Last night was the first real screening of Souvenir November 2001 for anyone outside of my immediate family (and the anonymous-to-me festival screeners listed at left), and it went extremely well, far better than I allowed myself to hope. The film screened three times in the course of the evening; as soon as we got to 25-30 people, we hustled them in and sat them down. Building crowds were distracted by boxes of Krispy Kremes (labelled Krispy Kremaster, a reference to the Matthew Barney movie I mentioned in the invite: “…it packs even more emotional wallop than Cremaster 3, but in 93% less time!!”) and a couple of coolers of drinks (Diet Coke and beer, mostly, although non-drinker Greg didn’t realize that you need an opener for Amstel. I’d just figured it was a Rolling Rock-only crowd.).
More than a few people were surprised by the movie’s reflectiveness/gravity/ sophistication (their words), either because they know me primarily as a superficial joker (my guess) or because my intro remarks for the very first screening were so apologetic and hedging they probably thought they were about to watch a home video of my nephew eating Cheerios or something. After that, my confidence was buoyed, frankly, and the genuine compliments, comments and questions of people whose taste and talent are superior to my own allowed me to relax a bit.
As I’d hoped when I started this project, New Yorkers all seem to have some fairly well-worked out ideas for what should happen at the WTC site, for how New York will need to cope/change as we continue to recover and rebuild. While the film doesn’t provide any definitive answers, it certainly seemed to work as a catalyst for people to discuss their ideas for the future, and the value of what can be learned from the past. Many people were happy with the lack of sentimentality/melodrama and the willingness to leave things open for them to decide. (Writing this, it feels like the Zagat’s of movie reviews.) And several people noted the music, much credit for which goes to Jonah, who consistently pressed for more subdued tracks.
After the last screening, there were several questions about the documentary aspects of the film. The first part of the film plays as more straightforward narrative, which then loosens/disintegrates into documentary style as the search progresses. While some of this can be traced to exigencies of shooting (ie., my taking over the lead role when the original actor suddenly got sent to Afghanistan), a lot of it was quite deliberate. Not for nothing are Agnes Varda and the Maysles Brothers strong influences on me. (One astute, generous friend likened my stepping into the role to the scene in Grey Gardens where Edie pulls Albert Maysles in front of the camera to dance.) Also, a low-impact DV crew and equipment is pretty fluent with the language of documentaries.
The relation of the script to the finished film was also brought up, something that probably wouldn’t happen if it werent’ for the realtime posting of drafts of the script online. While I’ve considered publishing a “revised” script that actually reflects the edited version of the movie, I’ve resisted. The script in this case served as a guide for me as a director, for completing shooting, and for devising the general arc of the story. But the characters in the script are certainly eclipsed by the real “characters” who portrayed themselves in the finished film. Someday, I hope I’ll be able to write characters who are as compelling and engaging as the people in the film, people who communicate rich personalities and stories in just a few lines.
Part of me, of course, remains very self-critical (or skeptical). I’m reminded of a scene in Unzipped, the Douglas Keeve docu about Isaac Mizrahi. He talks about a compliment he got from a powerful fashion editor: “She said, ‘But when Isaac does too short, it works.’ and I’m thinking, ‘what does she mean by thaaat?'” Fortunately, I don’t think I’m that insecure. Or at least if I am, I don’t have a camera following me around to capture it. All in all, what started as a hugely anxious evening turned out to be a huge rush. Thanks to everyone who helped and who came.