Category:interviews

Gaston Biraben's Captive, image: filmlinc.comI saw Captive, the debut feature from Gaston Biraben, at New Directors/New Films last night; it's a subtly powerful movie that gripped the sellout audience at MoMA Gramercy.

Captive is a fictionalized telling of real events, a surreal, politically charged story of, "You're adopted...And then some." A 15-year old Buenos Aires girl's life is turned upsidedown when she learns her real parents were among The Disappeared, the tens of thousands of Argentines kidnapped, tortured and killed by the country's military dictatorship in the 70's. On top of dealing with a new family of strangers, the girl has to confront the chilling circumstances of her birth and her adoptive parents' possible complicity in the systematic crimes of the junta.

By keeping a restrained, naturalistic focus on a the experience of one girl, the film tackles the third rail of the Argentine psyche--accountability for The Disappeared--with tremendous skill, and without devolving into political agitprop. Biraben coaxed a highly effective, intuitive performance from his star, Barbara Lombardo, which holds the film together.

Almost the entire audience stayed for the Q&A. Sensing, perhaps, Captive's potential for making great political waves, many questions were about where the film has shown and what was the reaction. It turns out ND/NF is one of the first screenings for Captive, so the impact is still to come. [The film was also at Palm Springs and San Sebastian, where it won the Horizontes award for Latin American films.]

This all serves as setup for the improbably story of Biraben's getting the film made in the first place, and how he scored a cameo that elicited surprised howls of recognition from the New York audience. I spoke with Gaston and his co-producer/editor Tammis Chandler after the Q&A.

February 29, 2004

Three for Three

If you want to win, just impart your filmmaking wisdom on greg.org

Congratulations to Oscar winners, Independent Spirit Award winners-- and greg.org interviewees--Sofia Coppola and Errol Morris.

And don't forget Dany Wolf and Gus Van Sant with their Palme d'Or from a little 'burg called Cannes.

February 29, 2004

The Shoes of Errol Morris

Errol Morris, you just won an Oscar and an Indpendent Spirit Award. Where are you going next?

"I'm going to Nordstrom! Daddy needs a new pair of shoes."

Errol Morris's shoe, in a corner office of Sony Classics, February 2004, image: greg.org

Buy Sperry Top-Sider 'Stripers' like the ones Morris wore to both award ceremonies-- and our interview-- at Nordstrom.

errol_morris_foot.jpgLast week, in the Sony Classics offices on Madison Avenue, I sat down to talk with Errol Morris, whose current documentary, The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara, was nominated for an Academy Award.

Morris's films are best known for the intensity of the interviews he conducts. He invented the Interrotron, a teleprompter setup that gets the interviewee to look and speak straight into the camera. I, in the mean time, didn't have a digital recorder, so I decided to use a DV camera, the Sony VX-1000, to record our discussion. (Plus, that'd give me a chance to drop it off at the Sony Service Center downstairs to get the viewfinder fixed when I was done.)

I set the camera on the coffee table. Not only did I not get Morris looking directly into the camera, I ended up with an entire tapeful of Morris's bouncing sneaker. Just as he did in The Fog of War, I structured our discussion around eleven lessons. [OK, fine. I went through the transcript and stuck eleven smartass lessons in as an editorial conceit. Close enough.]

Lesson One: Start an interview with an Academy Award-nominated director you've admired for fifteen years by sucking up. Big time.

Greg Allen: First congratulations on the film and the nomination. I should tell you, seeing Thin Blue Line in college was one of the reasons I wanted to become a filmmaker. It was so powerful and so not what you'd expect a documentary to be, especially at that time. So, thank you.

Errol Morris:

Thank you.

GA: With The Fog of War, a great deal of attention has been focused on the interview footage itself and what McNamara did or didn't say, and was he going to take responsibility for the war or were you going to grill him about this or that. But your films have such a strong aesthetic and dramatic sense, which you achieve with other elements. I'd really like to hear more about how you go about making a film and what your process is for the putting those other elements together.

Lesson Two: I am a babbling sycophant.

February 6, 2004

The Fog of War Re-enactors

Robert McNamara, Prof. Mark Danner, and Errol Morris at Berkeley, image: berkeley.edu

[via NYT] They're putting the band back together, Elroy.

For the first time since The Fog of War was nominated for the Best Documentary Feature Academy Award, Robert McNamara and Errol Morris took their show on the road. They spoke at Berkeley Wednesday, the first time McNamara appeared at the school that led the anti-war movement in the Sixties. It's also his and Morris's alma mater.

The webcast is available on Berkeley's site. [The discussion starts about 11 minutes into the stream.] Whatever else he does, McNamara demonstrates a frustrating but entertaining mastery of the art of answering the question he wants to, not the one he was asked.

Of course, it's more frustrating when reports of the event miss the big story, perhaps because it involves another paper. The Times claimed that McNamara strenuously refused to comment on the current administration and its policies. That's not news; he has refused 172 (by his count) journalists' requests to comment on Bush and Iraq. But the climax of the evening's discussion was about #173, an interview McNamara gave the Toronto Globe and Mail in Jan. where he revealed his mind in unambiguous terms.

McNamara told a Canadian audience that the lessons he learned in Vietnam (and wrote about in his 1995 memoir, In Retrospect) being ignored and directly contradicted in the present situation. But he told the Berkeley crowd, "What you want me to do is apply them to Bush. I'm not going to do it. You apply them to Bush" [much applause ensues]. Somewhere there's a headline, "Architect of Vietnam War Condemns Bush's War in Iraq" searching for a story.

Anyhoo, Errol Morris does very little talking, true to form. What would you ask him? Thta's not a rhetorical question; I really want to know.

Sofia Coppola being praised for her wok by people who can't bother to spell her name correctly, image: yahoo.com

From Yahoo News coverage of the Golden Globes[note: annoyingly slippery link]:

Director Sophia Coppola holds her award after winning Best Screenplay for a motion picture for her wok on the film 'Lost In Translation' during the 61st annual Golden Globe Awards (news - web sites) in Beverly Hills January 25, 2004. (Chris Haston/NBC via Reuters)
Dude, she spells it "Sofia." This is the Baysinger/Bassinger of her generation.

[And while she's usually very quiet, the one thing Sofia won't shut up about is her wok.]

Drew Nieporent's SF Rubicon is just down the street from The Wok Shop. Sofia's father is an investor. Coincidence?

As you can see by my interview with her last year.

On the subject of pretend-journalists, Lost in Translation beat out indie underdog Finding Nemo for best comedy/musical at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's Golden Globes last night. The 80-page or so outline/story/is it really a script? that funders initially thought was too slight to make a whole film from won best screenplay, and Bill Murray won best actor (for finishing it, I guess).

Gothamist has minute-by-minute coverage of the boozefest which is more entertaining than the show itself. Sort of a Joan Rivers-meets-Andrew Sarris kind of thing.

Scarlett Johanssen goes 1 for 3 on getting thanked. Hmm. On the subject of misbehaving ingenues, it sounds like Britney Murphy didn't have a presenting meltdown like she did last year at the IFP Awards. Whew.

January 24, 2004

My Yogurt with Gus

On the occasion of Elephant's release in the UK, Simon Hattenstone goes on a publicity pilgrimage to Oregon to interview Gus Van Sant for the Guardian. Gus sends him for coffee before buzzing him up, and later serves him blueberry yogurt [which Simon apparently doesn't understand is the archetypal food of the Guy Living Alone.] It's a long account with some nice backstory and several references to Van Sant's art background (he went to RISD with David Byrne).

Related: My interview last month with Dany Wolf, Van Sant's producer

[via TMN] Considering the number Google searches I still get for Mike Mills, two years after I posted about his Jack Spade-sponsored documentary, Paperboys, and considering how tight Spike, Sofia, Roman and I have become since then, I should be sitting down with Mills myself.

In the mean time, check out Readymade's interview with Mills, whose feature debut, Thumbsucker, is based on the novel by the less-Mormon-than-I-am-but-more-Mormon-than-you-are Walter Kirn.

Paperboys is now on DVD, but I like my VHS copy in its Spade-y little box.

December 16, 2003

Filmmaking Interviews of Note

  • Vadim Perelman, first-time director of House of Sand and Fog, whose tantrums made many people angry in Hollywood (this is news? at least his were entertaining, as are his accounts: ""So I go to his [Harvey Weinstein's] suite at the Peninsula, and he's sitting there like Jabba the f--king Hutt with his Diet Cokes and his Marlboro Reds."). And the film's getting strong reviews. [Sean Smith for Newsweek, via GreenCine Daily]
  • Ray Pride pulls some information from Milos Stehlik of Facets Multimedia, the North American distributor for Kieslowski's Decalogue DVD, on whether its jerking aficionados' chains by releasing a barebones 2-disc version in 2000 and a better, more elaborate 3-disc version this year. [Movie City News, also via GreenCine. David, I'd be boring without you; instead, I'm a cheery mooch.]
  • Ed Halter's Village Voice interview with Errol Morris about The Fog of War, his mega-interview documentary with Robert "Rumsfeld" McNamara. [bonus: J. Hoberman's rightfully ecstatic review] [via, I found this one myself.]
  • But the Best Interview Awared goes to: Black Book's riotous Inside the Actor Love/Hate Studio session between Paul Thomas Anderson and Lars Von Trier. [via Low Culture via Gawker, who I didn't know cared about film.]

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    Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

    Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting greg.org that time.

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