stopped. And these women walked to the middle of that town in the middle of the night, and told them, "You will stop fighting tonight." And they went, "Why should we stop?" They said, "Because we are here to tell you that we need to live our lives in peace." And they said, "Okay. Let's listen to them." After they listened all night to the preaching and talking, and the reading from the Koran and the Bible. The next morning these women had a big cook out for these fighters. And that was the end of the fighting. So those were unimaginable things that we don't capture on camera. But communities remember that the women stepped out and did the unimaginable.
Q: I didn't see anybody with a clerical collar or an imam in the picture. Was it just the case of the women coming from the churches and the mosques and doing it themselves?
LG: No. The women from the mosques had to get the blessings of the imam before they came. Liberia was such a political place. I mean a real political place. When we started the protests, Charles Taylor had two wives--one Christian and one Muslim. And his Muslim wife was a very powerful woman. And she went on the radio and said the Muslim women who were joining the movement were not actual Muslims, but outcasts. She had so much to say. The very next day that got a response from the archbishop of the Catholic Church. He was a big ally of ours. He called me every morning to give me strength. He would speak our native language and say, "You have to be strong, Leymah, Don't give up." He went to all of the political leaders and asked all of them to contribute cash to our movement. He was out there for us. When he heard Charles Taylor's wife's statement, he called the chief imam of Liberia and said, "I want you to meet us on the airfield tomorrow." They met there and the archbishop, who was the president of the Liberian Council of Churches at the time, endorsed the movement. The imam came back and said, "Any Muslim woman that doesn't join this movement is going to be held accountable." By the next day we got Muslim women from all over. It was amazing. So, he kind of just dismissed Taylor's wife. And every time we had programs, he was there. We honored him I don't know how many times. I think he was getting tired of getting honors from the women of Liberia! The archbishop, unfortunately, suffered a stroke. When we ended the mass action campaign at the end of the election, before going to the official ground where we had started, we went to his house. And that was the most depressing moment for me. Here was someone who had been so energetic and full of life and so encouraging, and now he's sitting in a wheelchair, not being able to speak and struggling to remember me. Everyone brought me forward and it was like "Bishop, this is Leymah." And he had this puzzled look on his face. And I just cried and cried and cried. But at the end of the entire program at his house, the nurse who was taking care of him said, "Go back to him." And I went back and he opened his eyes and smiled like, "Now I get it." And then he made a motion with hands that said "come and hold me," so I hugged him. Afterward I went back to him because we had to get the blessing of this archbishop. In the film you saw us using the St. Peter's Lutheran Church. That church always said, "Our doors are open." But every church collected money on Sundays and brought it to us on Mondays at the airfield. So the churches and the mosques were really, really supportive of the work that we did.
GR: I just want to add that that the St. Peter's Lutheran Church is where the massacre took place at the beginning of the war, when 600 people, including Charles Taylor's father, was massacred.
AD: And the scene where they are lighting candles is a memorial of the massacre over the mass grave of the people.
Q: What are your goals for this film?
AD: I believed from the beginning that this story could really move people to act. I always feared that the mainstream industry people would have difficulty seeing past the fact that it was about Africa and about women. But I knew that it would be greeted with enormous enthusiasm by people who really need to have examples of courage and moral clarity and so forth. So from very early on, we have been either taking or sending it to women's organizations around the world. Partly to test the theory that it is universal and my theory that it is a call to action. It's played in Bosnia, Georgia, Cambodia, Peru, Nairobi, Chile, Nairobi, Zimbabwe; I showed it to two hundred indigenous women from Canada. I could go on and on. Women in Iraq e-mailed us to ask how many copies of the move they could make. Women in Sudan e-mailed us and said seeing the film had changed people's lives. It's been an unbelievable thing. I want to cry just thinking about it. I think the film has a real capacity to really catalyze and coalesce what is a kind of inchoate global women's movement. It's always sort of been lying there and we've been looking for the thread to pull it together. I think this story may be the beginning of that thread. I really believe that everybody wants to be a peace-builder when they come out of this film. So we're building a website right now called and we're hoping to be able to bring people into this website and offer them some ideas for how to find organizations that need their help. And I'd love to build that into something large, maybe even some sort of clearinghouse for people who are new to activism and want to reach out to the communities and people that need help. So there are big plans.

Captions and Photo credits:
Portrait of Leymah Gbowee: Michael Angelo for Wonderland
Liberian women demonstrate at the American Embassy in Monrovia at the height of the civil war in July 2003: Pewee Flomoku
Director Gini Reticker (left) and Producer Abigail E. Disney (right): Greg Kessler
President of Liberia Charles Taylor: APTN
Liberian women protest in front of UN Envoy at Mamba Point Monrovia Liberia: Pewee Flomoku

The Macedonian Film Festival

The Macedonian Film Festival

(from 11/18/08)

I believe that if you spun a globe and put your finger down anywhere in the world, including countries at war or even those you couldn't find on a map, there you'd find somebody carrying around a movie camera. I'm not sure if Macedonia is the last place on earth not to have a film festival of its own but that doesn't matter because beginning this Thursday, New York is hosting its inaugural Macedonian Film Festival. It will run through Sunday at the Cinema Village on 23rd Street and I gotta tell you that of the numerous festivals that pop up in the Big Apple every year, this is one that really intrigues me. I've seen only two of the films that will be playing, "I Am From Titov Veles" and "Mirage" and they were so unrelentingly bleak that I am curious if every filmmaker in that country gets up on the wrong side of the bed each morning; but they were also so perfectly crafted and acted and had such a striking vision that I am hungry for more. I have the feeling that only directors and writers from the relatively young Republic of Macedonia, with its history, cultural diversity, andI finally found it!place on the map could make films quite like these. So this festival gives the adventurous filmgoer a rare opportunity to watch different kinds of movies and get a glimpse of a country we know little about. If the rest of the films are like the two I saw, this festival certainly won't help Macedonia's tourism industry, but it will give the country some recognition, as it is seen by its talented and socially-conscious filmmakers. Give it a shot. Below is the information about the festival from its press release:
A four-day festival to celebrate some of the best of Macedonian filmmaking including Milcho Manchevskis Before the Rain and Dust, and Teona Strugar Mitevskas I Am From Titov Veles, the 2008 Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film NEW YORK, NY NOVEMBER 4, 2008 The Macedonian Film Fund in association with International Film Circuit announced today that it will present the first Macedonian Film Festival in New York City, Thursday, November 20th through Sunday, November 23rd, at The Village East Cinema (189 Second Ave at East 12th Street). The aim of the Macedonian Film Festival is to celebrate some of the best cinematic achievements to come from Macedonia, a small, young country comprised of a large number of diverse ethnic groups. In a remarkably short amount of time, it has managed to produce a thriving filmmaking industry and body of work that has garnered both international, critical and awards acclaim. Several directors of the films featured in The Macedonian Film Festival will attend the public screenings of their films for Q&As, including the Academy-Award-nominated Milcho Manchevski.
For the complete schedule of screening times and for advance purchase of tickets, please visit the Village East Cinema box office (189 Second Ave at East 12th Street) and online at:
Festival will screen the following titles:
BEFORE THE RAIN (Closing Night Film) directed by Milcho Manchevski. One Of The Best 1,000 Films Ever Made (The New York Times), winner of over 30 international awards, including the Venice Golden Lion and the Independent Spirit Award. Nominated for a Best Foreign-Language Film Academy Award. Director Milcho Manchevski will be in attendance.
DUST directed by Milcho Manchevski. Venice Film Festival, 2001 Opening Night.
I AM FROM TITOV VELES (Opening Night Film) Macedonias 2008 Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film. A co-presentation with the Global Film Initiative and part of Global Lens 2009 which will premiere in January at the Museum of Modern Art. Director Teona Strugar Mitevska will be in attendance.
KONTAKT directed by Sergej Stanojkovski
THE GREAT WATER directed by Ivo Trajkov
BAL-CAN-CAN directed by Darko Mitrevski
HAPPY NEW YEAR 1949 directed by Stole Popov
BLACK SEED directed by Kiril Cenevski (with short film DAE, directed by Stole Popov)
UPSIDE DOWN directed by Igor Ivanov
MIRAGE directed by Svetozar Ristovski
The Republic of Macedonia, despite being a relatively new country, only formally recognized as an independent nation in 1991, has become, through its cinema, a melting pot of the regions mixed cultural diversity Albanian, Greek, Serbian, Bulgarian, Bosnian, Kosovar and Croatian. said Wendy Lidell, President of International Film Circuit. The films featured in The Macedonian Film Festival have been selected to shine a light on this culturally rich nation and as a declaration of its artistic independence. It is this independent spirit that we hope will appeal to all New Yorkers. Hopefully, the festival will find a home here.
We are thrilled to be working with International Film Circuit to further introduce fans of foreign films to the great scope of our countrys best film talent, said Dejan Iliev, Head of The Macedonian Film Fund. We are very proud of the work we do to help established and emerging Macedonian filmmakers, like Milcho Manchevski, Teona Strugar Mitevska, Ivo Trajkov, Sergej Stanojkovski and Stole Popov, get their stories told and shown at home and internationally.
Highlights of the Festival Include:
Closing Night Films Sunday, November 23rd
(1994; 113 min)
Director: Milcho Manchevski
Milcho Manchevski will be in attendance for a public Q&A.
One Of The Best 1,000 Films Ever Made (The New York Times) "Director Milcho Manchevski has made a debut so astonishingly assured in writing and technique he is guaranteed a footnote in movie history even if he never makes another movie. 'Before the Rain' is stunning. It's the sort of remarkable debut that reinstalls faith in the movies viability as genuine art." (The Miami Herald )... "Eerily beautiful film... Stunning... Meaningless death can be transformed into meaningful art..." (Time)... "Brilliant directorial debut. Work like this is what keeps me going. A reminder of the nobility that film can attain." (Roger Ebert) "A guarantee: it will haunt you for days." (Premiere)... "This film, made by sophisticated filmmaker for mature audiences is a profound musing on humanity." (*****) (The Toronto Sun)... Stunning, often hypnotic... Almost has the impact of a masterpiece... Shakes you up... Coming seemingly out of nowhere, its a movie that seems somehow fully formed, unshakably confident, the work of a filmmaker alive and inventive in every shot he takes. A gleaming virtuosity and visual panache. (Chicago Tribune ) One of the best first films in the history of cinema (Annette Insdorf) Winner of over 30 international awards, including the Venice Golden Lion and the Independent Spirit Award. Nominated for a Best Foreign-Language Film Academy Award.
(2001; 127 min)
Director: Milcho Manchevski
A provocatively irreverent journey into Cubist storytelling, DUST aims to de-construct how stories are told and history is made. The film begins in a pre-9/11 New York where a 96-year-old woman forces at gunpoint a thief who has broken into her home to listen to her story,
then leap[s back to the Wild West and follows the gunslinger Luke to turn-of-the-century Paris and on to the Ottoman Empire, where he gets involved in the Macedonian uprising like a Billy-the-Kid-gone-John Reed. Venice Film Festival, 2001 Opening Night.
Opening Night Film Thursday, November 20th
(2007; 102 min)
Director: Teona Strugar Mitevska
Teona Strugar Mitevska will be in attendance for public Q&A and press interviews
Macedonias submission for the 2008 Academy Awards is a moving story of three sisters locked in a tormented relationship, and their battle to overcome an environment polluted by human negligence. Features another stunning lead performance by Labina Mitevska, who also appears in festival films Kontakt and Before the Rain. A co-presentation with the Global Film Initiative and part of Global Lens 2009 which will premiere in January at the Museum of Modern Art.
Rounding out the festival are the following titles, some screening for the first time in the U.S.:
(2005; 96 min)
Director: Sergej Stanojkovski
Two impeccable lead performances distinguish this sensitive story about two misfits who are released from institutions on the same day she from a psychiatric clinic, he from prison. Thrown together unexpectedly, they struggle against their impulses to form a tentative emotional bond. Music by Fassbinder collaborator Peer Raben and written by Gordan Mihic, who also wrote Emir Kusturicas Black Cat, White Cat and Time of the Gypsies. Macedonias 2006 submission for the Academy Awards.
(2004; 94 min)
Director: Ivo Trajkov
Producer: Robert Jazadjiski
Ivo Trajkov and Robert Jazadjiski will be in attendance for a public Q&A.
A supremely nuanced take on the resilience of the human spirit in the face of political authoritarianism. An elderly Macedonian politician suffers a heart attack. During his near death experience, he recalls his childhood in an orphanage that was in fact an ideological labor camp where kids were brought to be reprogrammed for life under socialism. Winner of Best Film, Best Director and Best Cinematography Awards at the Valencia Film Festival. Macedonias 2004 submission for the Academy Awards.
(2005; 89 min)
Director: Darko Mitrevski
What happens when you try to smuggle your dead mother-in-law across the Bulgarian border during the 2001 civil war in Macedonia? The carpet you have wrapped her in gets stolen by smugglers, of course. This Macedonian-Italian co-production is a picaresque black comedy with echoes of Emir Kusturica that has toured film festivals worldwide including Moscow and Palm Springs.
(1986; 125 min)
Director: Stole Popov
Stole Popov will be in attendance for a public Q&A.
An incisive look at the inevitable clash between ideology and human relationships. Its June 1948,
and a group of Yugoslav students return home from school in the USSR after conflict erupts between the two countries. A love triangle develops amidst a backdrop of political intrigue and illicit activity. Happy New Year swept the awards in Yugoslavias 1986 national film festivals and was Yugoslavias 1986 submission to the Academy Awards.
(1971; 89 min)
Director: Kiril Cenevski
It is widely accepted that Macedonian cinema came of age with this breakthrough film by first-time filmmaker Kiril Cenevski. Black Seed portrays the tragic destiny and struggle for dignity of the Aegean Macedonians who were deported to concentration camps after the end of the 1946 Civil War in Greece. It won three Golden Arenas at the Pula Film Festival (ex Yugoslavia) and was Yugoslavias submission for the Academy Award that year.
Screening with Black Seed is the Academy Award nominated short film Dae.
(1979; 16 min)
Director: Stole Popov
Nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject in 1980. Dae is a poetic look at the Gypsy way of life, and how it has continued to flourish amidst European urbanization. On the eve of St. Georges Day, their greatest holiday, the community celebrates with characteristic joie de vivre.
(2007; 105 min)
Director: Igor Ivanov
A penetrating look at life in the newly independent Republic of Macedonia in the 1990s based on a prize-winning contemporary novel, Navel of the World by Venko Andonovski. While returning to Skopje on the train of death, circus acrobat Jan Ludvik flashes back to his childhood as a rebellious prodigy, his life with an alcoholic father, and his love for a beautiful classmate. Winner of the Best Director Award at the Valencia Film Festival.
(2004, 108 min)
Director: Svetozar Ristovski
Included in the 2004 Toronto Film Festivals Discovery section, Mirage features newcomer Marko Kovacevic in a tragic tale about a talented schoolboy driven to violence through neglect and manipulation. About The Macedonian Film Fund:
The Macedonian Film Fund was established in 2006 to provide comprehensive funding for the Macedonian film industry in its cultural and economic aspects, as well as to further develop the tradition of Macedonian Cinema. Formed by the Macedonian Government, the Film Fund is a legal entity under The Law for the Film Fund. Its main office is located in Skopje, and it officially began working in 2008.
Among the objectives and challenges of the Film Fund are continuing the tradition of Macedonian film culture, and building upon it with new Macedonian cinema, encouraging the expressions of young filmmakers, opening new sales channels, and promoting Macedonian Film internationally.
We also encourage Macedonian filmmakers to engage in international co-production as a way to provide international distribution and thus wider audience recognition and promotion for Macedonian films and filmmakers. The Film Fund further aims to integrate Macedonias resources into an efficient structure to attract foreign productions to use Macedonia as a filming location. Macedonia has highly educated and trained film professionals who have worked on many domestic and foreign productions, such as Dreamworks The Peacemaker with George Clooney and Nicole Kidman. More recently, Macedonia is becoming known for its visual special effects work for major Hollywood movies including The Aviator and The Golden Compass. With the close cooperation and support of the Government of The Republic of Macedonia, The Film Fund of the Republic of Macedonia offers a variety of tax incentives to international producers in order to attract them to shoot their films amidst the countrys many beautiful and readily accessible landscapes. Opening Night: I Am From Titov Veles
Director Teona Strugar Mitevska NYU Film School Graduate Macedonias 2008 submission for Best Foreign Language Oscar
Co-Presentation with the Global Film Initiative
and part of the Global Lens 2009 premiering in January at MoMA.
Centerpiece: Great Water
Director Ivo Trajkov
Latest film is Wingless in submission for 2009 Sundance Film Festival
Closing Night: Before The Rain & Dust
Legendary Director Milcho Manchevski
Before the Rain was nominated for an Oscar in 1995. NYU Professor Manchevskis next film is the January release Shadows

Tribeca Film Festival Interview: Kirby Dick

Find Outrage on Video

Tribeca Film Festival Interview: Kirby Dick

(from 4/29/09)

7.jpg What I've noticed about this year's smaller Tribeca Film Festival is that everyone agrees that the overall quality of the films is better but nobody can agree on what the best films are. Word-of-mouth plays a huge part in how we press members choose the films to see each day and which to bypass. This year, every time someone recommends a film to me, the next person tells me it's overrated. Also, I've enjoyed a number of movies that other critics have walked out on.
While I encourage you to see any movie that sparks your interest, these are the ones that I've been the most impressed with: "About Elly, "The Exploding Girl," "Accidents Happen," "Handsome Harry," "The Fixer," "Soundtrack of a Revolution," "Queen to Play," "Fish Eyes," "Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench," "The Fixer," "House of the Devil," "Serious Moonlight," and "Outrage." Standout performances? Zoe Kazan in "The Exploding Girl," Jamey Sheridan in "Handsome Harry," Sandrine Bonnaire in "Queen to Play," Julianna Margulies in "City Island," Timothy Hutton in "Serious Moonlight."
I've heard good things about: "Which Way Home," "Black Dynamite," "American Casino," "The Eclipse," "Racing Dreams," "Team Qatar," "My Last Five Girlfriends," "Lost Son of Havana," "Fear Me Not," "In the Loop," "Moon," "Playground," "Still Walking," and "Cropsey." Below is a roundtable I participated in with Kirby Dick about his much-anticipated "Outrage," about anti-Gay rights politicians who are closeted gays themselves.
Q: What made you want to make this movie?
Kirby Dick: In August 2006 I was promoting "This Film Is Not Yet Rated," and I realized I knew the story about the hypocrisy of the movie ratings system because I'd worked in the film business. I was in D.C. and thought there must be many stories there that only people inside the Beltway knew. So I started asking around, and very quickly I was told about these closeted politicians who vote anti-Gay. I realized it was a story that hadn't been told, certainly in a documentary or the mainstream press.
Q: Talk about the choice of your title.
KD: Initially it was called "The Glass Closet," but "Outrage" seemed particularly appropriate. We made that decision coming off the passage of Proposition 8. In California in particular there's a real shift on the ground among gays and straights. There's a real anger. We think it will be upheld by the California Supreme Court, which will lead to another real burst of anger. In some ways the title was what we were feeling at the time.
Q: Michael Rogers' about exposing closeted gay politicians seemed to be the format you followed.
KD: We looked at a wider range of subjects but the issue was whether we could get substantiation. We looked at people at certain levels. Mike Rogers has at times outed staff members and we decided not to do that. We chose people in high office or in a top position in their organization.
Q: How did you choose your subjects?
KD: We looked back about twenty-five years. We chose the ones we could really get substantiation on. 3.jpg There are others we believe are gay and hypocritical in terms of their political agenda, but we didn't have the corroboration necessary at this time to include them. It was less a legal choice than a journalistic one. I wanted to get the story right.
Q: Was it hard for you to get people to go on the record about politicians they knew to be gay?
KD: It was. The sources were very concerned. They feared they could suffer serious consequences if they spoke out. In some instances, people wouldn't even talk to me off the record.
Q: When you got David Rothenberg [social activist, playwright, the first openly gay candidate to run for NYC Council) to out Ed Koch as mayor, about his relationship and awful treatment of [his secret ex-lover] Richard Nathan, it was quite shocking to people who were here during his administration. He had never gone on the record before.
KD: It was Amy the producer.
Amy Ziering: Kirby taught me that a No is just one step away from a Yes. David Rothenberg came up on our radar but I did research and found that he didn't speak on the subject. I was very skeptical but I called and told him what we were doing. He said, 'It's funny you called.' He was just reading in the paper the other day and there was an editorial by Ed Koch, in which he was outraged at johns, men who pay for sex with prostitutes. He said, 'That wasn't so bad but in it he named names, he outed the johns, prominent New York citizens.' It's one thing to take a political position, but why was he destroying these guys' families? He thought, 'I protected him for so long, yet he doesn't even have that standard.' So he said, 'You're timing to call is really good because this has been weighing on me.' So he did it.
Q: What is preferable to youthat a gay politician is outted or comes out on his own because of pressure exerted on him?
KD: I would much prefer for him or her to do it themselves, for everyone involved. In regard to the subjects I focus on in my film, when it rises to their levels of hypocrisy and we see what they have done against gays politically, one way or the other it should be reported.
Q: I think the film takes the stand that outing gay politicians is a positive thing.
KD: This isn't a film about outing gay politicians. It's a film about reporting on the hypocrisy of closeted gay politicians who vote anti-gay. That's the bright line that we drew. Sometimes I think the debate about outing obscures the more important issues: the hypocrisy, the psychological toll of the closet.
Q: Would the closeted gays who have been outed, done it on their own?
KD: They certainly would have wanted to. Even [former Arizona congressman] Jim Kolbe, who is opposed to outing, realizing that coming out of the closet was one of the most important decisions he made in his life. He can be a powerful example for young gay men going into politics.
Q: Has there been any backlash from Charlie Crist and Ed Koch?
KD: Not so far. They are savvy politicians who got to where they got to by ignoring this issue. I'd be surprised if there was. Otherwise I encourage multiple reactions. I want these issues hashed out in a public forum.
Q: Do you equate these closeted politicians with the sexual predators who were protected by the Catholic Church?
KD: The connection is the arrogance of power. The Catholic Church felt it could get away with it. The politicians believe they can continue live this lie and get away with this hypocrisy because nobody is going to challenge them. They have been right. The mainstream media profits by having close relationships with these politicians. The trade off is they don't report on the hypocrisy.
Q: You're targeting the issue of gay rights but are you also targeting the issue of how hypocrisy reigns and there is strategizing that exploits people's fears and manipulates the public into taking stands that are hypocritical.
A: Absolutely. Particularly in the third part of the film when we get into hate crimes, which is the consequence of the hypocrisy. We do focus on that. 2.jpg Hypocrisy will always exist and people in power will always find any way possible to maintain power. I think it's the responsibility of documentary filmmakers and the press to call this out. A point we make is that the press does call people out in almost all cases but with gay rights they won't. That's the focus of our film. We say that there's nothing different about this form of hypocrisy, let's talk about it.
Q: What about the role of the religious right in funding anti-Gay politicians?
A: The religious right has an agenda around gay rights, but in some ways I put more blame on the Republican Party, which didn't initially have that as part of their agenda. As Barney Frank says, in the seventies, the Republicans and Democrats were about equal in regard gay rights. Republicans, including people who personally had no issue with gay or lesbians, and in fact had a number of gay friendsincluding George W. Bush--and heads of their staffs were gay made a political calculation that they were going to go after gays and lesbians in order to maintain and gain power. It's such a cynical useI find that appalling. They made a calculation to cynically use the gay rights issue to maintain power. So I criticize them more.
Q: What impact has the film "Milk" had on substantial issues?
KD: We were very grateful "Milk" came out when it did. It is a very important film and in some ways laid the groundwork for this film. One of the reasons we put Harvey Milk at the end of our film is that he is a reference point for some people. What he says is inspiring yet sad in that thirty years later, here we are.
Q: What kind of release do you want for this film?
KD: Obviously we'd like to go as wide as possible. We hope the film encourages the mainstream media to talk about it. A major reason the closet exists is that the mainstream media has not written about this. The gay press has for twenty years. In many ways we're standing on its shoulders. You see a lot of them in the film. Once this issue gets discussed it's much harder for the closet to exist. What happens is that politicians early in their careers, before they're elected to office, make the decision to go in the closet or not. Because it's not written about they think going into the closet is the strategy that's going to work. Once the film is out there and the issue is discussed, they'll realize it's the wrong decision politically. I really hope that one of the impacts of this film is that in twenty years the closet will be a minor factor in American politics.

All "About Elly"

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All "About Elly"

(from brinkzine 5/4/09)

Not surprisingly, "About Elly" was selected the best narrative film at the Tribeca Film Festival. This guaranteed the stunningly-directed psychological thriller additional screenings on Sunday, May 3, the final day of the festival. It's not like any Iranian film you ever saw or (foolishly) deliberately missed. A group of one-time law school classmates reunite for a weekend by the Caspian Sea, settling into an empty house on the beach. They bring along their kids and one woman brings along her single friend Elly to set her up with the newly-divorced Ahmad. But on the second day, Elly disappears and everyone on the screen and in the audience begins asking questions. Several days ago I was among those in the below roundtable who asked questions of director Asghar Farhadi and lead actor Payman Maadi.

Q: How did you come to be involved in this film?
Payman Maadi: I am a scriptwriter in my country and was about to make my first feature as a director. I had made a short and Farhadi came to see it. He liked it and after one or two months he called me and said he wanted me for his next project. I thought maybe it would be as a writer, but he said, "No. I choose you for the main character, for acting." I was shocked. And I said, "Are you sure about it because I know that you are a very well known director in this country and whatever you want you can have. So why me?" And he said, "Because the part is very close to your character when I saw you at your screening. I'm sure you can do it." I said, "Okay." He said, "Don't worry." I said, "I'm not worrying because I trust you." But I was a little bit scared before rehearsals.
Q: Did you rehearse a lot?
PM: Yes, because Mr. Farhadi came from the theater. For about two months we were on the stage rehearsing. We would play some scenes that were not in the script just so we could get close to the person we were playing. They were scenes before we came to the resort at the beginning of the movie. He had us play each other's roles so that we could think, 'If I were in his position, what would I do?" This made us closer to each other. After we were at the Caspian Sea we continued to rehearse scenes that are in the movie. and there we were getting some personal rehearsals for each other. After the rehearsals I thought it was possible to play it.
Danny Peary: What clicked?
PM: I was between seven or eight professional actors and actresses. All of them were very well-known in Iran and had played in films with each other. I was always in the back of the camera and I didn't know how to leap in front of it. But Mr. Farhadi said, "They also have to rehearse and come to a point they are so far from now." So all of us had the same distance to go. Their acting in this film wasn't like anything they had done, so they had to work just as hard as me. Knowing that helped me.
Q: I'd like the director to talk about the gender politics in the film.
Asghar Farhadi: The image of Iranian women in America and Europe is very much different than the reality.. This film specifically targets the middle-class family. We have different ideas and images about the middle class. The middle class can be powerful in Iran and the women in the middle class family can be very powerful. He's talking about his own experience that, you know, when he used to go to the north border, the Caspian Sea with his friends and maybe take a boat somewhere. It wouldn't be only the men who decided what we'd do. It would be a democracy. Even though the laws of our country are not very much pro women, the women themselves are trying to make themselves stronger.
DP: But when the group is trying to save Elly's reputation, isn't that more backward than what you're talking about? It seems that the men, who are enlightened in some way, fall back to tradition.
AF: I don't see the difference between men and women. I treats everyone equally in my movies. I don't see inequality between the characters. The subject of the film is not about men and women but human beings who react to a situation. You can't point to one gender and says that's the villain.
DP: I'm in total sympathy with Elly. I have no problem with her coming on this trip although she hasn't broken off her engagement yet. But they seem to worry about a scandal involving her being engaged and there being an unmarried man present.
Farhadi's Female Interpreter: Let me add this myself, if I may. Maybe it's not such a big deal about her being engaged or not. But maybe in the Persian culture, in the Iranian culture, it is a big deal for some of these things. If someone is having an affair or something like that, it will become a whole big deal for everyone, even the children. It more about Persian culture than anything.
DP: So is that what he wanted to express?
AF: The problem the whole movie is about the behavior of one particular woman and what she thinks. I could have switched it and it could have been the behavior of her husband what he thinks.
Interpreter: I'd like to add something else here about what you said. They all come to understand that Elly is engaged, but they don't have that serious a problem with that. They only worry about getting into the trouble if the fianc comes and goes to the police. They even say to each other that they don't have any problem with her being engaged. It was her decision to come for the weekend. But they worry about the fianc because he is a very angry man and could get them into the trouble. And they are protecting the group by making decisions that's best for it.
AF: I have done this in my previous films as well. It's a new tragedy, "the modern tragedy." It's not about good and evil, it's where everyone might be saying the right thing. So you don't know which character to believe. That's the whole reason why the audience gets so involved with the characters and why people want to voice their opinion as well. "Why don't you do this or that?"
Q: The film is set up like a mystery and everyone is wondering what happened to Elly. Because of the pressures she has, could viewers think she committed suicide?
AF: I watched the movie as if I were just a member of the audience. And I never got the idea that she might have committed suicide. But I've been hearing it a lot from different audiences. . I don't have any problem with audiences thinking she is capable of suicide or not. But the reason people think she might commit suicide is because so many Iranian films have portrayed a lot of sadness and depression and women having a lot of problems. They may think, "This is another suicide." But she is not that depressed.
DP: But I you didn't want people to consider she might have committed suicide, you could have easily shown that it wasn't a suicide with one more minute of filming her. But you didn't do this. So we can think along with the family and try to figure out all of the possibilities.
AF: I wanted to make a film that would cause people to watch in two different ways. You would enjoy the film and then go home and think about the political views in it. This is the most socially-conscious film I ever made and I hope people go deeper and deeper into it when they think about it at home. You will see it but later it is going to effect you and you are going to think about it deeper and deeper and keep thinking about it. The characters vote, but democracy sometimes is wrong. Democracy will not work in a family or in government when no opinion is wrong.
DP: But it is only a couple of people that decide to what to say to Elly's fianc after her disappearance, which I found as strange as Elly's fianc pretending to be her brother.
AF: Well, everyone seems to be lying to defend themselves. All the characters try to hide something to protect them.
PM: The reason that he says he is her brother not his fianc is he's trying to make a safer-like area to get truth from the family. If he said he was Elly's fianc then maybe they weren't giving him the right information. That's why.
Q: What director has inspired you most?
AF: Fellini.
DP: How about Alfred Hitchcock? In Psycho the lead character disappears halfway through . . .
AF: I admire Hitchcock very much. I knew it would be very hard for audiences to believe that Taraneh Alidoosti disappears so early in the movie. She is a big star in Iran so people will expect her to return.
DP: The direction is outstanding the entire movie, but, Payman, the scene everyone will remember is when the men try to save your son in the rough sea. Did you do the swimming or did you need stand-ins?
PM: We did all our own swimming. It was very difficult because the water was very rough. It took us many days to shoot. We'd have to wait until the sea was the same as it was when we began filming the scene. By the rocks there were many broken shells and stones and it was difficult not to cut our feet. And the water was dirty and caused me to choke. The camera was everywhere, including in the water.
DP: Congratulations to both of you. This is the best film I've seen at the festival. I hope you win the narrative award.

Nia Vardalos on "My Life In Ruins"

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Nia Vardalos on "My Life In Ruins"

(from 5/4/09)

72.jpg The ninth Tribeca Film Festival concludes Sunday with screenings of the award winners, deserving and otherwise. It's strange that the closing night gala film, "My Life in Ruins," was scheduled on Saturday Nightit's like putting out the Olympic flame before all the events are concluded. I've seen more films since my posting earlier in the week, and I'd like to recommend these films to you for finals days Tribeca screenings or when they get released: "About Elly" (the world narrative competition winner), "Accidents Happen," "City Island" (a crowd favorite), "Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi," (emerging documentary filmmaker award winner) "The Girlfriend Experience," "The Exploding Girl" (Zoe Kazan was selected best actress), "Fish Eyes," "Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench," "Handsome Harry," "The House of the Devil," "In the Loop," "My Dear Enemy," "Outrage," "Queen to Play," "Serious Moonlight," "Soundtrack for a Revolution," "Still Walking," "Team Qatar," "Variety," and "Which Way Home." The films that have been recommended to me include: "American Casino," "Black Dynamite," "The Eclipse" (Ciarn Hinds was selected best actor), "Dazzle" (for the adventurous filmgoer) "Departures," "Entre Nos," "Fear Me Not," "Here and There" (New York narrative award winner) "The Lost Son of Havana," "Moon," "My Last Five Girlfriends," "North" (narrative emerging filmmaker award winner), "Partly Private" (New York documentary award winner), "P-Star Rising," "Racing Dreams" (world documentary award winner), "Seven Minutes in Heaven," "Timer," "Tell Tale," "Vegas: Based on a True Story," and "Yoduk Stories."
If you miss ""My Life in Ruins," it will go into release June 9. It stars Nia Vardalos, the charming star and writer of the 2002 megahit, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," as a tour guide in Greece, who is having as bad luck with her career as she has with her love life. The romantic comedy was directed by Donald Petrie, written by Mike Reiss, shot in Greece and Spain, and costars Richard Dreyfus, Alexis Georgoulis, Rita Wilson and Rachel Dratch. Prior to the film's world premiere, I took part in the below roundtable with Vardalos..

Q: Does "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" seem like centuries ago?
A: It really does. Just last night the producers and I were having dinner and we were telling stories of tiny things we remembered from the set or editing room. Again they made fun of me for thinking I was going to be fired when we were shooting the movie. I didn't believe that I would actually be allowed to play Toula. I had never been in a major motion picture and they had to see if I could walk and talk at the same time. There was something in the contract, having to do with insurance, which said if I made it past the first two days of shooting I couldn't be fired. So the first couple of days when I'd look at my costumes I'd look behind them to see if they made a whole new wardrobe for someone like Sandra Bullockthey could have put her in a brown wig and said, "Oh, she's Greek now!" On Day 4, I peeked of my hotel and my driver was there, so I said, "Oh, my God, I'm really in his movie!" That's when it hit me. That's the first day I sat in the chair with my name on it.

Q: Are you still amazed by the reaction to that film that continues to this day?
A: I'm amazed and grateful because I know about the indie world and how incredibly impossible it was that we got financing, I got to star in it, that we got released, and that we caught that incredible wave. I can't put into words how I feel. Sometimes I just try to absorb it and it doesn't sink into my brain. It's a once-in-a-lifetime event and I'm so happy that it happened to all of us who worked on that film and we can share it. We're all still so close. We go out for lunches and talk so long that it we order dinner, too. We became great friends before the movie got released and became a phenomenon. We all did it for a dollar-fifty Canadian.

Q: You're not looking to hit that gong again with a super smash hit?
A: I'd be lying if I said it wouldn't be great to have that box office success, but to try to duplicate it would seem to me to be unappreciative. I have to live life with whatever comes my way, but if I try to write a duplicate box-office success I'd be creatively dead.

Q: Are all Greeks really like those in your movie?
A: Of course not! That is an indication of what my family is like. However, I was approached by a lady at church who had the sun reflecting off her gold tooth and she said, "You embarrassed us a little bit. We're not like that. Here, I made you a mousaka." I want people to laugh with me; my humor isn't about making fun of people. "My Life in Ruins" is a risk again. I'm making an observation of my travels to Greece and again I hope I haven't offended anyone. But we do have to laugh at ourselves a little, don't we?

Q: "My Life in Ruins" is kind of the flip side of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," with you being transplanted to Greece.
A: We had all been offered every Greek movie that had ever been written. I just couldn't find one that I loved. Then Mike Reiss's script came my way. I wanted to layer in things that I felt in my travels to Greece, along with career angst that I hope people can relate to. To me, it's not necessarily a Greek movie. I think it's a movie about losing your mojo and about judging stereotypes, and it's set against the most beautiful backdrop in the world.

Q: Would you have done the script the way the character was written without your doing any rewrites?
A: It didnt call to me that much. What called to me was shooting in Greece. That's why I wanted to make the movie. The financing wasn't ready for the script how it was.. The first couple of years I was flying to Greece and asking permission to shoot at the ancient sites. I'd show them the script and made sure they realized we had no intention of making fun of Greece. I would have played the part without my changes. It was a clean, nice movie that had something to say about tourists. I wanted to say that about how we can be lucky to work in our chosen fields but what happens isn't as rewarding as you thought it would be. That's what happened to me and that's what happened to Georgia. For me, all the success meant nothing because I wasn't a parent. It has been the craziest year of my life. I shot two movies back-to-back and adopted a little girl. Are you kidding me?

Q: Didn't you take a break before these two movies?
A: Right. I wasn't answering that question with the depth I'll give you now, while keeping the details personal. The truth is I didn't get offered great scripts. It's not like Scorsese called me. The scripts I was offered were a bit dirty and cheap. And I was losing my mojo because I'd come to the end of a ten-year battle with infertility. So I took some time off and wrote six scripts, including for Tom Hanks and Jonathan Demme. My friends and agents understood that I had to step back. When I found "My Life in Ruins," I started to add things to it to make it authentic. As I was layering the character of Georgia I had to finally admit that I wanted to play her. I wanted to be on camera again.

Q: Did you take tours to prepare for your role?
A: For research, I took tours all over. I got on a tour bus in London. The tour guide would point out sites and various tourists took out their cameras and snapped pictures. Then he showed a window that had been in a James Bond movie and everyone snapped a picture.

Q: There's a line in the movie that I thought was a key. Georgia is told: "You're looking for obstacles rather than looking for magic." Is that your line?
A: Yes. It paralleled what I was going through as a person. I was trying to do something that was so difficult. The script is very much Mike Reiss's, but that was my line. He

Q: You said filming in Greece was a dream come true.
A: Definitely. It was a life goal and everybody told me it was impossible. That's my favorite thing!

Q: Did you improvise a lot in this movie?
A: Oh, sure. Rachel Dratch and I are old friends from Second City. The cast was chosen with that in mind. Donald Petrie was very open to suggestions that weren't in the script. Rachel is in "I Hate Valentine's Day" as well. I cast her with two improvisers and would just let them go.

Q: Are you in it?
A: I had to be in it so we could get financing. The next time I'll just direct.

Q: You're a likeable leading lady, but would you like the challenge of playing a femme fatale?
A: Yes. Offer me the part. Let me keep my top on and I'm yours!

Q: Would you like to go back to theater?
A: I'd love to, especially being in New York. I saw "Jersey Boys" the other night and I was gripping my seat, thinking, "Don't jump up there!" I'd love to do Broadway. The problem is that I'd have to commit to eighteen months. I'm married, and have a child now.

Q: Where is your daughter?
A: We're tying to give her a shot of anonymity. We adopted her in the last year and a half. She is a preschooler under the age of five. She visited the set but doesn't know exactly what I do. She just sees that people listen to me. I directed an upcoming movie called "I Hate Valentine's Day." My husband brought her to the set. She kept picking up things on the set and asking him "Is this mommy's?" I manage to do so much because I multitask. When I am with her, I'm not an actress. I don't take calls. My time with her is too precious. This is a new thing for both of us and we're getting to know each other. I don't want her first impressions of me to be with a phone at my ear or typing at my computer. I do like to put her to bed. That's my favorite thing. That's when children say the magic stuff.

Q: You have a background in improvisation, so is it hard to have the discipline to write scripts?
A: Anything with discipline is hard. I hate working out, for instance. ` I have to make myself write. I've been doing it for years now, but it hasn't gotten any easier.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Two Queens to Play at Tribeca Film Festival

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Two Queens to Play at Tribeca Film Festival

(from, 5/11/09)

queen to play two actors.jpg
I have been a huge fan of French actress Sandrine Bonnaire since she burst onto the scene as a troubled teen in Maurice Pialat's sobering "A nos amours" (1983) and the ill-fated young woman in Agnes Varda's "Vagabond" (1985), two post-New Wave classics. An untrained actress, she seemed to know her troubled characters inside out, as if she'd lived in their shoes and even when she smiled we could sense the darker emotions swirling in their heads. Over the last twenty-five years, she became one of her country's most appealing leading ladies, turning in fascinating performances in such diverse films as "Police," "Monsieur Hire," " La crmonie," and "Intimate Strangers," all of which played in America. So for me it was the highlight of the recent Tribeca Film Festival to interview and hang out with her and Caroline Bottaro, the director-writer of her charming new feminist film, "Queen to Play," which was well received at its public screenings. Once again Bonnaire gives a captivating performance as a chambermaid at a Corsican hotel who asks a reclusive widower, Dr. Kroger (Kevin Kline speaking French) to teach her chess, making her insecure husband, daughter, and boss uneasy. It's a very accessible film, so one would think an American distributor would snap it up, allowing Bonnaire to become better known and more appreciated outside the art film circuit.
Danny Peary: Sandrine, are you known in France for the same films you're known for in America?
Sandrine Bonnaire: I'm probably known best for "Vagabond," Claude Chabrol's "La crmonie," but there are so many films I've done there since starting out. Maybe Americans don't really know "Est-Ouest" "Joan of Arc," or "A Simple Heart."
DP: Is it harder for you now or when you started out?
SB: It's harder for me now because then I didn't know what I was doing and didn't worry about getting it all perfect. But then it was hard to be at parties or talk to the press because I didn't know anything about movies and didn't want to be ridiculous. It's like my character in this movie, I had no experience. So I started going to a lot of movies, classical movies, mostly American movies.
DP: Caroline, Jennifer Beals plays the woman Helene sees playing somewhat erotic chess as she cleans a room. At first I assumed she was a muse but then wondered if you were in fact referencing "Flashdance," another film about the woman who realizes her lofty dreams?
Caroline Bottaro: In fact I thought of "Queen to Play," as a different version of "Flashdance." Helene doesn't dance, but plays chess, but it's a dream for both.
DP: The film I really think about is "Educating Rita," about a woman who gains power, enlightenment and confidence through knowledge, and eventually goes beyond the mentor who taught her to appreciate literature.
CB: I never saw that film. But "Finding Forrester" is similar.
DP: I thought of "Educating Rita" when Helene says, "I never read." Why did she never read? Is it the fear of upsetting her life with her husband, as it does with Rita?
SB: She doesn't have time to read. She works a lot--she cleans at the hotel, she cleans Kroger's house, and she comes home to take care of her family. She hasn't had time for herself since she met her husband. I think she put her life to the side when she met him.
CB: I agree with what Sandrine said. I think that this woman put part of her life on hold when she met her husband. She left everything behind. She says she would wait around all day for her husband to come home. There's a scene where she dances and you can imagine that she danced and had all kinds of passions that she set aside and all kinds of dreams that she never fulfilled. She just took on that wifely role.
DP: We see Helene riding her bicycle by the gorgeous sea at the beginning and later in the film. What is on her mind, including chess moves?
SB: At the beginning, it's part of her daily routine. After she meets Kroger and he teaches her chess, she doesn't take her bicycling the same way. She really takes time to breathe, to look at sea. Yes, she probably also thinks of chess moves.
DP: Sandrine, would Helene be satisfied to play to a draw in the chess tournament or does she have to win?
Queen to Play smaller.jpg

SB: Whether she wins or doesn't win isn't that important. What is important is to really live out her passion to the fullest extent.
DP: The word used in the subtitles is "fulfillment." Helene is not really unhappy, but she's obviously not fulfilled.
CB: That's something she finds out after seeing that couple playing chess through the window. As you say, it's not that she is bored with her life or sad in her life. It's about something she didn't know was in her. Seeing them, she makes a new discovery about herself.
DP: In films having to do with the empowerment of women, the female protagonist usually has a husband who feels inadequate. The woman's empowerment would lift the husband, but he resists. This film is about taking risks in order to succeed, so is Hlne's marriage at risk because she won't give up chess and he can't handle that?
CB I don't see this as a story about the empowerment of women or her taking back the power because it's not something she actually chooses. The "affair" with Kroger happens to her in spite of herself--she can't give up chess.
DP: But she is partly drawn to chess because the queen is the most powerful piece. She is intrigued by that concept.
CB: Yes, but I don't think she's making an intellectual choice to make herself more powerful in her life or marriage. Her choice to pursue chess and the "affair" is because of what she feels about her life. It's all about feelings.
DP: Is that "feeling" hers alone or is it something you think all women have?
CB: All women. When you ask about whether her marriage is going to survive I think of the line in the film that says: if you don't take a risk, you may lose but if you don't take that risk you will lose for sure. Helene does take that risk. She wins just by pursuing her dream. Her husband at the beginning of the movie wasn't even looking at her anymore. She was almost transparent. She pursues her dream of playing chess and he eventually looks at her with a lot of love. So she has won back the love of her husband and everybody around her becomes better through what she does. By taking that risk, she has actually enriched the lives of everybody around her. That's what matters.
DP: I'd describe her at the beginning as somebody who plays a supporting role in her own life, rather than the lead. Is that accurate?
CB: As you say, at the beginning she was always sort of a secondary or supporting person in her life, whereas by the end of the film she is the protagonist in her life and everybody around her who was initially scared about what she was doing, is there cheering for her. She now has the leading role in her life.
DP: What is the pivotal moment in that film for both of you?
SB: I think it is the moment in which she dares to confront Kroger, saying "You are going to teach me chess." It's when she says "I'm not only the maid," but also a human being and a woman. She's saying to him that she knows he sees her one way, but that she'll show him that she's something elseand I dare you to teach me chess." For me that's the moment of change..
CB: I agree absolutely with what she said. But for me it's the scene between Kroger and Helene with the chess dialogue.
DP: When they go back and forth saying only chess moves, I was reminded me of "Sideways," when passionate talk about Merlot becomes erotic.
CB The difference is that in "Sideways" real words are used, while here it's numbers and letters. It's very theoretical and abstract, and she loves that way of communicating.
DP: It is sexual.
CB: If you think so.
DP: I think so. You think so. too.
CB: They don't do it physically, so they do it by playing the game.
DP: Do you both play chess?
SB: No, neither of us play. It's a shame but it's true.
CB: The image of chess in France is that it's democratic, but people become antisocial, obsessed and crazy playing it.
DP: There's a very talented baseball pitcher named Roy Halladay who took up chess a few years ago because he had a lot of free time between starts. And that's all he could think about and his pitching suffered and he had to eventually back away. It's like Hlne, who says, "I ruin everything."
SB: Yes, it's dangerous. I have a friend who played chess on the Internet. At the end she couldn't sleep.
DP: That's like your character. She even gets up in the middle of the night to play. As she becomes better at chess, she smiles more. In fact, it's an important plot point that she smiles. Sandine's smile is famous--so was the line in the script when Korger talks about Helene not smiling written with Sandrine in mind?
CB: In fact, the entire script was written for Sandrine. Nobody else could have played the part.
DP: Sandrine, was it a hard role for you to play or was it "I understand her right away?"
SB: It was not too hard to play. The only thing I worried about was that the audience
might be bored when I have those scenes of Helene learning to play chess alone. But the character was not difficult because I did understand her.
DP: For you to feel secure with the character, did you have to feel secure with Caroline as your director?
SB: Yeah. I've known her many years and we were very close when we prepared this movie. We worked on it for five years, and when she was building it, step by step, I was always there right beside her. So this film is like our baby. Last night she said that she is the mother and I am the father. It's quite true.
DP: Caroline, this is the first film you've directed after writing several screenplays. If you'd given this screenplay to a male director, do you see it being the same movie?
CB: Even if I had given to another woman director, it would have been a totally different film.
DP: Did you know Kevin Kline before making this film together?
CB: No. But I knew he spoke French. We sent him the script in French and he loved it and said yes. It was just like a dream getting him.
DP: Sandrine, to me it seems like you've come full circle, from playing a teenager to playing the mother of a teenage girl. Is it strange transition for you?
SB: Not at all. I loved working with Alexandra Gentil. She is so talented and understood everything very directly. I have made many movies with teenagers. And it is very simple to play a mother who has a daughter with problems because I am a mother with fifteen-year-old daughter. You say, "A nos amours" was realistic. But for me now, playing a mother is like life.

Q & Answer Man

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Q & Answer Man

(from, 7/23/09)

The first time I saw a chiropractor, he nonchalantly did a little maneuver that, miraculously, allowed me to move my shoulders back for the first time in about twenty years. He thought nothing of it; speechless, I looked at him as if he were God. So it makes sense that the scene I most relate to in writer-director John Hindman's debut comedy "The Answer Man," is when cranky Arlen Faber (Jeff Daniels), who claims to have spoken directly to God, no less, is awed by his new chiropractor Elizabeth (Lauren Graham) straightens his painful back with her magic touch. This ignites an improbable romance between the cynical best-selling author of audaciously titled "Me and God," who has been angry at the world since the death of his father ten years before, and the overprotective single mother, who has been wary of the world since her husband walked out. Adding to the mix is Kris (rising actor Lou Taylor Pucci), a young bookstore owner who, like his father, battles demons and alcohol. He visits the reclusive, world-famous Arlen for advice on how to face life's challenges, although in truth Arlen is just as confused. That's the simple premise of a comedy that Hindman, a former stand-up comic, infuses with various complexities. In his film's production notes, he states it is "my attempt to address several themes in my life. Fathers and sons. Overprotective parents. Drinking. A seemingly elusive Higher Power. A distaste for new age psychobabble. Romantic love. And, a deep reverence for sarcasm." So there is something for everyone. "The Answer Man," which also stars Olivia Thirlby, Kat Dennings, and Nora Dunn, opens Friday. In anticipation, I was able to participate in two roundtables: the first with Hindman and Pucci, and the second with Graham (who has charmed this "Gilmore Girls" fan for years) and Daniels (riding high because of the Broadway hit "God of Carnage"). I note my questions.
Roundtable with John Hindman and Lou Taylor PucciDanny Peary: Do you still do stand-up comedy?
John Hindman: Not really. It's more of a hobby. Now I make movies.
Q: How were you able to snag this cast without a track record?
JH: You know how you read in the paper, "Woman in New Jersey Wins the Lottery Nine Times?" Well, casting this film was like winning the lottery over and over. When you're nobody you hope that actors not only read your script but the right actors read it and the right actors want to do it. You have to be careful and not mass-mail your script out there and say, "Whoever calls me first, gets the part." You may get only one shot at an actor you want, and you're lucky to get that. I was fortunate that a lot of agents wanted to pass along my script to their clients.
LTP: I can say why John was able to get this cast. It was such an awesome script that it was ridiculous. When I was going to audition for it had been about four months since I first read it, so I read it again to make sure I was right about it. And I thought, there's no way I'm not going to drive to Philadelphia right now and try to do it. It was probably the best-written script I'd ever read.
JH: Ever? You should read "Network."
LTP: John, I mean it's the best script I've ever gotten in the mail. It was so smart and so funny at the same time. Most of the independent films I've done rely on improve and the actors figuring out for themselves what they are going to say. Most independent filmmakers don't have a lot of experience and though John hadn't done a film before...
JH: ...Ever...
LTP: ...his script was perfect so you knew the film would be good on its own, and the actors could only make it better.
Q: The production notes say Lauren Graham was the only actress you wanted to see.
JH: That's true. Lauren is the only actress I met with to play Elizabeth. I was set to have lunch with her. I was a huge fan of hers and asked Kevin Messick, the producer, "Tell me what not to say and I won't say it." He said, "Don't say, 'You have the part.'" So I called him afterward and he asked how it went. "I said, "Oh, it went really well. I didn't tell her she had the part." He said, "What did you say?" I said, "I told her 'I love you. You're perfect.'" He said, "Oh, my God." She's the closest thing to Rosalind Russell, a fast-talking forties-fifties dame. She doesn't have fake boobs and all that. When Arlen falls in love with Elizabeth at first sight, it has to be more than just she's beautiful. She has to represent womanhood in some movie way; I was looking for Diana, Goddess of the Hunt. I can see Lauren carrying a bow. She looks like a 1970s superhero. "She cleans and flies."
Q: What about Jeff Daniels?
JH: Jeff Daniels name came up when I met with Kevin. We said, "We should get someone like Jeff Daniels. Someone who is believable as a romantic lead and has perfect comic timing and great dramatic chops and who you can buy as an intellectual. Someone like that." And lo and behold we got Jeff Daniels.
Q: The film seems to be Capraesque, balancing comedy and a look at more serious things.
JH: I like beautiful movies that make you laugh and make you cry. I also like giant robots fighting in the streets. I like Frank Capra and Preston Sturges movies and what I like most about them is what I miss most in myself. I am a romantic, but like many people I have become crass, bitter, and overly critical. I miss my better self and I'm trying to get back to it. Those movies weren't afraid of romantic love. There was nothing foolish about falling in love and having it change your life. So how could I make my movie funny and touching? My goal was: The more important or heavy the line--maybe it was about spirituality or your inner self--the more I wanted the actors to just throw it away. "Don't make it important at all, it can't come out of your mouth fast enough." That somehow levels the playing field. Otherwise you can have a Lifetime Network movie.
Q: Lou, what kind of director was John?
LTM: I had a lot of stress because I was the last actor cast. I was cast a week before and was going crazy trying to figure out my character. John helped by not looking stressed out and crazy. A lot of first-time directors I've worked with don't have that quality. The best part of the shoot, honestly, was the fast-moving set. I don't think we went over one day. We were always on schedule. That doesn't happen, especially on indie films. Every gear moved swiftly and cleanly. He set the tone. It's hard to explain how much fun it was to do some of the scenes. Everybody could laugh.
JH: I made it a point that nobody could be more upset than I was. I gave myself three times to freak out. So if something happened I had to decide if that was going to be one of those times. It never happened because I didn't want to use up any of the three times. It didn't matter how I felt, it only mattered what I did. People were looking at me and if I were chilled they'd be chilled; I couldn't have that because unlike me they knew what they were doing. They needed to perform. I told everyone, cast and crew, "There's never anything in our lives that's going on that's more important than what's going on in the lives of the characters on this day." So when all the lights in the bookstore blew we lost about an hour and a half of our day--that's a drag, but it's not more important than Kris finding out that the store was closed twenty-seven of the twenty-eight days he's been in rehab. So that's what we focused on.
Q: In the movie, people are taken in by Arlen, who is a false prophet. Have either of you been taken in by false prophets?
JH: I have when I've listened to myself. Like: "I know what to do!" or "What would I do?"
LTM: I don't think Arlen is a false prophet. I think he is a real prophet. Especially when he says, "I don't know anything." A real prophet would be someone who says, "Yeah, the wisdom I said might have come through me but it wasn't from me." A false prophet would say that the words were his. When he becomes honest, Arlen is a real prophet because he gets you to a good place by telling you the truth.
DP: John, where did the name Arlen Faber come from?
JH: Arlen sounds like an old-style movie name to me.
DP: Or a senator?
JH: No, not that guy. I'm from San Francisco, an uberliberal. Faber was the brand of pencil that was sitting on my desk. Faber #2. A decent pencil, not a great pencil.
DP: How did you relate to Arlen?
JH: Arlen Faber is kind of an exaggerated version of my father. Like Arlen, he's an incredibly accomplished guy. He's a supergenius, a jazz pianist who has taught himself ten languages. He can give you an answer to any question, no matter how ridiculous it seems, in almost any language you want. Like, "Here's the answer to your question in Latin." Great guy, but better at helping me than helping himself. "Why can't he lead his life the way I want him to?" laments the child. Since he's a piano player, I've always wondered how long it will take me to listen to his music, his CDs, after he dies. A day? Five years? Forever? That's kind of Arlen's problem. He lost his father, who meant so much to him, and can't get past it. That's a question the film asks: "How can you reconcile yourself with a God you don't have, who you can't hear from?" And "What if something bad happened to you and you couldn't get past it?" I asked myself, "What would that look like on screen and how can I make that funny?"
DP: Are you equating Arlen's father to his God?
JH: No, no, no. Arlen is really mad at the real God. Which I've been. I've had less faith than I do now. After 9/11, I walked into the ocean up to my chest, and I let whoever might be up there have it. I'm past that. Arlen didn't move on. He stayed therebut he also kept looking for help.
DP: How do you relate to Kris?
JH: Lou's character is the most important person in the story because he's the only person whose life is at stake. This doesn't sound like a very funny movie all of a sudden, does it? There's a bit of me in Kris. I certainly know what it's like to stare down a bottle and lose in record time. Those days are behind me now.
DP: And the other characters?
JH: Everybody talks like me. Lauren's character Elizabeth is based on my sister, who is also tall and beautiful, and often more of a nurse than a mom to a kid who doesn't need a nurse. Q: Lou, taking themes from the film--in real life, have you ever had problems with an elusive higher power, or your father, or over-protective parents, or drinking?
LTM: I grew up going to a Catholic high school. God was elusive. He's supposed to be almost tangible--that's bullshit. I couldn't touch Him, see Him, or hear Him. That's pretty hard for a kid growing up. So I pretty much learned what God meant to me, pretty quick. I learned I wasn't of any religion. I figured out I didn't need a specific religion but could have my own spirituality or whatever. I had to think of my dad in regard to this whole character. Everybody grows up watching their parents. And you think, "Why can't you be what I want you to be?" That's constant. You want them to be the best they can be and they're almost your children in a weird way. And you're still their child and you can't talk to them like that. My parents were over-protective. I couldn't cross the street until I was ten. That's because I was the first child. My brothers got it easier! I was the experiment. In regard to drinking: Most kids my age who have college friends or live near a college know what it is to drink. I definitely had my time with it. What's interesting, is that right before this film, I was on a nice little binge, hanging out with friends who were going to bars or frat parties every single night. I was there because I wasn't working. I was free to meet my friends at bars when they got off work. It was easy to get stuck in that world, and I did. Then I was cast in the film and the way I got into character was to buy a lot of alcohol and place it around the apartment in Philadelphia I was in, and not drink it. It was behind every cabinet and in the refrigerator and on the nightstand, and I'd see it but not drink it.
Q: John, would you act in a film you directed?
JH: I'd love to. I was going to play a small part in this but I figured I needed to see what's going on. It would be fun.
Q: How long was the shoot?
JH: Twenty-five days, straight through.
DP: Did you film in Philadelphia because you are such a big fan of "Rocky?"
JH: No, it worked out that way. I'd never been to Philadelphia. I was scouting locations and I had a cab take me to the museum steps he ran up at 10 o'clock at night. I walked to the top and I wept.
Roundtable with Lauren Graham and Jeff Daniels

Q: Did you two know each other before making this movie?
LG: No. I had seen much of Jeff's work but I doubt if he'd seen mine, right?
JD: Once I knew it was Lauren...
LG (with sarcasm): "Lauren who?"
JD (with equal sarcasm): I immediately went to "Gilmore Girls" and said "Oh, God, this is going to be fun."
LG: You have to convert men to "Gilmore Girls." Jeff did come early to see "Guys and Dolls," which was very kind of him. I got to see his play "God of Carnage" because mine closed.
Q: Jeff, John talked about how he courted Lauren for her part. But considering he had no track record how did he get you?
JD: Lauren approved me. They sent me the script with her attached. I don't know whether anyone else was considered. I don't think so, but I'm not going to assume. I was looking for good writing. I do that so I don't get bored. When you're on a movie that's not well written and it's a three-month shoot, it's boring. So creatively, after so many movies and being my age, I don't have the patience to be bored anymore. From beginning to end, the script didn't bore me; and knowing Lauren's ability with comedy was a great reason to jump in. So it was an easy choice. It was one phone call. It was an easy movie to do. Working with Lauren was great.
Q: Talk about working with Lou Taylor Pucci.
JD: He's kind of like an open nerve or wound. You can see right into him, which is a strength. For a young actor, it's a really good quality to have. A lot of actors don't have it. The camera can dive in and see what's behind his eyes, whether it's funny or serious. I think if he continues to mine that, he'll have a good career.
Q: Did you two have overbearing parents?
JD: My parents were always very supportive and not overprotective. I was the oldest. My mother says, "We choose to be more reactive than active." They were always there. They kind of waited for the police report.
LG: Which police report would you like to talk about today?
JD: None of them! I didn't drink or do drugs.
LG: I didn't have overbearing parents. I was raised as a young kid mostly by my dad. I was a very good kid so he didn't really have to keep an eye on me. He was, "You doin' all right? All right!" He took my word for it. Drugs and alcohol never really happened. When I grew up,
answer man hindman.jpg
my mom was in a band for awhile and I saw adults acting really stupidly. That kept me out of it. I never tried anything. I was kind of a geek. I only got "cool" later!
DP: How was Elizabeth different before her husband left her?
LG: I think she just got a lot more afraid. There was probably a time of greater ease and freedom. As a single mother with a small child, she comes at the world as if it's something to be suspicious of. She probably learned that the hard way.
DP: How was Arlen different before his father died?
JD: John Hindman's dad was really important to him so I'm going to assume that Arlen's father helped come up with answers and a way to look at life that allowed Arlen later to write "Me and God." I know that John's father, with the wisdom in particular, was the model for Arlen. John's father spews out this stuff that really means something to John. He's the piano player in the restaurant scene who Arlen pays to shut up.
DP: But was Arlen an angry person before his father died?
JD: To be honest, I didn't work too hard on anything before page one. But certainly he didn't come to being that way from nothing, so I'm going to say there was the potential for that death to have changed him--but not to the extent he is when the movie starts.
DP: I would think that the characters are a good match because they make each other revert to how they used to be.
JD: Yeah, Elizabeth is all sunshine, and Arlen's not. So she helps Arlen see the blue skies. That will be the quote used in the papers!
LG: The central theme of how people lose their way--somebody starts with something truthful and moves farther and farther away from what they set out to do. It is such a powerful metaphor that has to do with fame and growing older. So that's what I liked about the movie. It looked into how much people want to believe there is an easy answer and there is magic at work; in fact, it's just people leading complicated, messy lives.
Q: Jeff, your play got 5 Tony nominations and won 2 and then went on hiatus for six weeks. What's with that? Did you all have other work commitments?
JD: I know there are a lot of producers all over New York wondering what's going on. It's a unique situation. We're very fortunate. We're now an event. The play was supposed to end a limited run on July 19. But they've been wanting to negotiate an extension since April. It took awhile. One of the reasons is that the other three actors have young children. All of us had made plans to relax and get our heads back in August. We made those plans even before we started rehearsals. We stuck with having August off. The director wasn't available to bring in a new cast in August. They've made so much money that they can afford to shut it down. We'll come back for ten weeks from Labor Day until the middle of November. And in October they'll rehearse a new all-star cast and bring them in after we walk away. Maybe it's just me who will walk away. I'm already booked with things to do. I do music and have about five gigs right after.
Q: How do your various talents feed each other?
JD: They all come from the same place, from a creative well. They just come out in different forms. We're just telling stories, that's all we're doing, whether it's through acting or a song or a play that you write for film or stage; there's a beginning, middle, and end. I'm a storyteller. You have to learn the form, you have to learn the craft, and stage chops and all that. Lauren with the musical--that's a whole other animal. She walked on with "Guys and Dolls" and that's a beast. I did one with Tommy Tune in Chicago, "Turn of the Century," that we still need to be out of town with it. We wanted to bring it to Broadway but then the economy went south. We knew we needed another out-of-town run, maybe in Boston. I'm hopeful because I know they've done another outline. For me, it's been a wonderful challenge to lead a creative life and learn various forms. It takes awhile. I'm in my fifties and I'm saying, "Yeah, I can write songs; yeah, I can write a play." It took this long to do it right. Q: What's important about storytelling to you?
JD: It's basic. As human beings, we're draw to stories, whether we see something on the Broadway stage or overhear two guys talking in the bar. We love to hear stories.
answer man leads 350.jpg

LG: I was just thinking that if you're born into this life you can't sit still. Like Jeff has to be doing his music. I just can't not be doing something. You keep growing and learning new things.
JD: The film reinforces my feeling that you have to enjoy today.
LG: I'm vaguely developing a TV show. I've spent the last two years in development for one TV project or another. It hasn't worked, so I'm sort of hoping a good script arrives.
DP (joking): Didn't you used to be in "Gilmore Girls?"
LG: That used to be me, yes.
DP: That's the one show I miss.
LG: Oh, thank you!
DP: Has "Gilmore Girls" hurt your film career?
LG: I think it has only helped. For me that TV show was perfect because many, many people never saw it, and the people who saw it liked it. That's ideal: To be in a successful TV show and still not be totally identified by it. It's not like "Friends," which everybody saw. It crept in; it was a wonderful, steady job. Even in television, I feel there's still something to do, and I can move on from it. There's still something more for me to do, right? Maybe not for the hardcore fans of it, but I feel there's something else I can do. To me, "Gilmore Girls" was a dramedy. I had as many episodes crying as I had fast-talking. Now I want to do just a comedy, probably about half an hour. The language in "Gilmore Girls" was unique and it spoke to some of my strengths, especially over time when the writer [Amy Sherman-Paladino] started writing specifically for me. But I think there's another relationship out there to have with some writer. I see that as the key piece to it. What I had was a writer who could hear my voice and I could hear hers--the style of a new show doesn't have to be the same but I'd like to have that same weird relationship.
Q: Do you write? And do you have a desire to direct?
LG: I rewrote a script for somebody. I write so I'm not just sitting around and watching "Oprah" all day. I do have a desire to direct. That's part of it, tooyou start to feel more ownership of the stories. During all those years, I got a lot of technical knowledge by hanging around and paying attention. There's time for it all. But I'm not really done being an actor.