Thursday, May 15, 2014

Johanna Hamilton's "1971" Is Relevant in 2014

Playing at TriBeCa Film Festival

Johanna Hamilton's 1971 Is Relevant in 2014

(from Sag Harbor Express Online 5/13/14)

Johanna Hamilton being interviewed at the TriBeCa Film Festival.
Johanna Hamilton being interviewed at the TriBeCa Film Festival.

On March 8, 1971, on the night of the first Muhammad Ali-Joe    Frazier fight, eight young men and women broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, a town just outside Philadelphia, and carried away several hundred files in a few suitcases.  They soon sent the files anonymously to a few journalists and liberal senators, making public the FBI’s secret program to spy on and intimidate civil rights activists and Vietnam War protestors.  Their action would change the protocol of government surveillance until 9/11. Despite a huge FBI investigation, the eight activists were never caught and their identities were never revealed–until now.  Johanna Hamilton’s new documentary, 1971, comes on the heels of a book, The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI, by Hamilton’s friend and collaborator, former Washington Post reporter Betty Medsger (who wrote extensively about the break-in).  And it, too, had the full cooperation of nearly all the surviving burglars, who were known collectively as the Citizen’s Commission to Investigate the FBI.  In fact, two key members, John and Bonnie Raines, made appearances when Hamilton (coproducer of the remarkable documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell) presented her new film at the recent TriBeCa Film Festival.  To my mind, it was one of the most exciting moments at the festival.  (I wasn’t at screenings when other Citizen’s members appeared.)  A few days after the festival, Hamilton and I chatted over breakfast about her debut feature and her heroic subjects.
John and Bonnie Raines back in 1971.
John and Bonnie Raines back in 1971.

Danny Peary: When Pray the Devil Back to Hell was selected the best documentary at the 2008 TriBeCa Film Festival, I interviewed its director Gini Reticker, its producer Abigail Disney, and its subject Leymah Gbowee, who later won the Nobel Peace Prize.  But not you. So let’s start with your background. I know you lived in London. Were you born there?
Johanna Hamilton: Yes, I was born in the UK and lived there until I was ten. My dad worked for an international organization, so we moved to Switzerland.  I went to an international high school there, then did my undergrad back in London at the University of London, studying history and French. I met my husband and after I graduated moved to South Africa, where he is from. We lived there for five years, during the transition from apartheid to democracy, which was incredibly exciting. I wanted to be a journalist.  I had grown up on BBC, so in my mind I would be a researcher for historical documentaries.  I was able to join a very small production company almost as soon as I arrived, and I ended up doing everything. It was just an incredible time when everybody and everything was accessible and open, so we got to do all these wonderful stories. I worked on the equivalent of 60 Minutes, which was great training.
DP: Did you know the music from Rodriguez that’s in Searching for Sugarman?
JH: I didn’t, but my husband grew up on it in South Africa. There’s a clip in that movie of Rodriguez on a talk show.  I worked on that show and I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t even pay attention to him at the time.
DP: When you were at the university, did you know you wanted to go into film?
JH: I was interested in documentaries, but I didn’t imagine myself actually making them just helping someone else making them.  As a journalist my hope was to uncover  remarkable stories of modern history.
DP: Were you political at the time?
JH: My interests tended to be toward politics.  Most of my history classes were politically and economically inclined. At the time I met my future husband, I was taking a class with a very famous exiled historian at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.  My husband has actually been interviewed in a variety of films because he was the executive secretary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa.  I haven’t interviewed him but other people have.
DP: When did you move to New York?
JH: About fifteen years ago.
DP: How did you get involved with Pray the Devil Back to Hell?
Director Johanna Hamilton (L) and cinematographer Kirsten Johnson.
Director Johanna Hamilton (L) and cinematographer Kirsten Johnson.

JH:.  I have a very dear friend, Kirsten Johnson, who’s my DP on 1971.  She and I met a decade ago working on a PBS film. She was potentially going to be involved with Pray the Devil Back to Hell while it was in its formative stages and she suggested that I meet Gini Reticker because of my experience living in South Africa and working and traveling all over Africa.
DP: How do you become a co-producer?
JH: As the director, Gini needed somebody to help her make the film, so I was there in service of her vision. I did research but I was really assisting her in every possible way on an intellectual, substantive level, and a logistical level too.
DP: Were you thinking, at that point, that you’d learn a lot about politically-progressive filmmaking from Gini and Abigail Disney, the producer?
JH: Oh, definitely. I’d be facilitating, but also learning. I remembered that moment in time when Charles Taylor [the dictator of Liberia] resigned, and his infamous, “I’ll be back.”  I remembered watching seeing him say that on television. So it fed directly into my interests, but I had never heard of Leymah Gbowee or the Muslim and Christian women who helped her bring about peace in Liberia and his downfall. We arrived there and everybody knew about “the women in white,” and yet there was really nothing written about them.  So it was just an enormous privilege to help craft this story everyone knew but nobody had told before and inscribe it into the historical narrative of Liberia.
DP: That film came out in 2008. How did you make the transition the next year to start making your own film, 1971.
JH: On which Gini and Abby Disney are executive producers. On Pray the Devil I had a baby.  So I had a small baby and was helping with outreach for Pray the Devil and doing research for my own project that I had been trying to get off the ground just prior to my working on Pray the Devil.  I was going back to that when this story for 1971 came along.. I had been friends with Betty Medsger, the author and the journalist, for over a decade.  I had met her just before I came to this country, so it had really been a long friendship. I was put in touch with her when I was in South Africa and applying to journalism school here in the States.  I really wanted to come live in New York.  My father-in-law had met Betty at a journalism conference in South Africa. He said, you know, you might want to talk to her, just for advice. So Betty and I started an email conversation back in the mid-’90s and we’ve stayed in touch ever since. She wrote for The Washington Post in the early 1970s, but when I met her she lived in San Francisco and was a journalism educator at San Francisco State.  After she retired she moved to New York, and we became closer friends.  During all that time she had been researching and writing a book, The Burglary:The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI, about the events in my movie. She had shared the outline of the story with me a few times.
DP: She was already thinking about writing her book when you started making your film?
JH: She was already researching this story because she was given the documents after the break-in in 1971. About 20 years after being given these documents by John and Bonnie Raines, they accidentally revealed themselves to her. It turned out they were acquaintances! Before going to the Post, Betty lived and worked in Philadelphia. So they knew each other vaguely, and John and Bonnie followed her career.  That’s why she was one of three journalists they sent the documents to.  Twenty years later, she came back for a journalism conference and she filled her time seeing friends and old acquaintances, including John and Bonnie. She went for dinner at their house, and at the end of this long meal, John just kind of blurted out that he and Bonnie were involved in the break-in and had sent her the documents.  He hadn’t thought it through.  He just called over one of their children and said, “You know, Mary, twenty years ago we had these really important documents and sent them to Betty.”  Betty was just floored, she didn’t believe it.  They had been anonymous sources all that time, and she couldn’t believe they had been acquaintances of hers.  They stayed up all night talking about how they had done what they’d done, and she asked them to consider participating in the book.  They agreed to help her find and communicate with all the others.
DP: Had she been trying to figure out who was behind the documents all those years?
JH: As she describes it, she didn’t really have a burning desire to know. Because she’d been part of this movement in Philadelphia, she figured it was somebody from that movement. She definitely wondered who sent her the documents, but she never had the urge to find out because she worried they would be arrested. I think she worried that she might be followed and didn’t want to lead anyone to them.  Especially in the early seventies, that was definitely her fear.  She taught the story in her journalism ethics class at San Francisco State, explaining what you should do if you receive stolen government documents.
DP: Did she want to do the book all those years?
JH: It was only after they revealed themselves that she thought about doing the book. She had a full-time job and was working on other things, so she worked on the book very slowly at first. It was periodic; she would do her research and then come back to them.    In the past four years, she worked on it more frequently.
DP: There were eight people involved, and I guess they were all alive until Bill Davidon died in 2013…
JH: We never found the eighth person. We assume she’s still alive but we don’t know.
DP: Do you think she’s still hiding or just got married and disappeared?
JH: I’m not sure, but I assume the latter.
DP: For the book, did Betty make sure everybody else was on board?
JH: Absolutely. Betty had seven of the burglars for her book, two of whom participated anonymously and were given pseudonyms. I tried quite hard to get the two of them in front of the camera but they did not want to appear in the film for professional reasons.
DP: Betty’s book has come out and your movie has premiered, so was it important to coordinate your two projects?
JH: Absolutely. All along Betty and I had a collaboration agreement and made our best efforts to get the book release and movie premiere to coincide as closely as we could. We worked closely together and were in touch constantly. She was in her study writing, I was in the editing room and we would talk to one another twice a week at least. We also met regularly to discuss our latest research and where we were on our projects. She might talk about her timeline and I might update her on my funding.
DP: During the four years you worked on the book and film, you two kept both projects and the group secret although the five-year statute of limitations had run out and they could no longer be prosecuted.
JH: We didn’t think John and Bonnie Raines would be arrested for what happened in 1971, but we weren’t 100% sure.  It was highly unlikely that anything was going to happen to them, but you never know. So we were incredibly careful.  In fact, I encrypted my drive in case anybody came to visit. In terms of checking sources, Betty didn’t refer to any of them by name in her manuscript but gave them numbers.  I adopted that same numbering system, and when we emailed or talked on the phone, we referred to the people by number.
DP: Looking back, were you being paranoid or correct?
JH:  I think we were correctly cautious, in the absence of absolute knowledge, and I think that was the correct course of action. For sure Betty and I were more worried than they were. Everybody consulted lawyers.  I had my own legal counsel.  In the film I interview John and Bonnie’s lawyer, David Kairys, who’s on the longest no-fee retainer in history.
DP: What if two or three years into the book and film, John and Bonnie or one of the others worried about going public and told you not to proceed?
JH: That would have been a bit devastating, for sure, because we were all body and soul into it. But to be clear, Betty and I were always more concerned than they were about keeping silent. Their response was, we were ready then, we are ready now.
DP: In the press notes you state that the breaking into the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, in 1971 is “a little known but seminal event in contemporary American history.” Talk about that.  Did you know about it?  Showing my ignorance, I remember Hoover going down because it was revealed he was doing illegal domestic spying but I don’t remember the circumstances.
JH: It was because of the FBI files that were taken that night in Media.   It was because of the eight activists who called themselves the Citizen’s Commission to Investigate the FBI. We wouldn’t have known about any FBI spying if it hadn’t been for that break-in on March 8, 1971, and the disclosure of the hundreds of files that were taken. My feeling is that 99% of people who will see my film never heard of this incident. People in the movement in Philadelphia at the time know about the break-in, and every once in a while I’ve come across somebody who was very clued-in and remembers it. But it always surprised me when I come across those people. I have a small bookshelf full of FBI histories, and while the break-in is always mentioned, it’s mentioned in just a paragraph and there is no full exposition of its real importance. It’s the story that we tell now. Who were these people and what did they do?  It was one the last mysteries from that time.
DP: So if not for your movie and the book, almost nobody would know about the story or its significance.
JH: Exactly.  It’s fantastic and a total privilege to be able to tell that story.
DP: The break-in revealed that the FBI was spying on everybody and trying to intimidate civil rights activists and nonviolent war protestors.  How did these eight people know they’d find such evidence when they broke in?
JH: They suspected what they might find but they didn’t know.  So they risked everything on an action that was premised on a hunch. It was a well-educated hunch, but it was a hunch nonetheless and they could have come away completely empty-handed.
DP: It was a small office in Media, Pa. not the FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., so why would it contain such damaging evidence against the organization?
JH: In truth the documents they found were very heavily focused on the Philadelphia area. There were documents that referenced other programs throughout the country, but those were far fewer. It was heavily concentrated on Philadelphia, because there were so many colleges around and Hoover was obsessed by what was going on campuses. So that fed into it. There was just an enormous amount of activity in that area. But while the documents they took were by and large focused on Philadelphia, they were emblematic of what was going on in the rest of the nation.  That was really evident once Carl Stern took the baton.
DP: Carl Stern was an NBC journalist covering the Department of Justice.  It says in the press notes: “On a chance visit to the Senate, he is given one of the Media documents with the heading ‘COINTELPRO—New Left.’  He asks the Department of Justice what the term means.  After a protracted legal battle, 50,000 pages of documents emerge detailing the scope of COINTELPRO and the FBI’s dirty tricks.  These revelations, along with Watergate, now make a Congressional investigation inevitable.  The Church Committee [headed by liberal Idaho Senator Frank Church] is formed; it is the first-ever congressional investigation into American intelligence agencies.”  At that time, everyone on the left knew the FBI was spying on civil rights and anti-war activists.  Watergate was not a surprise to activists, but it was a surprise to the mainstream population. So what you’re saying is that Carl Stern revealed what the rest of us knew to the general population.
JH: That’s right. It was about exposing the FBI’s tactics to the general public. That was what Bill Davidon, the leader of the group, and the seven others felt very strongly about. All of them felt nothing was going to be done in Washington and no one was going to be held accountable.
DP: Was it them who revealed the counterintelligence program with the name COINTELPRO?
JH: People didn’t know about COINTELPRO, and what I always found extraordinary was that only one of the documents that they took from the Media office had that heading. And then almost a year later, once the documents were in the public domain, Carl Stern went to the Senate office doing something else, and he was handed this sheet of paper by some Senate staffer with the COINTELPRO heading.  So he started asking, “What does this mean?” He read the document which basically was urging FBI agents to write anonymous letters to campus educators, urging them to take action against the New Left. Stern was a lawyer, the Department of Justice was his beat, and he was like, what right do FBI agents have to write anonymous letters? There was no writ in law that gave them that authority. That was what peaked his interest–there appears to be somebody breaking the law here, let me investigate. What did COINTELPRO mean? Nobody knew. But because he had the code name, he could ask the FBI what it meant. Without the document he wouldn’t have known what to ask for.
DP: I was surprised to learn that COINTELPRO started back in 1956.
JH: It was supposed to be about uncovering communists.  It started with one program and then grew and grew and grew. When Fred Schwartz, the chief counsel for the Church Committee, says at the end of the film, that COINTELPRO was un-American and un-Constitutional, but that what it became was bound to happen when you have a program that at the outset is wrong and without oversight.  It was bound to morph into something grotesque and incomprehensible. I think that we’re engaged in that same conversation today. The CIA and the Senate Committee are in the headlines again about oversight due to illegal spying  History is repeating itself. But we’re at least having that conversation. I think that after 9/11, it was perhaps understandable that certain things were rolled back at the cost of civil liberties, but now, I think everyone from the President on down has acknowledged that we need to have a conversation about excesses still going on a decade later.
DP: After the break-in, the burglars sent the documents to three journalists and two senators?
JH: That’s right, George McGovern [who was the Senator from South Dakota and would  run for President in 1972], and Parren Mitchell, from Maryland, who is in my film.  They both sent the documents back to the FBI. Mitchell did read them and said, “It does appear that something illegal is going on here and it should be looked at.” But he sent them back, and did McGovern. And the journalists were Betty at the Washington Post, Jack Nelson at the LA Times, and Tom Wicker at the New York Times. It’s unclear whether Jack Nelson ever received the documents.  Tom Wicker we’re not sure about, but we know the Times photocopied the documents and then returned the set they’d received to the FBI. At the Post, Betty was the only person who received them on her desk and didn’t give them back to the FBI.
DP: Was there a note with them?
JH: Yes, after the break-in. The note was a statement they gave to Reuters.  It said something like, Dear Friend, we thought you might be interested in these documents, read on. And it gave the statement and there was a sheath of documents.  By the time the Church Committee formed, J. Edgar Hoover was dead. For the Church Committee to happen when it happened and for the Watergate hearings, it was necessary for Hoover to be gone. [He died in May 1972.]
DP: In almost every fiction thriller, in theaters or on television, we see corrupt villains in the FBI, CIA, and police forces. People forget that before Watergate, there were no bad agents or policemen in the movies or on TV, unless they were single rogue individuals. It was one bad apple, it was never systematic.
JH: Yes, very true. There was a sense of knowing the FBI was breaking laws then, without the ability to prove it.  And that’s precisely what the eight activists set out to do and did.  It was an end of an era, a loss of innocence.  I think it’s hard for people to believe even now.  As we were finishing editing our movie, we were feeling tension about how and to what degree we make it contemporary.  That’s when the Edward Snowden revelations happened.
DP: Well, the Snowden story makes it the perfect time for your film.
JH: The timing is remarkable. All along we might have been tempted to go in that direction.  In 2011 I think it was Brian Williams on the evening news saying there were FBI raids across Michigan and Pennsylvania against environmental groups and animal rights groups.  He said the tactics being used by the FBI were reminiscent of those used by the FBI in the 1970s. We thought the government’s tactics was very cyclical, but didn’t have an enormous amount of proof. Then Edward Snowden comes along, and now we have proof.
DP: WikiLeaks, too. Discussions about whistle-blowers always include the question: are they heroes or are they villains?
JH: It’s different with the FBI break-in because they’re not traditional whistle-blowers. They weren’t interested in being seen as heroes, and that’s part of the reason they were able to stay undetected.
DP: Another political film that played at the festival was the fictional Night Moves, about three extremists who blow up a dam and then feel paranoia about each other. It deals with the question: who can you trust? Do you think the eight activists constantly looked over their shoulders to see if anyone turned them in, particularly the ninth member of the group before he dropped out.  The Camden 28 were arrested on the word of an informer.
JH: For the five years before the statute of limitations ran out, for sure. John and Bonnie were acutely aware of that five-year limit. I think Keith Forsyth and Bob Williamson, for two examples, were not. They didn’t necessarily pay attention to that. Keith is so matter-of-fact, saying, “If we weren’t caught within the first couple of months they weren’t going to catch us.”  Amazing. And then he and Bob were arrested and were defendants in the Camden 28 trial.  They were charged with breaking into the Camden, New Jersey draft board.  The 28 defendants were charged with breaking into the draft board office in Camden, New Jersey.  It was an attempt to capture the Media burglars, but neither Keith nor Bob gave up the other. I asked Keith if he was afraid that Bob would give him up.  He said, no. He was absolutely certain Bob wouldn’t give him up. They trusted one another. They were twenty-years-old!
DP: In your film, when Bob was on trial, he suddenly realized he could go to jail for the rest of his life.  Do you think the other activists in Media contemplated that if they were arrested?
JH: I think for all of them were very clear and very serious.  They thought that they had no business breaking into an FBI office or a draft board if they were not prepared to go to jail.
DP: Was the Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI a secret name?
JH: No, it was a public name.  It was the name that the Media group gave themselves when they issued a statement after the break-in. It was a statement that was very underreported, because they phoned Reuters, and being a British news agency, Reuters wasn’t particularly interested in a statement about a break-in of a tiny FBI office in Pennsylvania. Betty also received this statement when they first sent the documents to her. They claimed responsibility and in the very first paragraph of the statement announced their name. It said, “We’re the Citizens Committee to Investigate the FBI and we’re the ones who broke in…”
DP: They revealed themselves after the fact?
JH: It was not known before. It was their only known action.
DP: Was there a plan after the break-in for everybody to go their separate ways?
JH: Yes.. They decided that they would sever contact with each other.
DP: In Night Moves, that’s the plan but it doesn’t happen. Was it difficult for the eight activists?
JH: It was difficult.  Because of the mass movement that existed in Philadelphia, they definitely bumped into one another.  But they didn’t hang out together, they kept their distance. With John and Bonnie Raines obviously it was something good that they shared, just in terms of their own personal narrative over the years.  I think our stories become our stories in the telling and retelling of them, and for John and Bonnie it was something they were able to talk about with each other–the others didn’t have that ability.
DP: Part of the reason they did the break-in was they were so frustrated because they felt the protesting wasn’t working. Is that true?   I would hope that all our marching and picketing did have an effect.
JH: I think that for them the pace wasn’t fast enough. They felt that they were on this evolutionary path, as John describes it, from non-violent civil disobedience to non-violent disruption where they could take a well-targeted poke at the government.
DP: So they did the break-in and sent out the documents.  Were they optimistic about calling attention to the FBI’s illegalities?
JH: I think they were very optimistic. In fact they were very disappointed that things took so long.  I think once they’d mailed the documents, they imagined there would be more news about the break-in itself. I think they underestimated the extent to which the FBI wanted to keep it very quiet. The Associated Press had a very small article and that was about it. The FBI’s statement was, yes there was a break-in and a few things are missing. That was all.  A few things? They took all the documents in the office! In suitcases, so they weren’t suspicious.  It was a residential building, so they could have been visiting somebody in the apartments. It’s totally amazing. So I think initially they were disappointed there wasn’t more news about the break-in itself, but once they started mailing the documents, the turn-around was very quick.
DP: So where does this event fit in with the Pentagon Papers?
JH: It happened a few months before the Pentagon Papers, and another a year before Watergate. Jackson State and Kent State had happened before, in 1970. It was definitely part of a natural progression. People who had never protested before were out on the streets protesting, finally, I think there was a groundswell they were part of. There was an escalation in every sense from the government and on behalf of the protesters. But while draft board raids were almost commonplace, a break-in at an FBI office was definitely something different.
DP: And you believe what came after–the Pentagon Papers being published and Watergate hearings–progressed from the break-in in Media?
JH: Definitely. Betty says in my film as well as her book that Katharine Graham really gained courage from her decision to publish the stolen FBI documents in the Washington Post. This was first time that the administration had asked her to suppress a story, so this was the first time she had to go head-to-head with the administration.  And in a very short time, ten or twelve hours, she published against the advice of the Post‘s legal counsel. That it was the first time makes it more significant.  The decision to publish the Pentagon Papers was easier.
DP: How much did Betty write about the Media break-in in the Post?
JH: She wrote a number of stories.  Certainly the first article was on the front page, and every ten days or so they would send her packages, so she continued to write stories through the summer.
DP: Did John and Bonnie send material to the Post or to her directly?
JH: They sent it to her desk.
DP: Does Betty have any resentment that she uncovered a great story but Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein are the two Washington Post investigative reporters from the seventies who are known, because of All the President’s Men?
JH: She knew them back then. She’s very modest so her ego is not bruised. And there is a movie that will be made, so she will have her movie, too.
DP: In addition to your documentary?
JH: Yes, a narrative feature film is in discussions.
DP: Will the narrative version in the works help your film get a theatrical release?
JH: It turns out they were more worried about the documentary existing already. They knew about it instantaneously, because the rights for the book and the film are packaged together, so when they came for the book rights they got my film, too. I think they’re now trying to get their film out as quickly as they can. My film will probably be on PBS next year, and I know they’re trying to get their film out next year. The idea that my film will eat into their market seems remote to me.
DP: Can you understand why some of the activists, including John and Bonnie, opted out of doing other actions after the break-in?
JH: I totally understand it.  Keith and Bob were involved with the Camden break-in and Bill Davidon carried on doing a variety of things. There were other parents in the group, but John and Bonnie were the only parents who risked everything together. So I totally understand why they wouldn’t risk everything again. As a mother of four children, I do get that threshold. And it wasn’t a short-lived thing.  They had to get through the next five years hoping they wouldn’t be arrested.  Bonnie was the only person the FBI had a sketch of because she had gone to the FBI office in Media under the guise of doing an interview about the opportunities for women in the bureau.
DP: Were the recreations of that scene and the break-in a fun thing to do as a change of pace?
JH: Super fun. It was terrifying but enormously exhilarating.
DP: Was it influenced by Errol Morris at all?
JH: Yeah, we looked at his Thin Blue Line and James Marsh’s Man on Wire. They were very strong precedents. I wanted to be able to tell the full story, and obviously there was no video that existed. If we were going to tell the story for the first time, I really wanted to tell it in all its full glory and show the full arc.  Recreations would obviously make it much easer for people who were coming to the story for the first time to visualize and comprehend the risk the burglars took and also just how improbable the whole plan was.  They ingeniously staged it the night of the “Fight of the Century” between Mohammed Ali and Joe Frazier so security guards would be distracted listening to their radios; then they discovered the lock had been changed; then the filing cabinet almost fell over–it was one incredulous thing after another.  And then they get away with it and are never found. So yes, that was really the rationale behind the recreations.  Maureen Ryan was my recreations producer.  I admired her work on Man on Wire, so if I was going to walk on that road, I wanted to go to the person I consider the best in the business, and be in very safe hands.  For four days, it was like we were making a full mini independent feature film. There were about thirty-five people on the set.
DP: You also call 1971 a heist movie.
JH: Yeah, in addition to it being an amazing journalism story, it is a heist movie, a political thriller. The heist story is at the heart of it, then you get the journalism story and the overarching political story, which has lots of different elements.
DP: As you said, it’s incredible that they weren’t caught. In the press notes, it says that there were 34,000 pages of FBI investigations.
JH: It’s one of the largest FBI investigations ever, but you would never know it because it’s a crime they still don’t talk about very much. The FBI talks about the JFK investigation and Dillinger, but they don’t talk about this because it was about them. It’s amazing they weren’t caught, especially when you consider that seven of the eight were suspects. Bonnie was the only one who wasn’t a suspect and she was the only one they had a picture of!
DP: It sounds like bureaucratic incompetence. Maybe they shouldn’t have had fifty to eighty agents investigating rather than one good agent.
JH: I think there was a combination of reasons they weren’t caught.  There were so many people, so many suspects because of how big the mass movement was at the time. Then they decided it was John Peter Grady of the Catholic Left who was responsible, so that groupthink led them in the wrong direction and they didn’t deviate from that.
DP: What would have happened if the government had arrested the wrong people for the crime after the break-in?
JH: That’s what they did after the Camden break-in, essentially.  As we say in the film, they thought they caught those responsible for Media when they arrested the Camden 28.  They definitely fixated from Day One on John Peter Grady, who was a leader in the Catholic Left, but they thought he and others were involved in the Media break-in. The Camden 28 could have gone to jail for a long, long time had they not been acquitted, which was historic itself.  In fact, there’s a great documentary about the Camden 28.  One of the reasons they were let off was that the judge gave the jury these unprecedented instructions that has never been given before or since.  He instructed that if they found that the government had been overly meddlesome than they should acquit them.  They did acquit because they realized that the government basically set up the Camden action.
DP: It was entrapment, but it’s still amazing they got off.  It helped that the informer changed his mind about testifying because the FBI lied to him about there being no possible prison sentences. But regardless of Camden, if somebody else had been arrested for the Media burglarly, how would the Citizen’s Committee have reacted?  Because that would have been awful for them to deal with.
JH: To be honest, I can’t tell you, I have no idea. You know, I’ve never asked them that.
DP: I imagine that you’re greatly disappointed that Bill Davidon, the “mastermind and defacto leader” of the group passed away in 2013, prior to the book and movie.
JH: Yeah, it’s really sad. He was ill for a while with Parkinson’s, and we hoped we’d finish in time.  He’d been working with Betty for many years prior on the book, and when I came on board, she introduced me to the group at his house.  When I started working on the movie I wanted to get him on camera as quickly as possible, and I’m very glad we did.  It was upsetting that his health took a turn for the worse and there were many tears shed in November when he died. He was very aware of all we were doing.  Betty and I wanted him to be able to see both projects. I think everybody in the group did, and that certainly was an impetus for them to go on-camera.
DP: Do they dislike the word burglary, rather an something like “political action?”
JH: I don’t think they mind the word burglary at all.  We always refer to them as the burglars, and they don’t mind that.
DP: We mentioned earlier that because of Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks it’s the perfect time for your film and the book to come out.  Do you think now is the perfect time for them to emerge or would ten or fifteen years ago have been okay for them to come out in public?
JH: I don’t know. What they did back in 1971 started the national discussion about privacy, surveillance, and civil liberties that Snowden has reignited now.  So the timing is fortuitousness for the film. I’m not sure how it would have been viewed ten years ago, I know that Betty had hesitations and I know there were certainly hesitations about them coming out ten years ago.. Let me say that today when you have the Citizens’ Commission juxtaposed with Edward Snowden, it’s incredibly easy for people to see the group that did the break-in as non-threatening, as opposed to a thirty-year-old with a computer who’s living in another country.  It’s much easier, as Keith said at the film’s premiere.  It’s easy to see a bunch of gray-haired folks as non-threatening to the country. Jon Stewart did a great bit in January when the book came out, principally about Snowden. He addressed how Snowden is now being called a traitor and a Russian agent, etc., etc., and then he cut to a video of CNN announcing our guys coming out into the open and speaking about them in somewhat laudatory terms. He said that now we know how long it takes to go from being considered a traitor to being a hero. As usual, he perfectly encapsulated the debate.
DP: Your movie speaks to the relevance of non-violent civil disobedience, while reminding people what it means to be an engaged citizen and how vigilance about our government is needed for democracy to work. Is that your theme?
JH: Yes, I think it is.  The other big thing it’s about is civic and moral courage. I think there are certain times when citizens have to commit these courageous, albeit controversial acts in order to refresh the debate on checks and balances in government.
DP: And nobody got hurt.
JH: That’s right, non-violence was a very important element to them. It was key.
DP: You knew the story back in 2009. How much did you learn as you put together the story?
JH: There were always elements of the subjects’ personal stories that I discovered–a massive amount.  I learned a lot about FBI history.  Did you know Hoover vetted all those scripts for the TV show, The FBI, and that there were background checks on all the actors?
DP: You have an FBI agent in the movie, and he is adamant that those who did the break-in and stole the files committed a crime.
JH: Neil Welch. He was adamant they did something wrong when I recorded him.  However, he told Betty that he actually believes they performed a service to their country. I think it’s in her book.
DP: Another critic from the FBI I read about was Pat Kelly, who worked in the office that was burgled.
JH: Pat Kelly is somebody I tried to talk to for the film and he wouldn’t talk to me. I was very disappointed. He said to me very directly, “I’m not interested in participating in anything that portrays them in a positive light.”  I want to be careful not to besmirch him because he chose not to cooperate.  I appreciate that he didn’t want to go on the record.
DP: That’s a mentality.  It’s evident in the Snowden story, too, that no matter what horrible illegalities are revealed, you’re still wrong to expose them. What you did you’re not allowed to do, so it doesn’t matter that what you did brings bad things to light.
JH: On the phone Pat Kelly said all these things to me as well, He has a fantastic voice and would have been a wonderful, wonderful interview. It would have been amazing to get his account of this.
DP: So do you want those people to see the movie?
JH: Absolutely. Their lawyer says it himself, that there’s no constitutional right to break into an FBI office, but like I said before I think there are times for certain laws to be broken. In the Civil Rights movement laws were broken all the time to demonstrate that those laws were unjust.  What these people uncovered was a whole range of illegal activities at the highest levels of government. So while it may have in the short term perhaps made the FBI’s job more difficult in recruiting informants, I think the bigger discussion that was generated was without doubt worthwhile to democracy.
DP: How was your TriBeCa experience this time?
JH: Terrific. New York’s been my home for fifteen years now, so it was really nice to show 1971 here, and it was really incredible that the four screenings sold out so quickly. That was very thrilling.
DP: How are John and Bonnie after the screenings and their appearances at the festival?
JH: They’re great. John especially. I think both of them I think are really happy and prepared to talk about the break-in.  They have a cross-generational message.
DP: And what’s next with 1971?
JH: Discussions are beginning about a theatrical release. Meanwhile we’re trying to get it out as wide as we can.  We have an impact-and-engagement campaign with various organizations and different festivals we’re going to now.  So all kinds of things are happening!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Brin Hill Directs Joss Whedon's "In Your Eyes"

Playing at TriBeCa Film Festival/Find Online

Brin Hill Directs Joss Whedon's In Your Eyes

(from Sag Harbor Express Online 5/6/14)

InYourEyesBrinHillphotoBrin Hill  Photo: DP
Typically, filmmakers bring their newest films to film festivals in hopes of finding a theatrical distributor. But after its April 20 world premiere at the TriBeCa Film Festival, Brin Hill’s metaphysical romantic comedy, In Your Eyes, which was written and executive produced by Joss Whedon, was made available around the world for $5 with a digital release on the film’s website:  The release was powered by the Vimeo On Demand platform and was translated into Spanish, German, Portuguese, French, and Japanese. It seemed appropriate that viewers could watch it simultaneously in diverse locations because it is about two people who are 2,000 miles apart who can see and experience the same things. Since they were kids, Rebecca (Zoe Kazan) and Dylan (Michael Stahl-David) have felt disconnected from everyone around them but have sensed that someone was there with them, in their heads.  This connection troubled them –she spent time in an asylum, he spent time in prison–but also comforted them. She is now a lonely housewife in New Hampshire and he works in a car wash in New Mexico. Suddenly they start seeing through each other’s eyes and carrying on conversations in private and public, making everyone think they are loony. Their attraction grows and life becomes more exciting, but also more dangerous.  In the future, I’ll post roundtables I participated in with Kazan, Stahl-David, and Nikki Read (who plays the one person in town who doesn’t treat Dylan as an outcast).  The following is a one-on-one I did with the amiable Hill (Ball Don’t Lie) during the Festival. 
Danny Peary: So you’re becoming a regular at the TriBeCa Film Festival.
Brin Hill: This is my third time here! It might be a record, I was actually wondering that the other day.
DP: Nicki Reed is in In Your Eyes as well as two others this year.
BH: People do the TriBeCa Trifecta in one year, I just spread it out over a decade.
DP: You’ve now had three experiences at TriBeCa.
BH: This has obviously been different in that we’ve gotten a lot of great press since Joss Whedon made a big announcement about the digital distribution.
DP: Tell me your background, beginning in Boston.
BH: I’ve crossed this fair country a lot. After Boston, I moved to Santa Monica, Venice, when I was twelve. I was blessed to go to art school, where I studied film history.  My film professor was a professor at AFI and he was an amazing film theorist. So I always sort of knew I wanted to do that. I did a little UCLA time too. At UCLA we made 16mm, non-sync films. My film won the Spotlight Award there for me and Justin Lynd. It was this film about three kids in Venice who find a gun, and a day in their life. It was multi-cultural, one black kid, one white kid, one Latin kid. Much like Venice.  Then I came back to NYU for grad school. I went straight from undergrad to grad school. I made a bunch of films at Tisch, including a short called Morning Breath, a Brooklyn love story.  It went to Sundance, won a special jury prize there, and actually showed at the first TriBeCa Film Festival. I actually ended up working for Spike Lee, who was one of my professors at NYU.  I worked for him on a couple of movies. We share a common love of basketball. Then I was here making various things, before going back to Santa Monica. I have been there for a while…
DP: What’s your basketball background?
BH: I played decently high-level in high school, and I played in college. I like to play three point line to three point line, no defense, just shoot. It’s not how many you make, it’s how many you take. But the wheels are already coming off over here. Three of my friends went to play in the NBA. I did not, but so we have all these guys who played in the league, Mark Jackson used to play in our game until he went to the Warriors. These guys are all so big.  I’m a two-guard, I don’t go down the block. But playing with those guys, I got beat up, so I realized I was done. I play a little bit, not so much. I play with my kids now, I coach them.
DP: So did you have sports ambitions?
BH: To me, sports was always a tool that afforded me opportunities in certain respects.  My high school team was really good, so I could go there and pursue art. And same with college, it got me into places and afforded me things. But the thing that Spike Lee and I used to talk about was that basketball taught me about competition. Which is the film industry in a lot of respects.  So I got that lesson out of sports.
DP: I read that Joss Whedon wrote the script for In Your Eyes a while ago. What part did he play in the process of getting this film made or did he move away and leave it to you at some point?
BH: He was involved in the process.  I don’t know when he wrote the script but I know it was a passion project. He and I sat down with my creative vision and he gave his two cents.  Then we had the table reading with the actors. I was in New Hampshire getting ready for the shoot and flew back for the table read with the actors and Joss and one of the producers. We had Zoe Kazan and Michael Stahl-David, and Joss and I played all the other characters. When we got to New Hampshire, Mark and Zoe and I would meet and go over his scene work. Joss watched dailies and made notes. He was around, he just wasn’t on set. He and I would email.  Occasionally I would need clarification on a scene that was coming up the next day, and we’d make sure we were seeing things in the same way.  On a couple of  occasions he sent rewrites of scenes.
DP: We’re in an age where everybody can connect but other than Dylan and Rebecca, who connect by an unusual means, people still don’t.
BH: I think Her was about that, and I like to think it’s a theme I thought about for In Your Eyes, too. Obviously connection is central to it.  Joss Whedon’s writing in general, whether it’s The Avengers or Buffy, is about loner heroes who band together to overcome adversity.  It’s a central theme in everything he does, so I sort of latched onto that. To me my movie is about two loner heroes finding a connection to overcome adversity. As a commentary on how we’re all trying to figure out how to navigate connection in this age, it’s timely in a lot of ways. I think it’s a metaphor for what’s going on.
DP: Having seen Ball Don’t Lie and In Your Eyes, that search for connectivity is, to me, a theme of yours as a filmmaker. But I think your major theme is the title of one of your scripts: Won’t Back Down.  Certainly Dylan and Rebecca move forward despite the obstacles.
BH: For me, all the stuff that I do is about people overcoming perceived socialization and the limitations of their environment. That’s something I can relate to in terms of my neighborhood in Boston, where kids on my Little League team  were socialized by what they perceived was a limited environment. So I’m always looking back at that.
DP: What do you mean by “socialization?”
BH: How society puts limitations on you based on who you are, where you’re born. Michael Stahl-David talked about it a little bit at the Q&A the other day, saying how being different in a small town is really hard, because you’re under a microscope in a lot of ways and you’re told to be a certain way.  If you’re different, if you’re punk rock, if you dress differently, if you’re an artist, or if you think differently, people are going to look at you strangely. Which is why a lot of people come to a place like New York, where you can find other people like them. I think there’s an element of that in this movie, too. You hit on it, it’s a central theme for me–how do people overcome circumstance and environment when it puts constraints on you?
DP: Well, both Dylan and Rebecca, if you think about it, could have been destroyed because they never fit in. But there’s a resilience to both of them.
BH: Yeah, absolutely. For Won’t Back Down, the script that I wrote was slightly different from the movie they made, but that was the central theme. It was about the resilience of characters. Can you overcome adversity to break through and find your destiny? I think that’s what I was alluding to with Joss.  He’s always telling that story about overcoming adversity to find one’s destiny, whether it’s a superhero or whether it’s two lovers..
DP: One reason I loved Buffy was the kindness of the show. It’s about Buffy doing it alone or banding together with her gang to help people in need, including each other.
BH: Yeah, that goes back to what you were talking about, connection, finding someone to help you. That’s what I meant by banding together, because you can never do it alone. The world and the universe is too big for just one voice.
DP: Of course, it’s major to your film that Dylan and Rebecca help each other.
BH: Yeah, I’m on board with that, 100%.
DP: This film is essentially about two people having a long-distance relationship. Did you have long-distance relationships?
BH: It’s funny, you’re the first person to ask that question.  I hadn’t thought about it, but my wife and I dated in high school and were off-again, on-again, but never lived in the same place. So I think, like, a little bit of that seeped out into this movie.  Back in the day, we didn’t have cell phones with affordable plans when we were in college, so we were always on the phone and my phone bills were just insane. That existed in my life for a long, long time.
DP: In the movie Dylan tells Rebecca that looking back on his life, she was the best thing in it.
BH: “The only thing I liked about me is you.”
DP: But as a viewer I’m wondering, did they drive each other crazy?  Because they felt someone inside their heads and had no explanation.
BH: It’s true, people have brought that up. I like that people have different ideas. Different viewers have said. “I thought they’d never make it together, I thought that he’d get shot.” But they have a cynical view of what this movie is. You can’t end it that way.   I think it’d be so disappointing for people because of the sweetness of this film. If you ride this journey the whole way, you want to see them get together.
DP: Did you ever think people might believe that one of the two characters didn’t exist?
BH: I thought that some people would wonder that at some point. Late in the film, when she arrives and he’s not there, I think at that moment, some viewers might think she’s bonkers and made him up because she needed that.  I always thought because the script has both feet in reality, so as a filmmaker, I never went in that direction. I thought these two people are absolutely real and this is absolutely happening. I think the style of the film, the way we treated it, was all about trying to feel real and unfolding the story in real time in a real way. But I can see how a viewer might interpret it differently. I do think it’s cool that people wondered about it being real.
DP: You mentioned “destiny” before. Is this the ultimate fate movie?
BH: You know, I hadn’t thought about it on those terms, but I guess that’s true. People asked why this connection from afar is happening, what’s the explanation, and Joss and I always talked about how it happens when these two people need it the most. When they’re kids and feeling alienated from their environments, that’s when they need it. It helps them. Obviously, it freaks them out, but then they settle into it and they realize this is what they need, this is what they’ve lacked in their life. On some level you could argue that they’ve manifested it–and that would speak to their destiny in the external sense of the word. So I don’t know if it’s the ultimate fate movie, but it definitely deals with fate.
DP: You don’t give an explanation for why this is happening. Therefore, as I see it, the only explanation is that these two are destined to be together and their hearing and speaking to each other is the only way to get them together.
BH: That’s sort of how Joss and I thought about it, in the sense that they need each other at this moment in their lives. If they both appear for each other, it speaks to what we were talking about before, in terms of people needing one another to overcome adversity –or to do anything in this world. It’s hard to go it alone.
DP: I love that opening, with the young Rebecca sliding into a tree in New Hampshire and the young Dylan feeling the blow in New Mexico. I think there’s something so sweet about how a boy connects to a girl, first love.  They don’t live next door to each other, it’s not a traditional small-town thing where they’ve known each other since they were kids.
BH: There’s a little bit of an old-school quality, a throwback quality to this movie, that I love. Even the beginning feels a little bit like the way 1980s movies used to open. I like that it has that feel. I wanted it to feel that way, sort of like a classic, bigger movie. I always knew the two color palettes. When I first read the script I saw blue and orange, and I don’t know if it’s because I was channeling my inner Steven Soderbergh with Traffic or all of his movies, but I wanted to define their two spaces because there is so much back and forth between them. I defined that look immediately for myself, as a director.
DP: How does it end?
BH: With a normal tone.
DP: It turns yellow, doesn’t it?
BH: A little bit, but that’s because it’s the sunset. It’s a beautiful, beautiful sunset, it’s alchemy.
DP: Michael Stahl-David is superlikeable. He actually has your vibe.
BH: I try to zen out my vibe. Michael has such an easy way about him. He’s very charismatic in this movie.   I guess he was in Cloverfield, in which he played the main kid. He was also on that show The Black Donnellys, about the West Side mob. It was on for a heartbeat, and now it’s on Netflix. .
DP: In the roundtable,, Michael was joking that Dylan falls in love with himself by looking through Rebecca’s eyes.  And I said, “That’s actually what he does.”
BH: It’s true. He learns to love himself and appreciate himself because that’s how someone else sees him. That is true in this film for both Dylan and Rebecca.
DP: Zoe Kazan had two movies play previous at TriBeCa, The Exploding Girl and The Pretty One, in which her characters undervalue themselves.  That’s true with Rebecca as well.  In all these films her characters have to find self-worth.  Dylan has to do that too.
BH: Yeah, I think that’s a central theme that Michael accidentally hit on for you.  It’s about appreciating one’s self.  That line I quoted before–”The only thing I liked about me was you”–is more about how they see each other, and now they see themselves in a new way.
DP: They talk about what they have done for each other over the years.  I would like to think that their strength comes from the other person who’s always in them, always rooting for them, always being a positive influence on them.
BH: And their personality inside the other person, it’s always been there.
DP: Another film that deals with the two people sharing bodies is All of Me, the comedy with Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin.
BH: I rewatched it before I made this movie, because I was thinking, “What movie is this like?”  All these agents would say, “Are you going to shoot the movie in split-screen?” “No, I’m not shooting in split-screen.” ” POV?” No, not really.”  I watched All of Me, and I saw that it’s completely different tonally. I watched it to see what it was like to have two personalities inside yourself. It wasn’t relatable to my movie. It’s just a broad slapstick comedy.
DP: It’s the premise more than anything. But usually with possession movies, one of the characters by the end disappears, and you’re left with one person. In your movie you have two individuals. The other thing we touched on before is that there’s no explanation for their supernatural connection–the Zoe Kazan-scripted Ruby Sparks is like that.
BH: Someone at a Q&A asked if Ruby Sparks  inspired this, but the only thing that informed it was that Zoe acted in it. Joss hadn’t seen that movie because it hadn’t been finished yet. It’s good, it’s really fun, she’s great in it.
DP: Zoe said it was really hard acting in front of a mirror in your movie.
BH: And she’s really good in her moments in front of the mirror. She has two scenes in front of the mirror in this movie and I love both of them. It’s so interesting that she said that, because she didn’t express that on set, in the moment, But I can definitely see how that would be really hard.  You can act opposite someone even if they’re hiding under a couch or off-camera and yelling their lines, but this was the first time she was actually looking at herself while in her head she has to imagine that Rebecca’s seeing Dylan.
DP: And, making it harder, Zoe is seeing herself as Rebecca through Dylan’s eyes and the audience’s eyes.
BH: It’s interesting, I didn’t think about how challenging that would be, because you’re seeing it through Dylan’s point of view and feeling the emotion he’s feeling for you, whether it’s heart-racing or whatever. That would actually be manifesting itself in what she’s feeling for him. I hadn’t thought about how complicated that is!
DP: How do you film that scene?
BH: Michael was off-camera, doing all his lines so he was present but Zoe couldn’t see him, which is true of almost all their scenes. So it was not your traditional sort of coverage. It’s a lot like what we were talking about–long-distance phone conversations.
DP: Did you ever not have Michael there to read the lines?
BH: Very rarely, because it was very important for them to be there for each other.
DP: Zoe Kazan is off-beat beautiful, and you captured it.
BH: I think she’s so charismatic and so pretty and so cute and part of that is her performance. I think she gives you a lot of different options as an actress, she has versatility. I think there’s a notion that people typecast her or pigeon-hole her into something like manic pixie, like Zoey Deschanel, but that limits her.  She has so much more range than that. I think her beauty is natural, it’s not overt when you see her, but on film she’s unique-looking in a really cool way. A lot of times, Joss picks unique-looking women in his projects–like Amy Acker – people who are a little off-center in terms of who we think of as movie stars. So she sort of fits that a little bit.. I didn’t have to work at that. She’s a great actress and I think everyone falls in love with her every time.
DP: Was the long-distance “sex scene” hard to edit?
BH: It wasn’t scripted that way, it was scripted very simply.  I wanted to do something that would capture how they feel for the audience. I wanted to visually share what they were going through with viewers.  It breaks with reality a little bit, but I think it captures the experience that they’re going through. For me, it was, “How do I manifest this?”
DP: It’s very sensual. You had to be sensual with the male body as well as the female body, which is hard.
BH: I didn’t really think about that, it just came naturally, I guess. Our DP and editor did an amazing job cutting it, I think. It was tricky to find the right music for that, but hopefully it works for people.
DP: You made an interesting choice in regard to a relationship with her husband, Phillip (Mark Feuerstein). The choice was to have him truly love her, rather than just be completely in love with himself or love someone else. Rebecca even recalls how helpful he was to her when she had a breakdown years before.
BH: Part of that is an element of his trying to make her fit this great, perfect image of what he wants his wife to be. He meets her when she is young and insecure and molds her. I think it’s stunted her personal development and growth.  There’s danger with characters like Phillip, because they don’t have a ton of real estate in the movie.  There’s an element of a trope with him, but I wanted him to be at least a little three-dimensional, in the sense that he does truly love her. Whether he loves her or the idea of her is hard to know.
DP: But you could have made him more of a villain.
BH: There was a version of the movie in which I could have made him much worse. But I dulled the edges a little bit and tried to make him more three-dimensional.  Mark was going against type.  It was an inspired decision by all of us, collectively, to go after him for the part because we could have cast that part with someone you’d immediately think of as a villain. But we know Mark in a different way.
DP: Did Rebecca love Phillip at some point?
BH: I think so, or, here again, maybe she loved the idea of him.  He did help her through a hard time.  But he’s not right for her.
DP: Has Dylan ever been in love?
BH: No.
DP: We’re talking about fate and destiny, so have they each always thought there’s someone out there for them?
BH: Yeah, they talked about sensing there was someone with them and helping them get past things. I think in her mind, she thought that person was her husband, but over time she thought that it might be her soul mate or kindred spirit.
DP: Zoe and Michael said they would have loved to have done the film in chronological order. How about you?
BH: I see from an acting point of view how that would have been helpful, but for me I don’t know that it would have made any difference.  It’s so rare that you’re afforded the opportunity to shoot things chronologically.  Because of our budget, you just have to go with the logistics of trying to stick with the schedule.
DP: At the roundtable I did with her, Zoe wondered whether they will stop hearing each other once they’re together.
BH: I think they’ll stop.
DP: She also wondered what happens to the characters after the film ends.. You don’t have to tell me what happens, because it’s up to viewers to decide, but in your mind, do you know what happens? Or do you not want to know?
BH: I don’t know that I want to know, I like the idea that they just found each other. I love open endings, not that this is an open ending in a traditional way.  Who knows where they’re headed?
DP: This is where you’d like to leave it?
BH: Yeah, it is a natural ending. I like the openness of it, I like people spinning their own narrative. I like to think that love can conquer all of it, no matter where they end up, no matter if they live in a boxcar for the rest of their life, or if they find a house somewhere.  I believe love will conquer whatever their environment is. They’ll have a great life.

The Treasure in "Garnet's Gold"

Playing at TriBeCa Film Festival

The Treasure in Garnet's Gold

(from Sag Harbor Express Online 4/29/14)

Ed Perkins and Garnet FrostPhoto by DP
Ed Perkins and Garnet Frost
Our heroes in movies, particularly documentaries, are of often ordinary people who do extraordinary things, people who rise to the occasion under dire circumstances. Garnet Frost could be seen by himself and others as an extraordinary man who has never done anything that exceeded the ordinary. Unmarried, childless, living in London with his ninety-year-old mother, he believes that his best chance to make his mark in history is to find a fortune in gold that was hidden three hundred years ago in Scotland’s Loch Arkaig, where he almost died twenty years before while hiking alone.  This dynamic personality has no idea that his brush with fame will be not as an explorer, but as the subject of director/writer/editor Ed Perkins’ fascinating, beautifully-shot documentary, Garnet’s Gold, which just played to large, enthusiastic crowds at the Tribeca Film Festival.  For his first feature, Perkins (who made a series of TV documentaries for the National Geographic Channel) tells us what he learned, which is that Garnet underestimates himself as much as George Bailey does in It’s a Wonderful Life, and that it is neither wealth nor celebrity that makes someone exceptional, but what he graciously offers to others.  As the film’s press notes state, “[A]s Garnet embarks on his journey, the pursuit for riches is soon eclipsed by a more melancholy search for meaning and inspiration by a wonderfully exuberant man with grand aspirations.”  Garnet (whose newest dream project is a play with huge magic tricks about Houdini) was one of the most welcome guests at the festival.  I was fortunate to speak to him and the London-based Perkins last week.
Danny Peary: So, Garnet, on your first visit to New York, are you saying, “It’s nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live here.”?
Garnet Frost: I don’t know, I haven’t had time to come to that conclusion.  I do think it is a very nice place to visit.  I’ve been doing a lot of press so I’ve just been out and about briefly, but so far I love what I’ve seen.
DP: You have the name, Garnet Frost, of a renaissance man.  Has having that name influenced you, do you think?
GF: Possibly, it’s a bit like “A Boy Named Sue.” It’s a curious name, so I had to live up to it by being curious. It’s unusual, but not unique, although I’ve never met another one.
Ed Perkins: There’s a few Garnets over here, aren’t there?
DP: There was a singer from the 1960s named Garnet Mimms who had a hit “Cry Baby.” That’s the only one I know.  Of course, he shares a fairly common last name with the poet Robert Frost.
GF: Well, that’s beyond my control. As for the name Garnet, I blame my mother for that –it’s an expression of her romantic nature.  In fact my first Christian name is Edward, which was my father’s choice. My mum rather preferred Garnet, because when she first realized she was pregnant with me, she stood on a beach somewhere on the east coast of England, where garnets were everywhere. My dad preferred Edward, so it was Edward Garnet, but then my parents split up when I was a baby in the cradle, so she took to calling me Garnet, and that’s what I’ve been called ever since.
DP: So oddly, you two have the same first name!
EP (laughing): I didn’t know about this!
DP: Let me ask you, Ed, if Garnet is a quick study. Did you pretty much know him after one meeting?
EP: No, the reason I kept coming back is that he’s so enigmatic and evocative that I became addicted and obsessed with trying to dig deeper get to know Garnet more and more.  At the same time, I was trying to work out for myself what was going on in our film story. I started doing a lot of research into kind of archetypal narrative structures.  If I was going to dramatize a story like this, how would I tell it?. It took four years to make Garnet’s Gold, and for a long period of that, I had no idea as a filmmaker what the film was really about. I found a structure in something called The Hero’s Journey, kind of based on Holy Grail mythology. In my house, I put up a big sheet, and marked it Act I, Act II, and put notes on Post-Its all over it. It was a little scary but very exciting–I kept going because I wanted to know what was at the end of this rainbow.  There may not be a literal pot of gold, but I sensed we could find something  more interesting.
DP: What kind of odds did you think there were that you’d find the gold?
GF: Well, that’s impossible to assess. Obviously on paper the odds were low that we’d find it, but at the same time there were so many tantalizing clues suggesting that it could be there.
EP: I didn’t try to guess the odds, and I didn’t really care. I was swept into Garnet’s world, into Garnet’s plans to build flying machines, and into his coffee-stained maps and all the rest of it.  I went along with his idea to search for the gold, and certainly when we got in the stream where he thought it was hidden, my heart was beating very fast, because I thought it might be there and I wanted it to be there for Garnet’s sake.  But in actuality, I didn’t think it was essential for my film that Garnet find the missing gold. I thought if we found it, it would have be a hell of a story, but it wasn’t the kind of story I wanted to tell. I wanted to tell the true story of Garnet.
DP: Was finding the gold your Plan A for your film?  And if that didn’t work, did you have Plan B in place?
EP: There wasn’t a back-up plan. From the moment I met Garnet I wanted to tell a more introspective, emotional, and human story than a story of Garnet searching for gold.  Garnet’s Gold is about how people need a purpose in life. The reason I wanted to do that story was because Garnet’s journey itself threw up big themes that we can all relate to in our own lives. Who hasn’t looked back on their lives and asked themselves if they’d reached their potential?  Garnet’s willingness to ask himself such a tricky question was very powerful.
DP: At the end of the day, when you were getting to know each other, would you leave Garnet behind and come home and tell your girlfriend, “You won’t believe what happened today!”?
EP: Yeah, I was constantly surprised. Every time I’d come home from a day of filming with Garnet, I thought, “This is kind of amazing!” It wasn’t perfect but it was close enough for me to think, “This is going somewhere. I don’t know where it’s going, but it’s worth taking a risk.” I knew it was worth my spending time with Garnet, a man I came to really care about. I fell in love with the guy and I became completely obsessed with trying to tell his story.
DP: Garnet, you’re a humble guy and suddenly somebody’s making a movie about you. At the end of the each day did you ask yourself if you were a good enough subject?  Or were you confident to just let Ed do what he does?
GF: Well, we had sort of a division of labor from the outset. This was going to be my expedition and it was his film. From the start, he was reluctant to show me any footage, saying it was best if I didn’t see it because it would make me feel a bit self-conscious. I’m sure he was right. So I just kind of let him get on with it. We had this build-up as we prepared for the expedition, the boat was nearly ready, we were making sure we had enough money, so each day had its own  momentum and its own fulfillment, without us really having to review what anything we filmed meant.
DP: So you didn’t worry that you weren’t giving Ed enough.
GF: I did in a sense, not having seen the rushes. I wasn’t sure what he was getting, but I was sensing what it was.  I didn’t care about a camera being pointed at me, he could do that when he wanted to, but when he’d have it almost touching my chest, it made feel kind of awkward and self-conscious; and when he’d then ask me questions, I’d feel I was a bit flat and not up to par–but I thought we’d make up for it later.
DP: Did you ever tell him to turn off the camera, because what he wanted was too private, including conversations with your sick mother?
GF: He might ask, “Oh, can I tape this?” and I’d say, “No, you can’t.” But he usually was sympathetic and sensed when I didn’t really want to talk.
DP: Ed, you didn’t show him the rushes, so were there moments when you wondered how he was going to feel about something?
EP: When he finally watched the film, it was very nerve-wracking. This was my first feature film, and I was sure I made lots of mistakes along the way. The approach I took was that Garnet is quite an introspective guy who thinks a lot of about the world and himself, and I didn’t want him to become too self-conscious about the process of being filmed. I didn’t want him to think he had to give me something because I knew that would have been the way to not make this film. I wanted as much as possible to build a trusting relationship between us and then get him to feel comfortable in front of cameras. It took a long time.  We’d go out without a camera and have a beer at the pub, and I spent a lot of time sitting with his mom without the camera, just talking about her life and Garnet’s life.  I also met his friends.  I was drawn into this amazing world, full of very rich characters, so it was always a treat. I wanted Garnet to focus on just being there in the moment.
DP: Was Garnet a different person when you were in Scotland?
EP: Yeah, Garnet became much quieter and much more introspective.  The place was having a really profound impact on him.  He was returning to the place where he nearly lost his life years before and it was difficult for him to confront what had happened there. I certainly realized that.  I didn’t pry but I could see it in his face, and I wanted to give him the respect that he deserved.  In one of our most poignant interviews, I just lit the side of his face, and I kept most of the front of his face almost in darkness. It was a very conscious decision. It come across as very intimate because we were very close, but the real reason I did it that was because I wanted to let him hide a little bit.  Even though he was very emotive, I was respecting him and his journey.
DP: When you were doing all that gorgeous cinematography of spectacular wildnerness in Scotland, did you have a spiritual experience?
EP: I’m not a religious person, so no, but I wanted to make Scotland feel slightly dream-like. The color correction and sound design made it slightly hyper-real.  The scenes in England were very claustrophobic, and consciously so; in Scotland, Garnet becomes a very small man in a very big landscape. The colors are saturated and he’s surrounded by light.  In London there are millions of people but there’s sort of a loneliness there. Soon, in Scotland, he’s alone, yet he’s surrounded by midges, and running water and little creepy crawlies, and spiders, and wildlife. I wanted to bring that to life. I wanted all of Scotland to feel a bit ethereal so we got this sense that it wasn’t just a literal, physical journey we were going on with Garnet, but there was something a bit more introspective about this journey.
DP: As a filmmaker, where could you have gone wrong in telling the story?
EP: Well, it’s up to you to judge, but the biggest mistake I could have made as a filmmaker was to fall into the natural documentary track. When Garnet waded into the stream at the end of his journey, and he didn’t find gold where he thought it would be, he stands there and looks up and down the stream.  The natural reaction for me would have been to ask, “Garnet, how are you feeling?” What I was trying to do as much as possible was resist that temptation to ask that and just hold the shot and let viewers make up their minds as to what was going on in Garnet’s mind; and have them embrace the ambiguity. I think the ambiguity is important, I think it’s interesting in filmmaking. All the films that I love are those that ask questions and leave us trying to figure out where it’s going.
DP: Garnet, Ed wants us to decide for ourselves what you were feeling when you realized there was no gold.  But I think at that moment you were thinking many things and maybe your whole life was flashing before your eyes.
GF: I think the pair of us were really caught up in the adventure of the whole thing, really right up to that point. What I was actually feeling when I got into the stream was nothing. I wasn’t feeling anything.  I was somehow just physically absorbed in the business of being there.
DP: But you gave up your search at some point. You’re no longer at that stream in Scotland searching for the gold.
GF: That’s it, we were as thorough as we could be and I felt that we took it as far as we could.  It was at this point we needed to ask, “What has this adventure been about–it has something to do with the search for gold, right?  Okay, so where are we now? It’s now the story of a man who goes in search of gold and doesn’t find it.” At that point I’m getting a little bit worried because I’ve been leading the way on the search for gold and Ed has been following along, but after not finding the gold, is there still a film in it? And Ed’s coming back to me, going, “Tell the camera how you feel about it?  Has this changed your life or your perspective on things?”  And I’m going, “Uh, well, maybe it has or maybe it will, I’m not really aware of that.” In fact at the moment here, more than anything else, I was just feeling really depressed. And he’s going, “Okay, so you feel depressed, let’s talk about depression a little bit.”  Oh, for Christ’s sake, he could have been phased by it, but he was saying, “Let’s talk, something will come out of it. Trust me, we’ve got enough here, we’ll make it work somehow.” I think had we found the gold, it would have been exciting, but it probably would have been a lesser film than the way it turned out.
EP: It has been the biggest privilege of my life to work with Garnet, and one of the challenges of working with someone who’s so self-aware and so introspective is that he’s quite knowing of his own journey.  I felt like I was trying to get him not to think about whether he was providing me with a film. That would have been the wrong way for him to approach it, because he didn’t owe me anything, he never did. I was there documenting a story. So when we returned from our expedition in Scotland, I came back to London and tried to figure out in my mind what the bigger themes were. I don’t think Garnet knew exactly what the deeper message was. So we sat down in his bedroom for what must have been three, four, or five hours and we just talked. I didn’t know where our conversation was going. We talked and talked and talked, and eventually we started talking about the idea of whether he and I had made something of our own lives.  The idea of an apology by Garnet [for not accomplishing enough in his life and meeting other people's expectations] started to come to life. And I think that was the moment Garnet reached–that we both reached–and found what we feel is the heart of the story.
DP: Well, it’s at the heart of his life.
EP: Yes. At a Q&A, we were asked if  Garnet was thinking about the apology when he was standing there in the stream where he thought the gold was hidden. I didn’t know, it was not for me to say. But I don’t think that’s important in terms of the storytelling. What’s important is focusing on the overall truth, finding themes that are true to his own life that relate to other people’s lives. And it felt like his apology was at the center of his story.
DP: But of course we in the audience are thinking, “Why is he apologizing for anything?” Garnet, you feel responsible for letting people down, and we’re thinking why?  I won’t say if you found the gold or not, but I doubt if it would have made a difference in regard to your feeling the need to apologize. I guess the answer is that is just who you are, right?
GF: I’m not like that the whole time, but I have a depressive streak to me. I find myself thinking, why? I don’t know why myself.
DP: Maybe you’re a “people-pleaser,” in that you don’t like to let anybody down.
GF: Yeah, and I suppose I’m quite a driven person in a way.  I set myself quite a high standard, so I never quite feel that I’ve done enough.
DP: You got a standing ovation at the sold-out screening I attended, so there!
GF: Perhaps I don’t take enough credit for what I do.
DP: Talk about your age difference. Was that important in your personal journeys?
EP: I think I recognized Garnet, and the story he’d undertaken, as kind of a mirror in which we can see our own hopes and dreams, and maybe our own fears. I think if you’re slightly older, closer to Garnet’s age, you can relate closely to things that are actually happening in your own lives. I think people like me who are a bit younger relate but not so closely–we see ourselves later in life. That happened with me, and without a doubt that had an impact on the themes I chose to portray more strongly in the film.  In the last few years, I have certainly asked myself questions about meaning in my life. Did this have an impact on the stories Garnet and I talked about and the conversations we had?  Possibly. I think often these really personal films say a lot about the filmmaker as well as the subject,
GF: The disparity in age between us is similar to that of a father and son, in a way. I identify with Ed and feel protective of him enough to feel that he could be a son of mine. At moments, he has looked to me as almost a father figure. There’s respect and protectiveness, if you like, between us.
DP (joking): So when are you going back to search for gold in Scotland?
GF: I would love to go back! I think it would be worthwhile going back and having another look around there. The historical story of the gold is to my mind another story that could be worth pursuing.  I think the back story of how the gold came to be there in the aftermath of the Battle of Culloden is fascinating in its own right.  We only alluded to it briefly so maybe there’s another movie in there.  I would love to go back because when we went I had this sense almost of going home. I identify with that place in ways I don’t quite understand.
EP: Would I like to go back? I would love to go back with Garnet. I’d never been up to that part of the world before.  It is an amazing.  It’s a dream for a filmmaker. I personally like the idea that the gold is still there, but I have to admit that I don’t know if I want it to be found.  There’s something romantic about the idea of there being a billion dollars worth of gold just sitting there. If it is found, I want it to be found by Garnet, not anyone else.
DP: If it were in America, then everybody would be out there.
GF: Yes, it is bizarre that there has never been a systematic search for the gold. There was a man before us but he looked entirely the wrong place. As time goes by, the more I am convinced we did go to the right location, but by the same token I’m also pretty much convinced that after the gold was hidden there, it was lifted and redistributed, probably within a year. That was the intention when hiding the gold in the first place, so the chances of finding the gold is extremely remote. Nevertheless I think there probably is some archeology there worth investigating.  For a proper search you need a team and all sorts of equipment because it’s a very difficult, tricky landscape.  It’s quite dangerous to get across, let alone to investigate with a metal detector. It’s full of mystery.
DP: Tell me about being at the Tribeca Film Festival.
GF: I was thrilled and scared for months before coming here to New York first time. You can see what I’m like in the film, so being a worrier I worried about having a heart attack or something like that.
DP: You’re a performer, once you get up in front of everyone you feel comfortable.
GF: I was having the heebie-jeebies!
EP: I know we’ve finished filming but I don’t think Garnet’s journey has come to an end. Actually being at the Tribeca Film Festival is part of his whole journey. We got a standing ovation from two hundred people in New York City, it was amazing.  I feel so pleased that Garnet’s getting the respect and the attention that I believe he deserves and hasn’t had for too long.  It’s a real privilege for me to be able to see Garnet in the limelight.

Don't Sell "App" or "Karaka" Short

Playing at TriBeCa Film Festival

Don't Sell App or Karaka Short

(from Sag Harbor Express Online 5/1/14)

Braden Lynch in App
Braden Lynch in App

In baseball, if you want to see future major league stars, you go to minor league games. In movies, if you want to see the feature directors of tomorrow, you seek out shorts.  I always try to see a program or two of shorts at the TriBeCa Film Festival.  Usually, it’s word-of-mouth that influences me to make a point of seeing shorts I’ve never heard of by unknown filmmakers.  This year, it was the filmmakers themselves that helped me with my choices.  At a press-filmmaker party, I did the following brief interviews with American Alexander Berman, the director of App, and Finn Kimmo Yläkäs, the director of Kakara, and producer Hannu Oksanen, and was so intrigued by their pitches that I later saw their shorts–both of which are about men who make quick changes for the better. I recommend them both and suggest you seek them out.
Alexander Berman
Alexander Berman
App–Alexander Berman
Danny Peary: What is your background?
Alexander Berman: My background is Russian. My parents were born in the Soviet Union. They were Jewish refugees and Kissinger and Nixon bought them out of the Soviet Union; they came with that migration. I was born and grew up in Chicago. I studied filmmaking as an undergrad at Harvard, and then I worked on a documentary [The Volcano People] funded by the Fulbright program in Russia.  I moved on to fiction and while I was at the American Film Institute. App was the one student film to win the Sloane Foundation prize. The Sloane Foundation has connections with the major film schools all over the US. The $25,000 prize I received enabled the creation of App.
DP: Obviously with App you’re tapping into the whole social networking phenomenon.
AB: Yeah, I made the film in Los Angeles as part of a program at the American Film Institute. But the inspiration for it really came from my brother who works as an app developer at a start-up. It’s not just about social media but the way online dating has really taken off, particularly location-based dating. That’s what App is about.
DP: It’s also probably about connectivity. There’s a lot of connections through social networking, but it’s still hard to connect.
AB: Yeah, the film is about a guy who’s trying to get his new technology idea made, while he’s completely broke. This is what he’s passionate about, but it’s preventing him, ironically, from creating any kind of emotional connections.  An investor, almost as if he’s trying to mess with him, says, “I’ll invest in your prototype if you can prove that it works.” So he has to meet a young woman who’s way out of his league and make a connection with her to sell his app.  His app actually gets in the way of making the connection. But something about himself is attractive to her and ultimately he has to make a decision about what’s more important in his life, selling his app or having a relationship
DP: And it takes place where, at a party?
AB: It mostly takes place at an investor bar in Los Angeles. It’s a very contained little film, it’s 20 minutes long.
DP: Who plays the lead character?
AB: Braden Lynch, who is a good friend of mine, a really excellent actor.
DP: Did you do auditions? What were you looking for in the character?
AB: Yeah, of course. It’s a difficult character to play because he’s essentially an emotionally unavailable nerd. Braden found a way to bring a charming quirkiness to somebody who’s very much in his own head and unavailable to us. The lead female role is played by Sara Sanderson, who’s a gorgeous actress and really knows how to do sexy and suave–which is how I describe it.
DP: I would think the hardest thing is to show connection between these characters.
AB: It starts out that neither of them want anything to do with each other, because it’s the investor who picks her. She’s just clearly the most attractive person there, and this guy who’s pitching him on the app is the biggest loser.
DP: This is supposed to be a permanent thing, or if she’ll like him just tonight?
AB: I think the note we leave on, without spoiling anything, is that there’s definitely the potential there for something that does not need to be over-thought.
DP: There’s a not-very-good feature at the festival from Finland called Love and Engineering. It’s about nerdy guys trying to use scientific means to hack into what women they’re dating are thinking. Is there a connection between your film and that?
AB: I’ve seen it and this film is very much a response to that.  When we think about the data apocalypse, we talk about the NSA and about high-frequency trading. But a much more dangerous result of the over-quantification of our life will have to do with the  universal fear of rejection. Because of our fear of rejection, we will over-quantify our connections with people to the point where the very mystery that makes love something worth pursuing will go away. So we’ll be in safer relationships, but they’ll be devoid of the transcendent qualities poetry and art have been talking about since the dawn of man.
DP: In Love and Engineering , one of the nerds almost gets a beautiful girl before she rejects him without explanation.  There’s the idea that you can win somebody out of your league through technology, but the odds are against that relationship lasting.
AB: Exactly. What’s interesting is that these services are so popular because whether they work or not we’re always looking for a reason to say yes. Even if it’s a placebo, it gives you the confidence to say yes. The real challenging thing is our ability to stay together. That’s really what we’re interested in touching on in APP.
DP: How realistic is the app?
AB: I’ll tell you what is the most difficult thing about the film. We started developing it two years ago and I started writing the script and it took about a year to create. And we decided to satirize it. So it feels like something you got from The Day After Tomorrow. It feels realistic but there are points where we clearly satirize what technology is, so it works in an unrealistic way.
DP: Have you enjoyed being at TriBeCa Film Festival?
AB: Oh, it’s been a wonderful experience for me and my whole crew, who are my fellow students.  It’s great to have the first professional fiction premiere of my career at TriBeCa.
Antti Luusuaniemi and Sonja Vilkki in Kakara.
Antti Luusuaniemi and Sonja Vilkki in Kakara.
Kakara–Kimmo Yläkäs and Hannu Oksanen
Danny Peary: Where are you guys from?
Kimmo Yläkäs: Finland.
DP: Are there film schools there?
Hannu Oksanen: Yep, there’s a few film schools.
KY: I went to film school.
DP: Is this is your first film?
KY: No, it’s my third film. My first was a short called The Long Gone, and then I made a documentary short, The Queue.
Kimmo Yläkäs (right) and Hannu Oksanen.
Kimmo Yläkäs (right) and Hannu Oksanen.
DP: What is the premise of Kakara [which translates as "child" or "brat"]?
KY: It’s about a man [Antti Luusuaniemi] whose life changes in the hospital. He’s taking his girlfriend [Rebecca Viitala] to have an abortion, and meets a young girl [Sonja Viikki] who is a patient there and his life changes.
DP: Is abortion a big issue in Finland?
KY: No, it’s not an issue there. It’s the woman’s choice whether to have an abortion or not. In my film, the pregnant woman has a rough guy for a boyfriend and he has decided that  they don’t need a child.  So he takes his girlfriend to have an abortion. But his mind changes while he’s waiting for the procedure. He meets the little girl in the hospital. She is very sick and has seizures.  They become friends, so the man changes his mind about the abortion.
DP: Why does hhe change his mind, just sitting and thinking about it or because of the little girl?
KY: The little girl. The little girl annoys him at first but then he feels something for her.
DP: How old is she?
KY: She’s about eight-years-old. No one has the guts to confront the man because he’s a fighter, but the little girl confronts him and they have this connection.
DP: Shirley Temple used to do that with gruff men in her films. So he’s basically transformed because she touches his heart?
HO: The little girl acts very well.
DP: How did you get this little girl, Sonjaa Vikki, who is a good actress?
HO: We did casting in local schools. We tried ninety children.
DP: So did this little girl have a special smartness or just cuteness?
KY: In the casting process, she wasn’t acting.
DP: She’s a natural.
KY: She’s a natural, yeah.
DP: Is it basically a two-character film?
KY: Yes, you don’t see much of the woman who is having an abortion.
DP: And why did you want to make this?
KY: I wrote it about eight years ago.  I had the script for a long time in my letter drawer. When I got my own child, then I wanted to make it. I wasn’t ready one day, but then I was.
DP: But it’s a cheerful ending. Hannu, how do you fit in as a producer?
HO: I became involved with this movie very, very early with this, when he got the idea. We worked on it with  our company [Mediatchdas Dakar Oy].
DP: Did he present a script to you?
HO: Yeah
DP: Is it a Pro-Choice movie?
KY: I don’t know if that’s a point of the movie or not, but the man doesn’t want the abortion after all. But his girlfriend left without telling him and he has to catch up with her. She fears that the rough man will give her a hard time.
DP: She wants to keep the baby.
KY: I’m not telling.
DP: How does it feel to be at TriBeCa?
HO: It’s so much fun.
KY: Super, I love it.
DP: Kimmo, is it your goal to make features? Some people like making shorts.
KY: Of course I want to make a feature.
DP: Could this film be expanded or is this a showcase film for you?
KY: It’s a showcase. I’d make a feature film with similar kinds of things.
DP: Have you been to New York before?
KY: I was here ten years ago.
DP: What do you want the audience here in New York to take away from this movie? I know it’s funny but do you want people to cry?
KY: When people see my film I think I want them to see the little moments.  Life is about little moments in time and if you aren’t afraid to seize a moment, it can change your life.  Seize the moment!