Thursday, September 19, 2013

Trueba's The Artist and the Model in Sag Harbor

Playing in Theaters

Trueba's The Artist and the Model in Sag Harbor

(from Sag Harbor Online 9/19/13)

By Danny Peary
Last month, I posted an interview with the lovely Spanish actress Aida Folch and stated that The Artist and the Model, her new film for director Fernando Trueba, would be playing in Sag Harbor before the summer ended.  Sure enough, it slipped into town last week, the final week of summer, and–I want to alert you–it will be playing a second week at the Sag Harbor Cinema, the first week of Fall, beginning Friday the 20th at 5 pm.  Be sure to see it.  Trueba’s elegant, elegiac film is set in southern France during the Occupation.  The great French actor Jean Rochefort plays Marc Cross, a famous, elderly, bored sculptor who pays little attention to the war–or anything else.  His wife and one-time model Léa (Claudia Cardinale) tries to inspire him to create one more masterpiece by bringing him a young Spanish political refugee to be his model.   Mercè (Folch) agrees to pose nude for hours each day in exchange for shelter in his studio.  At first there is little connection between the artist and the model, but in time he sees and is inspired by her beauty (and her intelligence as well) and is able to transfer it to his art.  And we come to understand the unique relationship between artists and models and directors and leading ladies.  The following is my Q&A with the Spanish director/writer/producer Trueba, whose 1992 film Belle Epoque, starring a young Penelope Cruz, won a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
Fernando Trueba and Aida Folch Photo: DP
Danny Peary: You state in the production notes that The Artist and the Model goes beyond being a mere self-portrait. You brought it one of the greatest screenwriters in the world to be a collaborator. Jean-Claude Carrière.  Because it so personal, were you able to collaborate with him easily?
Fernando Trueba: Yes, and it was a beautiful collaboration. I told him that I’d like to work with him. He loved the story and asked me, “Can you wait one month and a half? I must finish a book that I have to give to my editor.”  I said, “If you want to work with me, a month and a half is nothing.” I went to live in Paris during the writing, so every day I came to his home, we started to talk about the story and characters. It was easy to work with Jean-Claude. What was delicate for me was at the very beginning to transmit to him the flavor of the movie, the simplicity that I was looking for. I said, “We shouldn’t make this movie poetic or dramatic.  We should go for something more simple and sensual and pretty. If there is a poetry, it should come from that, not because we are playing the poets.”
DP: The two of you agreed on that?
FT: Yeah, we agreed. We discussed these things before, and, for me, it was very important that we did.  That’s one thing I learned to do from working four times with Rafael Azcona, the greatest Spanish writer. With him, I always spend three months talking about the movie before writing one word on paper. He always wants to know exactly which movie we want to make before writing. That’s a very important thing.
DP: In their films together, Buñuel and Carrière would take the real and make it unreal, and the unreal is actually realer than the real. Like in Belle de Jour or The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.  I don’t see a connection to Bunuel, but your artist is taking what we see as real–the model–and making it unreal–the sculpture–and it’s likely that in his eyes the unreal is more real.  And you, like all filmmakers, shoot real actors but put something unreal on the screen.
FT: I understand, but as much as I love Bunuel and his films, I can’t really see any relationship between my movie and Buñuel’s.
DP; What about Jacques Rivette’s 1991 film, La Belle NoiseuseAre you a fan of that?
FT: I must confess not. My problem with that film is that it is very intellectual but it’s very artificial in some ways. I don’t want to criticize but I will tell you the first time I met Jean Rochefort after he read the script.  I went to his home, and he asked me, “Do you know La Belle Noiseuse?”  I said, “Yes, yes. I saw it.”  “Did you like it?”  I had to take a couple of seconds, and I said, “No, and that is not like my movie.” He stood up, came to me, and embraced me. That was good start for us! So we shared something there.
DP: Well, I like both films.
FT: Yes, but they’re quite completely different.
DP: La Belle Noiseuse is much longer so it has time to deal more with the artistic process, but there’s a moment in both movies–and in yours it’s maybe when the artist and model discuss the Rembrandt picture–when all of the sudden there’s an acceptance of the model on the artists’ part and they become collaborators–and the model becomes an artist herself.
FT: And the audience can look through her eyes at that moment and identify very much with her.
Aida Folch

DP: Is the art more beautiful than the model?  To an artist, is Aida Folch more beautiful on the screen than in real life, and is her character Mercè less beautiful than the  sculpture?
FT: I think we make movies, write books, paint, and sculpt, to create life and understand life. That’s why we work and that’s what this movie’s about. It’s about the work that we relate to life.  Sometimes people say art is more important and more beautiful than life, but I believe life and art are the same thing. And they are complementary. Art is another way of breathing. It’s another way of looking at reality.  Fernando Pessoa, a poet that I love, once said that humans need fiction to make reality real.  Reality lacks so much form, lacks so much anything, so we need to do these things. Some people think that art is like a luxury product that has nothing to do with real life, but that’s not my approach. I think art is as necessary as life.
DP: Must the artist love his model to see her beauty, or does the beauty result from the love?
FT: I think he must love her. There is a moment when the artist says to the model in the movie, “What did you think, that I was making your portrait?  I was not doing that!” He’s saying, don’t think you are the queen of France.  But at the same time, there is love in his way of looking at reality and nature. You must love your subject to make it possible.
DP: There’s an erotic scene in your movie when the nude model takes a swim and I believe it’s meant to recall Hedy Lamarr’s notorious nude swim in Ecstasy. But did you want the film to be erotic?
FT: Yeah, that was like Ecstasy. I was looking for beauty in the movie, that’s obvious, but I never talked about this movie as being erotic.
DP: So if I were to say that it’s an erotic movie, you wouldn’t want that response?
FT: Well, a movie is a different movie in the minds of every spectator, like a novel is a different novel for every reader. Usually movies that have a lot of naked scenes are like commercials. I hate that.  My challenge was to establish a natural relationship with the body, with what a sculptor or a painter does. So I didn’t want this movie to be erotic.  I wanted it to be true, to be natural, and, as I said, establish a natural relationship with the body. At the same time I wanted it to be beautiful. So I was very careful in every single frame and every single shot of the movie, to find the right angle, and the right light. That was very difficult with this work, to keep the balance over time.
DP: Does anyone on the outside] ever really understand the relationships between an artist and a model and a filmmaker and his lead actress?
FT: I think so, and I hope many of the people who see the movie do.  For people who are very foreign to that ambience of that relationship, this movie puts you so close that you feel the intimacy of the situation, the intimacy inside the artist’s atelier, and the work relationship between the artist and the model.  I think it will help many people figure out what it’s about.
DP: Aida told me that your film helped her understand a lot more than she did before about the model and the artist’s relationship.
FT: Before the movie, she had to work as a model for the eight artists who were creating all the pieces of art that are in the movie. I think she learned a lot posing for them.
DP: Aida, who you’ve been working with since she was a very young girl, also told me that years before there was a script you called her and asked if she could speak French.
FT: The script was not written yet,  but I wanted to know before writing it if she spoke French.  She said no, but called me six months later and explained that after talking to me she went to live in France and learned how to speak French.  I said, really!
DP: Considering that there wasn’t a script yet, that was risky!
FT: That was risky and generous.
DP: So after she learned French, you began writing it for her?
FT: Yeah.  We were writing the scene where Mercè is asked where is she from, and she says a village in Spain. So I was always thinking about her for the film.
DP: You cast Jean Rochefort and Claudia Cardinale in the other two leads, as the artist and his wife, who was once his model. They were both stars along with Jean-Paul Belmondo of Cartouche, one of my favorite films as a teenager.
FT: That was exactly 50 years before our shooting. Half a century!  And they hadn’t worked together since Cartouche!  I think she was with Belmondo, some time many years ago. Jean and Belmondo still call each other almost every day. A beautiful thing about Jean is that friendship is his religion, and that his great friends today are his friends from acting school, Conservatoire de Paris.   He, Jean-Pierre Marielle, and Belmondo talk all the time.
DP: You and Aida are both from Spain, but you have Jean Rochefort, who’s French, playing the artist, and his wife is played by Claudia Cardinale, who’s Italian although she’s actually from Tunisia and her first language was French. And there’s a German soldier, Werner, played by Götz Otto.  And Mahler, an Austrian, is on the soundtrack. Were you thinking that you wanted all these different nationalities represented?
FT: I like in movies when you have an Italian actor playing an Italian character, and a Spanish actor playing a Spanish character, and a German actor playing a German character.  The movie’s not a comedy or a fantasy, so I wanted real things.
DP: I think you could have easily set your film in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. Did you have to set it in France during WWII?
FT: From the beginning, I wanted it to be about a French artist from that generation who lived through the two world wars. Like Picasso. That was important. The first World War began thirty years before, and those who were fifty then are now seeing another world war.   I felt for people of that generation.  What must they have thought of the human race?
DP: It’s stated in the film: Human beings are “savages.”
FT: It was very important for me that this old man, this old artist, has really lost all faith in human beings, and he thinks that maybe the best thing for the world is to be destroyed and for the human race to disappear.
DP: One of the interesting aspects of the film is that Marc doesn’t have any need to stick around to celebrate th end of the war and the victory.  He helps those in trouble, but it doesn’t matter to him.
FT: Yeah, he doesn’t believe it is the end of war.
DP: Aida told me that the end of the film surprised her, as did other things in the film, and that you had to answer many of her questions.  Did you like her asking you so many questions?
FT (laughing): No!  No, but I love her so I answered them.  She’d say, “I’m the MTV generation,” and I would tell her, “You young people think that the rhythm should be faster, but rhythm has nothing to do with being slow or fast. If rhythm is only fast cutting then you’ll be bored after ten minutes.  The sense of time, the tempo, is another thing. You know the film critic Manny Farber? I have a painting of his at home called “Faster Slow.” It’s my sense of cinema, too.  I want people to stop and look and learn, because reading an image and knowing what I’m seeing is very important to me when I’m watching a movie.  And listening, too, and distinguishing between artificial noise and real sound.
DP: A scene many people might find controversial is having the artist and the German solider, Werner, whose field his art, have a friendly visit and hug each other although it’s during the Occupation.
FT: That’s a real thing. That happened a lot in the First and in the Second World Wars. People at war were friends. The war divided you, no?  I was thinking, these are two characters who were fine before the war.  [Until his death in 1937] Count Kessler was a protector of art and an art collector, and he was a very good friend of many, many French artists.  He was German.
DP: So you wanted to bring in a political element, also.
FT: It’s not a Manichaean movie. The world of art invented globalization centuries before the Internet. There were lots and lots of friendships between artists from countries at war.
Art doesn’t have anything to do with wars and flags!

Archive: On the Set of The Namesake

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On the Set of The Namesake

(from FilmInk, then 3/13/2007)

Despite the rain, the drive from mid-Manhattan up the Henry Hudson Parkway and into the suburbs takes no more than 45 minutes. The destination of the two shuttles that carry us "international" journalists is Eastchester, which oddly enough is located in Westchester. Here, in a quiet, upper-middle class neighborhood, at the end of a cul-de-sac with the safe, secure, and secluded name of Willa Way, stands the split-level house that is being used as the Ganguli family's American home in Mira Nair's much-anticipated adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri's best-selling novel, "The

We park near several huge equipment trucks and trailers, including one with the names "Desi" and "Lucy" over bathroom doors, and climb out into the cold, late-morning drizzle. Not making a sound in case cameras are rolling, we are escorted by two Fox Searchlight publicists through the garage and into the house.

We are startled that it has essentially been gutted and turned into a combination of ragtag movie set and construction site. It's hard to spot any of the belongings or furniture of the unsuspecting homeowners who are away on holiday. Even what we see on bureaus and the walls—old photographs, diplomas—are props that belong to the Ganguli family. About forty jean-clad crew members are milling about with the costumed cast members, including actresses and female extras wearing colorful saris. An odd sight. It's the most congenial group imaginable—everyone says hello. And that includes Nair. Dressed in stylish purple blouse and pants, she flashes a big smile at us between takes.

The production is well into its six-week New York-area shooting-schedule, before cast and crew must brave the 115-degree temperatures of Calcutta for another ten days. In fact, the scene being shot as we arrive—scene 143—is of a farewell party for the widowed mother Ashima, played by Tabu, before her return to Calcutta after thirty years in America.

About 15 crew members are squeezed into the small kitchen, with a few, including cinematographer
Fredrick Elmes and his cameraman, standing on top of counters. The camera is directed into the living room, where Ashima's grown son Gogol, played by Kal Penn, enters the house wearing casual American garb. Walking toward the camera, he navigates through partygoers and into the kitchen, where he exchanges a few words with several more guests and then his sari-clad mother. Finally, as the camera pans with him, he moves past her and through the kitchen, exiting stage/kitchen right.
Happily watching the action on a small monitor by the kitchen's other doorway, Nair sits with her back against the wall, perched on an uncomfortable looking, leather-covered end of a large suitcase that has the name "Mira" marked on its side. I say happily because although this scene must be shot repeatedly due to minor glitches, Nair remains upbeat. It's as if the foul-ups amuse her. She has a big smile as she reminds everyone of the tight schedule: "Too much fun, too little shooting!"
A few hours later, out back and under a canopy to protect us from the rain, Nair will tell me that her on-set demeanor is different from when she started out, before she became renowned for directing "Salaam Bombay!," "Mississippi Masala," "Monsoon Wedding," and others. "I'm now assured in what I'm doing," she says. "I no longer have that nervousness of what I used to call 'the exquisite terror of not knowing where to put the camera' while everyone was watching me. It's essential that I remain calm because nothing works if everyone else is tied up in knots."
The complex, deftly-choreographed party scene takes ten takes, during which time Nair replaces one tall male extra with a short female extra, only to then decide she doesn't want either. However, she does pull a journalist from our ranks and has her play a party guest and become part of celluloid history.
But still there is something missing. Nair tells Tabu that when Penn passes her, she should turn around and follow him with her eyes. The scene plays out, this time Tabu turns. "Beautiful!" says Nair, visibly moved by the meaningful glance of a mother to a son she'll soon be leaving. At last satisfied, Nair praises everyone for doing a great job. "We did only one shot but it was an entire scene, "she later explains. "This picture hasn't the budget of a Brad Pitt movie, but because we plan everything carefully, it allows for a creative style despite having little time to shoot. For me, it's exciting to develop an idea, refine it, and then execute it, and have it work, as it did on this scene."
Nair, who was born in India but attended college in Boston, has called "The Namesake" her most personal project, which certainly contributes to her enthusiasm on the set. "I read the book by chance when I was flying to India to shoot the end of 'Vanity Fair.' The book is really rich and layered, and there is a certain degree of interiority. That's what my films are like. I already had financing for two other films, but after reading Jhumpa's book I thought it was like a calling. The moment the plane landed, I called my agent and said to get the rights."

Because Nair is working with a modest budget, the plan for the day is to shoot as many scenes as possible that take place in the house. So after the kitchen scene, Nair immediately begins blocking and rehearsing a scene in the family living room. Like many scenes in Nair's movies, it contains a horde of characters. Fortunately for us, Gogol isn't one of them and Kal Penn is able to steal away and hold court with the journalists in an empty room on the top floor. Kalpen Modi is best known for the stoner comedy "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle," but that should change with the release of Nair's prestige film. He says he's in seventh heaven coming to work each day to play the son who is torn between finding his own identity and his parents' wish for him to not lose his heritage.
Like Nair, he seemed to have an epiphany when he read the novel. "I read it in one sitting and cried," recalls the twenty-eight-year-old actor who was born in New Jersey to parents who had migrated from India. "I cried because I felt it captured the sense of isolation foreigners can feel in America. I tried to buy the rights, but Mira beat me to it, so I got my manager to get me a meeting with her. Fortunately, her son and her agent's son were fans of "Harold & Kumar" and forced her to watch it and me. I flew to New York and told her the impact she had on my life showing real Indian people on screen. I also told her that it wasn't that I wanted to play Gogol, but I needed to play him."

Kal Penn, a.k.a Kalpen Modi
Scene from "The Namesake"

Gogol's younger sister is played by Sahira Nair, who had an easier time than Penn getting her part. She is Mira Nair's niece, and also appeared in "Mississippi Masala" and "Monsoon Wedding." "My aunt likes having someone from the family around," she jokes during a break in mid-afternoon, when the sun made its first appearance of the day. "My father is Mira's brother. He and my mother still live in India but they're coming to New York next week to see me graduate from the School of Performing Arts."

Sahira isn't in school to hone her acting skills but to follow in the footsteps of her aunt and be a director of films with Indian protagonists. "I went to college in India for a year and then came to America to go to film school. Mira did the same thing, only she came to study sociology before she changed to film." As a future director, what impresses her most about her aunt's directorial technique? "Her ability to bring out emotions in actors. It's amazing."

Sahira is called to the set, but her seat under the canopy is taken by Tabu, still in a lovely red sari and fresh from a snack break consisting of a muffin and cigarette. India's most famous actress is making her first film in America, and certainly that new endeavor is helping her relate to her character.

"I used to make 12 films a year, a total of over 70," she says. "I wanted to slow down and I was looking for a new experience when Mira offered me this part in an American film. I admired her so much because she had come to a country where she didn't belong and became a big success. I had met her a couple of times, but I knew no one else on the film and no one knew me. So I identify with this woman who was transported into an alien world and has culture shock."

"Tabu is an amazing actress," says Nair. "Yesterday was extremely intense because she had a scene in which Ashima takes off everything to show that she's a widow. For the first time in my career, I was literally weeping while directing."

Apparently, Nair isn't always cheery on the set.

During the course of our 12-hour visit, we watch rehearsals and several scenes being shot from anywhere in the house we can sneak a peek. And on monitors in the makeshift sound-editing room. Otherwise we kill hours of time between scenes and interviews in the backyard eating from a fatty-snack buffet and hearing crew members and extras grumble about how they were screwed working in Hollywood and how they love being part of this unconventional shoot.

A high point is when a relative of the homeowners shows up with a camera and begins to snap random pictures to send them. Fortunately, she is convinced not to enter the house because it would interrupt the filming. This saves her from a heart attack.

Mira Nair

At 9 p.m., the publicists summon us to leave, just as Nair begins to shoot another party scene in which family members and friends sit around drinking, gabbing, and singing. Although it's now late, the energy level is still high because Nair continues to be a cheerleader to lift everyone's spirits. As we head for the shuttles, we hear her implore her actors, "You're three drinks down, show more merriment!" And they do.

Megumi Sasaki Talks About Herb & Dorothy 50x50

Playing in Theaters

Megumi Sasaki Talks About Herb & Dorothy 50x50

(from Sag Harbor Online 9/12/13)

Herb & Dorothy 50×50 fits my category “Movies That Should Play in Sag Harbor.”  And there is good news about that.  It premieres at the IFC Center this Friday and by all means see it there if you’re in Manhattan in the next two weeks.  But if you can’t get into the city or want to see it again or for the first time out here, it will be opening at the Sag Harbor Cinema on Friday September 27.  Megumi Sasaki’s new documentary is a welcome follow-up to her Herb & Dorothy, which was released in 2008.  (It won many awards including the Audience Award at the 2008 Hampton’s International Film Festival.) The first film gave us a fascinating up-close look at the legendary Herb and Dorothy Vogel, a postal worker and librarian who on their modest salaries amassed a priceless collection of minimalist and conceptual art beginning in the early sixties.  When they donated their collection to the National Gallery in 1992, there were approximately 2,500 pieces that they put on the walls, on tables, in boxes and crates, and under their bed in their small New York apartment–which they shared with cats and turtles.  Never selling a work of art, they would continue to collect until there were between 4,000 and 5,000 pieces total and the National Gallery had no more room to store it.  That’s when the National Gallery and the Vogels announced they would launch a gift project entitled The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States.  A museum in each of the fifty states would receive fifty works from the collection–-with Buffalo being the New York destination–including works by such renowned artists as Richard Tuttle, Robert Mangold, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Charlie Clough, Sol LeWitt, Pat Steir, Robert Barry, Chuck Close, and Lucio Pozzi–all whose sputtering careers were helped by the Vogels before any one else purchased conceptual art or, later, had heard of them.  The donation and the public reaction is pretty much what Sasaki’s second film is about, as she took her cameras to museums around the country.  But it is also about, again, the extraordinary twosome as they approach their fiftieth anniversary together and share their art collection with the public, for free.  Herb was able to attend several of the exhibitions but passed away before the completion of the film, which is very much a tribute to him and his and Dorothy’s legacy in the art world.  Before Herb & Dorothy 50×50 plays at the Sag Harbor Cinema, you’ll be able to read my interview with the amazing Dorothy Vogel.  But here is the one I did simultaneously with Megumi Sasaki, whose love and admiration of her two subjects–and art–is in every frame of her movie.

Megumi Sasaki

Danny Peary: You made Herb & Dorothy in 2008.  Was that when you met the Vogels?
Megumi Sasaki: No, I met them in 2004.  Two years before that I was assigned to do a story on Christo.    I had been living in New York for a long time but I was working for Japanese public television, NHK, and went to Washington D.C. to shoot his exhibition at the National Gallery.  It was a part of Herb and Dorothy’s huge collection that they had donated to the National Gallery in 1992.  They weren’t in Washington but I met them at another Christo exhibition two years later, at Grace Mansion in New York.
DP: Did you ever do a TV piece on them?
MS: No. But I thought I may do it for the TV program, so that’s how I first approached Herb and Dorothy about shooting them.
DP: And eventually you told them that you wanted to make a movie?
MS: Yes, but not for awhile.  I didn’t really think I’d make a film at the beginning.  I just knew I wanted to tell their story.
DP: What in particular excited you about their story?
MP: When I first heard about Herb and Dorothy I was really, really moved. And I was totally shocked, because I couldn’t believe that it was a true story about real people. It’s not just because they were able to build a world-class art collection with their humble salaries, but that they never sold anything and finally gave everything away to the National Gallery so that people could enjoy art for free. And meanwhile they lived humbly, on their pensions, in the same one-bedroom apartment.  They didn’t want any kind of fame or special status.  I knew it was a good story, but even when I began thinking of it as a film, I thought about making a short, not a feature. It just evolved over time.
DP: As did your friendship with the Vogels.
MS: Our relationship evolved very slowly over time and over years. We became more than friends by the end of the first film.  I spent so much time with them, including shooting countless times in their apartment.  I was trained as a TV journalist, and I never had any close relationships with my subjects before.  I thought it was much healthier to keep a good distance from them.  But the Vogels became like family.
At Christo's Gates Exhbit in Central Park

DP: While making the first film and seeing Herb and Dorothy in their collecting mode, did you believe they felt they were on a mission to collect and even rescue as much art as they could?  I ask because there’s a great moment in the first movie when the Vogels are crossing a New York street and a weary Herb, who is usually the point man in going after the art, asks Dorothy hopefully if they’re through for the day and she rushes ahead saying they have a lot more to do. As James Siena says, “They wanted to see everything!”
MS: I didn’t think they felt they were on a mission.  They weren’t on a goal-oriented thing at all. They just did what they wanted. One of the reasons I said I was moved by their story is that it’s not just a story about art collectors. I was moved because of their passion for collecting art and the power of that passion. What makes our lives so fulfilling?  Passion.  A lot of us can’t find anything we feel passionate about but they were so happy to have found a passion they could dedicate their whole life to.  Their passion happened to be art and they pursued it and they stuck to it for decades. They were totally committed to what they really liked. And the result of their passion is that so many in the world can now share what they collected.  So for me, the key word for the first film for me was passion. And in the second film, it’s sharing. The fruit of their passion is now shared by everybody.
 Herb and Dorothy Vogel began collecting contemporary art in the early 1960s

The Vogels' small, cluttered apartment

DP: Did the 50×50 project originate before or after you made the first documentary?
MS: During. I finished editing Herb & Dorothy in June of 2008.  The decision to donate 50 pieces of art to 50 museums around the country came about in April.
DP:  In the production notes for Herb & Dorothy 50×50, you say that initially you were too burned out to think about making another feature, this time about the 50×50 project, but changed your mind when you attended with the Vogels the premiere exhibition in Indianapolis in December 2008.
MS: Yes, at first I wasn’t thinking about a full-length feature film–again. I went to Indianapolis six months after completing Herb & Dorothy thinking I might film the event to use as a DVD extra or something similar. I just thought it was important to document their collection, their gift project.  But when I saw the exhibition at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, I realized it was the first time for me to actually see their collection. I had filmed at their apartment while making the first film, but I hadn’t seen the art because the deal with the National Gallery had been finalized.  The 50-work package truly represented a collection. I was startled.  It was the very first time that I got invited to step into that real universe, into the Vogel’s world. It was the very first time that I saw the collection in a museum setting, properly framed, and lit, and mounted on white walls. It was just so absolutely beautiful, and it made me feel that I wanted to learn more about the whole collection and how people were receiving it around the country.
At a museum exhibition of their collection

DP: You said in your Director’s Statement in the production notes that the second film “began as a journey in search of art,” where you learned about art in a new way.
MS: Yes, it turned out to be that way.
DP: In all your time together, including in their apartment, at galleries and museums, and studios of various artists, did Herb and Dorothy ever explain to you what was so special about a particular work of art?
MS: Never.  I learned from Herb and Dorothy, the most important lesson in art. What I learned is that art is something to experience. It’s really an emotional experience, I should say, and it’s unexplainable.  I did not know that when I started making the first film about them.  The first time I tried to interview them on camera, I had a very hard time, because no matter how much I tried to find out why they saw beauty in a piece of work, they’d just say, “We bought it because we liked it, because it’s beautiful.”  It was that simple. I really thought that response was very problematic, but then it turned out to be a very important message.  Why must we all try to understand and explain art, especially contemporary art?  Why can’t we just simply say, “It’s beautiful” or “I like it”?   I think one has a different kind of enjoyment depending on whether they do or don’t understand something, but it doesn’t mean you’re entitled to enjoy it only if you know something.  Anybody can enjoy any work of art, whether it’s music, films, novels, or works of art. Does it open your heart?  It’s very personal.

DP: There is a wonderful scene in the new movie in which Richard Tuttle, who has a long history with the Vogels, is at the Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey revealing how he sees his art and explaining to the staff how a series of his paintings should be lined up for visual and thematic reasons. Did you include that scene because you felt it contributed to your artistic journey?
MS: Richard is one of the most inspirational artists, for me. I learned so much from him. His art is very difficult in a way. I think his art is a good example of art that’s so easy to dismiss if you look at it superficially.  But if you spend a really good time with the art, you’ll find the beauty.  You’ll feel it crawling under your skin, up into your emotions. I included that scene because I feel that Richard is a very important part of the Vogel collection, and because I also wanted to show what the artist is thinking. It’s very rare that we can have a good look at the raw thinking process of an artist.  A that moment, when he is with the curators of the Montclair Art Museum, they are engaging in real talk about art.  That’s something that I could probably never get if I interviewed Richard.
DP: Because he would not give you his A conversation, as he would with Herb.  Did Herb’s death in May of 2012 make you change directions with this film–or give it a focus for the first time?
MS: I thought this film was about the gift project and about sharing art.  I was prepared for Herb’s passing during the production [because he wasn't well] but I was hoping that he would be able to see it.  I was prepared but when he passed away, it was a very emotional experience for me. I didn’t want to get caught up with emotion, I thought, but how could I finish the film without it?  So I had to think, “How do we really go through telling this story when Herb was a very important part of it?”   After he died, Dorothy and I went to lunch with Herb’s sister and her husband, on Herb’s birthday.  I found out two things.  I hadn’t known that Herb was at first really opposed to the idea of breaking up the collection and sending it to museums in fifty states. I also didn’t know that he always had it in his mind that what he and Dorothy were doing would become a very important part of art history.  That’s why in archival interviews and also often in my interviews, he often he used the word history.  I hadn’t known where that came from., but after we had that conversation, I understood that was what he envisioned.
DP: So you included a scene at the Smithsonian, where they have boxes and boxes of material on art and artists that Herb had sent them over the years.
MS:  Yes, we went to the American archives to shoot that part.  We wanted to include more of Herb, including when he was younger in archival images, things like that. Just to connect the dots.
DP: What is your feeling about Herb and Dorothy’s impact on art history, including the 50×50 donation?
MS: The art itself, the collection itself, brings such an impact to every local community where a museum has received their gift.  The gift is part of that museum’s permanent collection and they are required to exhibit it to the public within five years.  I think their spirit of generosity is really a testament that art is for everyone.  As I said, you don’t have to be rich or have to have a master’s degree in art history to appreciate art, or support art. And I think especially contemporary art, particularly the minimalist, conceptual art they collected, can be very distancing and intimidating. But everybody can enjoy it in their own way. I think their story gives access to enjoyment of art to everyone. It’s beyond art communities, it’s beyond America, it’s global.  In Japan I never really imagined the people would love and enjoy this film so much. Dorothy went to Japan with me and she was like a rock star. We’re going to be traveling a lot together with this film.
DP: So collecting art wasn’t a mission for them, but telling their story was a mission for you.  I would I think there’s something very gratifying to you as a filmmaker to be able to tell it.
MS: I wanted to complete their story by making the second film. They should be remembered in the history of art, and their collection should be documented and be appreciated by generations to come.  So I’m very honored that I was able to tell the full story. Mission completed! Mission successful!

The late Herb Vogel

Megumi Sasaski and Dorothy Vogel Photo: DP

Monday, September 2, 2013

Catch Young Golfers on Their Way Up

SummerDocs, Film Festival

Catch Young Golfers on Their Way Up: The Short Game Concludes SummerDocs in Style

(from Sag Harbor Express 8/29/13)


“We always try to let the movies at SummerDocs speak for themselves,” insists Anne Chaisson, the executive director of the Hamptons International Film Festival (HIFF), “but I must say that “The Short Game” was a big surprise. “David Nugent, the festival’s artistic director, saw it at SXSW (South by Southwest Music Film and Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas) and told Alec Baldwin and me, ‘You’ve got to see it.’  Alec, who curates SummerDocs with David, and I watched it and we both went to the moon over it. So that’s how it got chosen.”
Anne Chaisson

“I’m very honored that ‘The Short Game’ was included,” says the film’s director, Josh Greenbaum, who will be at Guild Hall for a Q&A with Alec Baldwin this Friday after the film’s 8 p.m. screening.  Greenbaum’s debut feature closes out SummerDocs’ fifth year, following “Twenty Feet From Stardom,” “Gasland 2,” and “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me.”
Josh Greenbaum

“It’s an awesome spot in an incredible lineup,” says Greenbaum. His sports film may be in the clean-up spot, but it’s not about big sluggers swinging bats at Yankee Stadium, but seven- and eight-year-olds swinging golf clubs in Pinehurst, North Carolina. That’s the site of the annual World Championships of Junior Golf, and Greenbaum and producer Rafael Marmor found eight talented and charming kids — including children from China, South Africa, and France — among the 1,250 competitors at the 2012 tournament to highlight in their movie.
“I’m a believer that even with great subject matter, you need an interesting angle,” says Marmor. “Our angle was going for the youngest kids because they have the fewest inhibitions, even in front of a camera. So we went to the tournament the year before and interviewed hundreds of kids for about five minutes each, and we came away with a diverse group.”
Raphael Marmor

Greenbaum constantly reminds viewers that the young subjects are like other kids their age. “They have the same emotions, they like to goof off; they aren’t self-aware.” But he acknowledges there is something unique about this group. “What makes them different is their focus. It’s hard for us adults to stay focused but for a kid it’s even harder. But these kids have the ability to focus completely on golf in practice and on the course. They have goals and the confidence, focus and drive to see what they can accomplish.”
“What attracted me to this project initially,” says Marmor, “is that I heard of a world where seven-year-olds focus on things I struggle with.” How do they handle pressure and frustration, how do they have so much confidence? “What I believe is that kids who go toward golf tend to be smarter. They are articulate and they think things through. They can be cerebral and state pearls of wisdom and have profound insights that we could learn from them.”

“What excited me was the juxtaposition of their being funny and having wise thoughts,” Greenbaum says. “We got close to these kids and worried about them doing poorly in the competition in the film. I discovered they have short-term memory, which allows them to quickly get over bad rounds and losses. The other thing that impressed me was how they see only the flag and not the bunkers or trees. Metaphorically-speaking, when we adults see obstacles in life we lose sight of the finish. I went in expecting to watch kids learn lessons as they play golf with parents as their caddies, but from watching them I learned as much as they did.”
You’ll be captivated by the kids off the course, including Anna Kournikova’s younger brother Allan; but make no mistake these future Tigers and Annikas can really play. A warning: When you hackers hear a tiny eight-year old golfer say she feels happy every time she makes an eagle, you may want to retire your golf clubs.

“As a filmmaker I want you to wonder who will win the tournament,” says Greenbaum, “but the important thing is what the kids learned and how they grew. The definitions of win and lose and success and failure change. It’s exemplified by the South African boy, Zam. He finished 43rd the year before and I think that if he finished 42nd he would be happy. He’s certainly developing the right attitude.”
Chaisson is delighted by the loyal following Summer Docs has because, “it is most definitely an extension of the festival and leads into the festival.” In fact, if The Short Game wins the audience award over the other three documentaries, it will play at this year’s festival.
Another draw at this Columbus Day weekend’s HIFF will be the popular “Views From Long Island,” which will include three features and three shorts that are set on Long Island and/or were made by Long Island filmmakers. Titles of these films, as well as passes and packages — including a large discount on all-access Founders Passes purchased before Labor Day — can be found at
The Hamptons International Film Festival SummerDocs series, hosted by Alec Baldwin, will screen “The Short Game” on August 30 at 8 p.m. at Guild Hall in East Hampton.