August 2005

Last updated on August 15, 2005. Please check back later for additions.


Werner Herzog: Documentarian JUST ADDED!
Grizzly Man: Q&A with Director Werner Herzog
Page to Screen: Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress JUST ADDED!
The Munich Film Festival
The Chumscrubber: Q&A with Producer Lawrence Bender and Actor Camilla Belle
An Interview with Greg Harrison, Director of November
An Interview with Fernando Meirelles, Director of The Constant Gardener JUST ADDED!
The Constant Gardener: Q&A with Director Fernando Meirelles
Home Movie Day
We Need to Hear From You
Calendar of Events

Werner Herzog: Documentarian

By Larry Hart, DC Film Society Member

Everything about the German director Werner Herzog is dramatic, so it should have been no surprise to learn that he was detained for two hours by immigration authorities on arrival in the U.S. for the screening of Grizzly Man at SILVERDOCS. Meeting up with him a day after the incident, Herzog said he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. “Right in front of me was a young Russian Mafioso type who was caught with four different passports,” Herzog told us, “one of them for an Ethiopian obviously not this man. I’m the next in line with two valid passports and three competing visas so they took me along with him.”

Herzog said he is used to this, as he’s often picked out for this treatment. “It doesn’t matter whether I come in unshaven or cleanly shaven whether I’m dressed in a suit or a t-shirt, I’m the one that’s picked out.” Herzog says he’s unfazed by this, calling these incidents an “Arabesque of folklore I encounter once in awhile. Otherwise, I feel welcome here. I am a traveling poet, I bring work here, I pay taxes here and I always feel my films are welcome here.”

Of course, incidents like this might not seem so difficult to endure for a filmmaker who made his mark in the New Wave German Cinema of 30 years ago filming in the Amazon jungle (Aguirre, The Wrath of God) and shooting a screenplay involving pulling a river boat over a mountain (Fitzcarraldo). Then there’s the stormy relationship with the brilliant but unstable German film star Klaus Kinski that, despite death threats by Herzog at one point, ended only with Kinski’s death in 1991.

In recent years, Herzog has turned to the documentary as his film genre of choice, bringing a whole new creative dynamic to a once cut-and-dried format. It is also a format, once a sure money-loser and confined to the small screen, which has taken off at the theatrical box office. (March of the Penguins has out-grossed most independent features this year). Three of Herzog’s docs have hit the American market in recent months and Herzog says it was at a screening of one of them, The White Diamond, that put him in collaboration with Grizzly Man producer Erik Nelson.

When in the States, Herzog lives in Studio City, California, in the San Fernando Valley, not far from Nelson’s Creative Differences production office, and took to hanging out there (or “loitering,” as he put it). Nelson had been working on a documentary about Timothy Treadwell, who lived unarmed among the grizzly bears of Alaska’s Katmai National Park and reserve for 13 summers, was found mauled to death and partially devoured by one of the bears in 2003. His remains were found with that of his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard. It was actually conceived as a TV Doc for Discovery Networks but Nelson quickly realized Treadwell’s complex character was material for a feature film. Most of the film is footage Treadwell himself filmed of his adventures found after he died. It was at that point Herzog entered the picture.

“I asked Erik who was directing the film,” Herzog told us. “He said ‘I am kind of directing it.’ I noted the phrase ‘kind of’ and, without skipping a beat and in my thick German accent, said ‘I will direct this film’.” Nelson did not resist. What Herzog does, of course, is mold the footage, the interviews and his own involvement in the story, into a film more than the sum of its parts, or as Caryn James of the New York Times put it, “A documentary with imagination.”

Treadwell admittedly led a troubled life fueled by drugs and alcohol until he founded the organization “Grizzly People,” and co-authored a book, Among Grizzlies, with Jewel Palovak, a key source in the film who joined Herzog for the interview. I asked Herzog about his seeming overarching themes of man and nature going back to his early films.

“In the case of Treadwell, this is not man against nature but man battling against the intrusion of others,” Herzog said. I then made the mistake of questioning Treadwell’s attempt to tame what seemed to me a naturally violent creature in the grizzly. Palovak strongly disagreed. “If you look at a lot of Timothy’s footage, the bears have families, they nurse, they play, the babies stay with the mothers until they are three years old” Palovak argued. “They’re not just the scary beasts that you might see, although they’re portrayed that way for dramatic purposes.”

Herzog and Palovak agreed that if any bear is “scary,” it’s the polar bear, since they hunt mammals and are strictly carnivorous. When you see the Treadwell’s footage of two grizzlies going at each other, you can draw your own conclusions. I asked Palovak, in light of her emotional involvement with Treadwell and the difficulty of dealing with a film about the death of someone close to her, her reaction to Grizzly Man. “I think it’s great,” Palovak said. “I tried to give myself some guidance by thinking about Timothy and how he would have done this, and I know choosing Werner was the best choice I could have made. I wasn’t going to get the fuzzy nature documentary or the hero worship or the bears cavorting but I thought I would get a really good portrait of a person. Werner basically said, ‘I’m not doing a nature film.’ Timothy was larger than life and his story was larger than life and the way he lived out there and the way he died was sensational. There are always things you like or dislike but I’m proud of the film and I think Timothy would have really liked it.”

Herzog and Palovak admitted it wasn’t all that easy, with Herzog saying Palovak was courageous to follow where he was going and Palovak admitting that she was cringing at times. “We had some rants,” Palovak said. “But that’s fine, because it’s raw and Timothy is very raw in the piece. It’s not often you see somebody that open. Yes, I feel brave for doing this.”

Palovak said the biggest communication problem she had with Herzog was in the use of irony. “That is why I don’t like to speak French,” said Herzog, who is multi-lingual. “Everything with them is irony. I think it’s something to do with being from Bavaria.” Herzog then digressed to tell one of his many stories of shooting a dangerous volcano in the Central African Republic and refusing orders to evacuate. “I woke up where I was camped with two soldiers pointing guns at either side of my head who spoke Creole French, so in those circumstances I speak French, but that’s it.”

The most dramatic moment in the film comes when Herzog listens to the sound recording of the fatal attack on Treadwell, a recording we will never hear. Treadwell had apparently tried to start shooting but there was only sound with no video. Herzog shoots this from behind him with the focus on Palovak who also has not listened to the tape but has not destroyed it as Herzog had suggested. “I don’t want the last memory of my best friend to be listening to him scream for his life,” Palovak said. “On the other hand, I can’t say why, maybe because it’s history, but I don’t want to destroy it.”

Herzog said he had no trouble turning the material into a good film, taking 29 days from start to finish. “It’s like the German fairy tale about a poor, barefoot girl who walks out into the night and cries and holds up her apron and golden coins rain down into her open apron. That was exactly my situation. The gold coins were raining on me with this film.”

Grizzly Man comes to DC August 12.

Werner Herzog Talks About Grizzly Man

By John Suozzo, DC Film Society Member

Timothy Treadwell lived among the grizzly bears of the Great North for 13 summers. He dedicated his life to the protection, observation and documentation of the grizzlies in Alaska’s Katmai National Park. On his final journey to bear country with girlfriend Amie Hugenard, Treadwell filmed over 100 hours of footage of his favorite species. Acclaimed filmmaker Werner Herzog, whose previous films have often explored the thin line between obsession and madness, collected Treadwell’s footage and crafted an extraordinary documentary of Treadwell’s last summer with his beloved bears. Herzog, together with Timothy’s former girlfriend (and producer) Jewel Palovak and producer Erik Nelson answered questions about the film during the Silverdocs Film Festival in June. WARNING: Spoilers Ahead.

Question: Jewel, you knew Tim Treadwell. What else can you share with us about him that we might not know? And tell us a little bit about your work.
Jewel Palovak: With Tim, there is and always has been a lot of controversy about his work. So we decided to let him speak for himself through this film. In Tim’s case, it was always what-you-see-is-what-you-get. After what happened to Tim, we can’t send anyone else out into the wilderness. But we have started the Grizzly Project up again and hope to inspire people to preserve nature.

Q: Erik, tell us about the project and how you got started with it.
Erik Nelson: This project is a perfect example of what Discovery Channel can do. As soon as he heard of the tragedy, Associate Producer Phil Fairclough swung into action. He contacted Jewel to do a 1-hour special on the Grizzly Man. But she said she was considering doing a feature film and so was initially reluctant to settle for a 1-hour show. We thought that was a good idea and asked her to do it with us at Discovery Channel. I went to the Jacksonville Film Festival to promote other projects we were doing and I met Werner Herzog there. We talked a little bit there and we finalized the deal when we both returned to LA. Werner’s really a Californian, don’t let the accent fool you. I showed him the article about Tim and he agreed instantly.
Werner Herzog: Yes. I shouted (with a German accent) “I vill do this movie!”
Erik Nelson: It reminded me of the scene in the movie where the one bear tore across the river to steal the salmon from the other bear who was just about to eat it.

Q: Werner, did you commit to the film based on the article Ed showed you?
Werner Herzog: No, but gradually this larger-than-life character Tim Treadwell stumbled across me, not the other way around. To me, Grizzly Man is a direct sequel to Aquirre, The Wrath of God. I didn’t have a golddigger mentality on this film. I was thinking more broadly for the long term. I wanted to establish a relationship with Discovery Channel with whom I think I could have worked with for many of my previous films. Herdsmen of the Sun and Lessons of Darkness come to mind as two that would have perfect to work with Discovery Channel on. It seemed like the most natural partnership in the world. It was a deal done on a handshake—and I can tell you that is very unusual in this business.
Erik Nelson: At Discovery we sometimes work without any structured deals. It lets us react quickly and lends an improvisational tone to our work.
Werner Herzog: Personal trust is far better than a 140-page contract. I hardly read the contract.
Erik Nelson: You didn’t? I’ll have to remember that in the future.
Werner Herzog: I remember when we were filming Fitzcarraldo Les Blank came back from the barbershop not happy with the haircut he had just gotten. “Why don’t you do what all you Americans do?” I said. “Call your attorney and sue”
Erik Nelson: I think Klaus Kinski would have been more likely to settle it with his fists.
Werner Herzog: Yes, but he would have to fight them in the bathrooms. In Bavaria, they only fight in the men’s rooms. That way you could never figure out who won or lost the fight.

Q: The scene where you and Jewel listen to [a 6-minute tape of Tim and Amie’s final struggle with the bear]—what happened to the audiotape?
Jewel Palovak: I didn’t take Werner’s advice in the film [to destroy the tape] so I still have it. I think it may have historical value. It’s also possible that a forensics expert can hear other things on the tape that we didn’t.
Werner Herzog: Jewel has physically separated herself from the tape—it’s now in a safe deposit box. I remember when we filmed that scene Jewel was worried that the screams would leak out of the earphones I was wearing and be picked up by the boom mike. But I promised her that if I detected even the slightest sound I would erase it from the film’s soundtrack. She trusted me. No one will ever hear that tape.

Q: How did Tim recharge the camera battery [on the 2-month wilderness trip]?
Jewel Palovak: Tim had a small solar panel but that didn’t work very well. So I have to admit Tim cheated a little bit and took along a small generator to charge it.
Erik Nelson: Tim was an incredibly intuitive filmmaker. That rain scene at the end he filmed not once but redid it a second time. He sent it to Jewel and didn’t make a special mention of it and forgot about it. He was willing to let Werner craft a film out of his individual scenes.
Werner Herzog: Tim Treadwell and I really complemented each other incredibly well.
Erik Nelson: The film is really a dialog between Tim and Werner. First Tim sent in the videotape with his words on it and then Werner added commentary to what he and the audience had just seen.
Werner Herzog: I argued with Tim like I do with my brothers. It helped lend more perspective to his isolated views and I think it allowed us to tell a truer tale. Most of the arguments started with Jewel about Tim and her involvement with the Grizzly People’s Organization.
Erik Nelson: I think all three of us thought we each had final cut.

Q: Werner, how did you piece together all of Tim Treadwell's footage? Did you see all of it?
Werner Herzog: No, that would have been impossible. There was over 101 hours of footage and only 7 or 8 hours in the day to watch it. We produced the film in 29 days so there was no way I could see it all. I think I saw about 15 or 20 hours.
Erik Nelson: We had a tremendous amount of people screening all the tapes and assigning each scene a grade of 1 to 4 stars. We probably saw about 90% of the 3 and 4 star material. Our first draft was about 10 hours long.
Werner Herzog: Before I made this film the only thing I knew about Tim’s work was Grizzly Diaries, a film he made for Discovery in 1998. He was not yet fluent in filmmaking and it was not a very interesting film in my opinion.
Jewel Palovak: Don’t forget he was still alive when that appeared on TV and he had to be careful what he filmed because he was afraid the Park Service might not let him re-enter the Wilderness.

Q: The narration was excellent. Did you write it out beforehand or did you make it up as you went along?
Werner Herzog: I wrote it as I saw it. We were always changing it because it had to be in sync time-wise with the movie, so we were always adding 2 seconds here and subtracting 5 seconds there. I knew we had to explain what was happening to and around Tim so we were always modifying the text on the sidelines.
Erik Nelson: All this was normal for working on the movie. As Werner would say, it was (with a German accent) “All part of the inexplicable magic of cinema.”
Werner Herzog: I have become comfortable with my voice and don’t worry about it, accent and all.
Erik Nelson: We were always sure that Werner would be the narrator—there was no Plan B. There was either going to be a lot of Werner Herzog in the film or none at all. I think it was a daring move to use an “actor” with an accent as the voiceover.

Q: That is unusual.
Werner Herzog: Like a lot of things in the film. That’s why we called it "The Bear Witch Project." (Laughter).

Grizzly Man opens in the DC area on August 12.

Page to Screen: Dai Sijie's Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

By Jean W. Williams, DC Film Society Member

If you asked me to give you the most distinctive quality of good writing, I would give it to you in one word: VISUAL. (Herbert Read, 1945)

Many critics disdain film adaptations, which are often judged either by the extent to which they are “faithful” to or diverge from their literary source material. But at the same time, many readers of film texts (cinephiles) are also avid consumers of literature (bibliophiles), and generally those who love both media equally have both a keen eye for a great “visual” text and a good ear for a great story.

This is the first in a series in which we’ll explore some current film adaptations of contemporary literature. And there is no better place to start than with a prize-winning novelist, Dai Sijie, who has also directed the filmed version of his book, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress.

In his 1936 essay, The Storyteller, literary critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin sets out a theory on the role of the oral storyteller lamenting that “[l]ess and less frequently do we encounter people with the ability to tell a tale properly.” Benjamin goes on to describe two types of storyteller: one who has traveled from afar (the itinerant journeyman) and another who has stayed at home and preserves local tales and traditions (the resident master craftsman). In Benjamin’s view, “the figure of the storyteller gets its full corporeality only for the one who can picture them both.”

Benjamin died in 1940, just at the time the world was experiencing a huge increase in a new kind of hybrid storyteller--the displaced person--one, who by force of events or politics, is forcibly thrust out of his/her home and transforms the experience into stories of exile and dislocation. Dai Sijie is one such traveling master craftsman who can simultaneously picture exotic places and adventures and the excesses of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

Now relocated to France, Dai Sijie’s work joins a genre of recent generational Chinese writing (albeit written in French, the language of his adopted country) referred to as “sent-down youth literature”--personal recollections, memoirs and literary writings about the “rusticated youth”--the approximately 17 million junior high and high school educated children of the urban privileged classes (“reactionary intellectuals”), who were permanently relocated to the remote Chinese countryside between 1968 to 1976 to be “re-educated” through working alongside peasants.

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is not the first film to deal with the topic of sent-down youth: in 1999, Joan Chen directed Xiu Xiu, the Sent Down Girl. Nor is it the first novel written by an emigre author in France to explore the transformative power of Western art and romanticism (particularly French art and romanticism) over Eastern youth: Andrei Makine’s Once Upon the River Love, published in 1994, is the roughly historically simultaneous story of a trio of Siberian youths captivated by the films of Jean-Paul Belmondo.

But what sets Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress apart from these stories is that, rather than shading into the tragic mode, as an author and auteur Dai Sijie’s “gets” what author Jonathan Safran Foer “gets” in Everything is Illuminated, a tale of the Holocaust and film project currently in production by Liev Schreiber: “Humorous is the only truthful way to tell a sad story.”

Indeed, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is graced with great humor. In Luo, Ma (the narrator), and the young seamstress, Dai has created a romantic triangle in the unlikeliest of locales: a remote and backward mountain village poetically called Phoenix in the Sky where, despite the fact that the boys have only attended middle school and their knowledge, according to their own assessment is “precisely nil”, they are classified “dangerous intellectuals.” Sentenced to carrying buckets of pig excrement up and down the precarious rocky mountain path day after day, the discovery of a secreted cache of prohibited Western literature leads to the discovery of “awakening desire, passion, impulsive action, love, all the subjects that had, until then, been hidden.” (p. 57).

In his novel, Makine asked, “Why Belmondo? ... He arrived at the moment when the discontinuity between the promised future and our own present was on the brink of making us irremediably schizophrenic... But more than anything else: it was love.” Why Balzac? Luo, enamored of the little seamstress, vows, “With these books I shall transform the Little Seamstress. She’ll never be a simple mountain girl again.” (p. 100). And he thus embarks upon a project that distracts him from the bitterness of his own re-education.

In Luo and Ma, Dai fully engages in the “picturing” of an oral storytelling tradition and the spinning of an exotic and adventurous tale. Echoing Benjamin’s plaint, Ma observes that, “The only thing Luo was really good at was telling stories. A pleasing talent to be sure, but a marginal one, with little future in it. Modern man has moved beyond the age of the Thousand-and-One-Nights, and modern societies everywhere, whether socialist or capitalist, have done away with the old storytellers--more’s the pity.” (p. 18).

Yet in an ironic twist, the boys’ gift for storytelling literally saves them as Luo transforms a Mozart sonata into a tune which he tells the illiterate village chief is called "Mozart Is Thinking of Chairman Mao." Later, their storytelling skills get them chosen as “representatives” to attend a neighboring village’s rare screenings of films--both Albanian and North Korean. They are able to successfully transform the dull communist fare in its retelling to the culturally-starved peasants of Phoenix in the Sky by embroidering it with elements from the stash of forbidden literature--including Flaubert, Dumas and Balzac.

The ironic result of Luo’s success in re-educating the little seamstress is ultimately more reminiscent of George Bernard Shaw’s comedic play Pygmalion (the source material for two films, “Pygmalion” and “My Fair Lady”) than any example of “sent-down youth literature.” As Shaw concluded in an Epilogue, “Galatea never does quite like Pygmalion: his relation to her is too godlike to be altogether agreeable.” In his own satisfying cinematic Epilogue, Dai’s narrator, Ma, happily living in France, revisits the story and country of his youth. It is a different China. There are satellite dishes outside the peasant’s homes and the area is about to be flooded as a result of an enormous dam project creating yet another generation of displaced people--the 10 million so-called “water refugees”, most of whom are rural residents, whose stories are just beginning to be told in Chinese film (In Expectation, 1996).

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress opens Friday, August 12 at the Avalon Theatre and Cinema Arts Theater.

A Visit to the 2005 Munich Film Festival

By Leslie Weisman, DC Film Society Member

Filmfest Munich 2005: The film festival for everybody! proclaimed posters and ads on utility poles throughout metropolitan Munich, accompanied by miles of indigo ribbon with bright white stars streaming the sidewalk to promote individual films and events. And indeed it was. Unlike Cannes, whose exclusivity is part of its cachet as well as (for those who are among its habitués) its charm, the Munich film festival is a celebration of all things cinema. Like the city it calls home, the fest, with its more than 200 films and dozens of events, reaches out across the demographic, welcoming children (who got to choose their favorite film for a special award) and teens (who were recognized with their own section this year) with individual, richly stocked sections—the teens' included Rossellini's classic Germany in the Year Zero and Fassbinder's The Marriage of Maria Braun, as well as contemporary films that spoke to their own experience—as warmly and imaginatively as it does film professionals, veteran filmgoers, and the curious observer who will soon be a regular.

This was my sixth year at Filmfest Muenchen, having been invited the first year, then finding myself quickly caught up in its infectious spirit—"a festival that's known for being fun," as
the Website cheerfully attests—and in the love of films and filmmaking that permeates each talk, interview, and encounter. From the 9:00 a.m. screenings to the nightly 10:45 p.m. (sometimes followed by one at 11:15 p.m.) "Close Encounters: Talks with Filmmakers"—where filmmaker after filmmaker praised the Munich audiences for their intelligence, perspicacity, and receptiveness—Filmfest Muenchen is a festival that rewardingly feeds the filmic passions of just about anyone who loves movies, whenever that hunger demands to be fed.

Getting around for first-timers
The first thing the visitor needs to do is to obtain a Filmfest magazine (free, and available at the six major screening locations), containing film and event schedules and descriptions and, for more detailed, bilingual—German and English—information, the 250+-page Filmfest catalog, which, if memory serves, cost about $8. The daily newsletter, the eponymous and easily distinguished (each day a different color) Filmfest Muenchen Daily, was an invaluable source of information for German speakers without immediate access to the Internet, providing updates, interviews and film tips to help Muencheners and visitors synthesize the previous day's events and make plans for the next. Those who do not speak the language will find English spoken everywhere, and with almost native fluency, by Filmfest staff.

The Gasteig and MaxX theaters are probably the best source for daily updates, although signs of the fest are everywhere throughout metropolitan Munich—from S-Bahn (commuter rail) stations to those sidewalk ads along the "Isar Mile"—the path connecting most of the theaters. One of the things I cherish about Munich's public transportation system is the ubiquity of maps to aid commuters: not only are they available as paper brochures, as here in Washington, but you will also see them painted on station walls, a godsend if you forget yours.

The Munich film festival has no competition (which also distinguishes it from Cannes, as well as from Berlin), but it does award several prizes, including the following.

  • The VFF TV Movie Award, with a 25,000-euro purse. This year's award went to The Kaminski Case, an inspiring tale of two mentally challenged parents who successfully challenge those who think they "know better" and are determined to prove it—at the expense of a family.

  • The FFA Short Tiger Award, which grants 25,000 euros to promising young directors and producers, this year went to Jonathan Greenfield and Benjamina Mirnik for Chaim and Sonja Hess, Janine Jackowski and Susanne Ehlers for Christina without Kaufman.

  • The CineMerit Award, which each year honors an outstanding individual who has achieved international renown through his or her work in film, went to Mario Adorf, who may be best known to American audiences for his role as a Mexican sergeant in Sam Peckinpah's Major Dundee. Adorf's remarks upon receiving the award before an SRO crowd were warm and humorous, as he recalled being so often in the running for an award and losing to younger colleagues: "I'm obviously young enough for a prize again," cracked the dapper 75-year-old veteran, to the enthusiastic applause of an appreciative audience.

  • Ester Bernstorff, Emily Atef, Constantin von Jascheroff, Maria Kwiatkowski, and Byambasuren Davaa received awards for the Prize in Support of German Film

  • The Prize in Support of German Film, which recognizes young German film talent with a total of 60,000 euros, this year went to (a) Director Byambasuren Davaa (Washingtonians will remember her for last year's breakaway enchanter, The Story of the Weeping Camel), for The Cave of the Yellow Dog, a story of "the age-old bond between man and dog with a new twist involving the eternal cycle of reincarnation"; (b) Screenwriters Ester Bernstorff and Emily Atef, for Molly's Way, about a young Irish woman who comes to a small town in Poland to find a young man who "left her with only the memory of an unforgettable night and a postcard from his town"; (c) Actress Maria Kwiatkowski, for Dear Amelie, Maris Pfeiffer's film about a Munich teenager whose manic-depressive condition is ignored by her busy parents until one day she tries to kill herself; and (d) Actor Constantin von Jascheroff, for Christoph Hochhaeusler's Low Profile, about a teen whose anomie leads him to send anonymous letters claiming responsibility for accidents he witnesses and crimes he reads about.

  • The Bernhard Wicki Film Prize—The Bridge—The Peace Prize of German Film, a 10,000-euro prize which honors films that "build bridges where others dig ditches," was awarded to Marc Rothemund's Sophie Scholl, winner of Berlin's Golden Bear in February of this year. The film tells the harrowing, inspiring, now legendary story of the uncommmon courage of a young German university student during World War II who, with her brother, distributes leaflets to awaken fellow students and professors to the hideous truths about the Nazi regime. "What I found most fascinating, is that she lied [when caught]," says Rothemund, who humorously recalled being given away by the smell of fish on his hands when caught by police in a no-fishing zone, and trying to deny his guilt. "For me," says Rothemond, who sees life "as Yin and Yang, laughter and tears," it was a matter of risking "a small fine, not my life." The film has aroused interest in places as geographically and culturally disparate as Israel and China. Hopefully, it will reach DC as well.

  • The Shocking Shorts Award, a non-monetary prize consisting of a backstage pass to Universal Studios in Hollywood to learn about "Film-Know-How" from a major studio, went to Kilian von Keyserlingk's "Marcus and the Wolf."

  • The White Elephant, the children's media prize, awarded for the first time at Filmfest Muenchen, went to Franziska Buch's Bibi Blocksberg and the Secret of the Blue Owl and Sandra Nettlebeck's Sergeant Pepper, each of which won 5,000 euros.

  • The One Future Prize 2005 was given to Andrei Kravchuk's The Italian, with Honorable Mention to Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and Ed Robbins' Re-inventing the Taliban.

  • The Jetix Movie Award, in which kids got to select their favorite film, was won by Maura Lima's Taina 2—A New Amazon Adventure, a tale of intercultural friendship between two Indian girls whose efforts to defeat poachers lead them to an encounter with a city boy who has lost his dog.

  • The Bavaria 3 Public Prize, presented by the newspaper Abendzeitung, went to Byambasuren Davaa's The Cave of the Yellow Dog (see above).

  • The Films
    Kiyoshi Kurosawa (holding microphone) discusses his work at the Munich Film Festival

    The focus of this year's Filmfest was Japan, specifically featuring the films of Kiyoshi Kurosawa ("the other Kurosawa") and Keisuke Kinoshita, along with masterworks by such directors as Igarashi Sho, Yukiko Takayama, and Kenji Uchida. While three full weeks (members of the press get two weeks of preview screenings) of films and discussions are more than can be even touched on in a single piece, here are some of the ones I found most memorable.

    The Drum team on opening night. Director Zola Maseko is fourth from right

    Drum (South Africa, 2004; Zola Maseko, dir.) The opening-night film, Drum takes place in 1951 Johannesburg, South Africa, when the evils of apartheid are beginning to germinate seeds of rebellion among the media intelligentsia, here epitomized by the skilled and courageous British owner and African reporters of the newspaper Drum. As the lead character comments early on, to laughter all around by his buds: "We live fast—we die young—and leave a good-looking corpse!" For the world they inhabit, and the path they choose, those words turn out to be fateful prophesy. The film makes eminently clear that here, the shadow of death was a reporter's constant companion. But it took the reality of death to set off the spark that galvanized the people to take responsibility for their lives and their freedom, and to take matters into their own hands...

    Midwinter Night's Dream (Serbia-Montenegro, 2004; Goran Paskaljevic, dir.) Military malfeasance and concomitant responsibility of another kind form the backstory of Midwinter Night's Dream, a remarkable film that somehow manages, through compelling images, stunning cinematography, and uncompromising courage, to combine the most unlikely of narrative elements with such dispassionate artistry and heartbreaking sensitivity, it leaves the viewer numb—for about thirty seconds. Then it hits you, and you fall apart.
        Taken from the backwaters of the Bosnian nightmare of a decade ago, Midwinter Night's Dream is the story of a Serbian soldier who returns to his home after ten years of imprisonment (we learn that he witnessed atrocities committed by soldiers under his command, and is haunted by having done nothing to stop it) to find it occupied by Bosnian refugees, a mother and her 12-year-old autistic daughter abandoned by a husband/father who could not deal with the daughter's disability. (There is an incredible vignette in which the mentally challenged children of the daughter's school—they are actually disabled children, as is the girl who plays the lead role—put on a performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream that will stop you in your tracks.) The mother's unwavering love and support for her child, her patient insistence that the girl can, will, and indeed must learn, and her refusal to allow her daughter to be painted by others' narrow brushes is deeply moving, and the growing attachment between the three gives hope that their long nightmare may be nearing its end.
        But that is not the way Paskaljevic has conceived his film, or the benighted lives of those who were perpetrators or victims of the war (or, as the film makes clear, even both). I will not give away the end, in case the film comes here (one can only hope!); but I will say that an utterly unforeseen and unexplained event violently changes the landscape, and nothing is as it was before. In post-film discussion, the director, who himself is Serbian, expressed the hope that his film will help his countrymen come to terms with the horrors they (or their military) were responsible for, and take responsibility for them, as did the Germans after World War II. Interestingly, the film acts as a sort of mirror for those who watch it, and of their, and their nations', experiences. In most countries, the director related, the question posed is: "How could you do this to these wonderful people, who finally had a chance to emerge from the darkness of their lives? Why is there no hope at the end?" The reaction in two places, however, was quite different: In Israel, most people found it ended with hope, because the last shot is of a spring meadow. In New York, no one even raised the question.

    L'Enfant (France, 2005; Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, dirs.) In this contemporary coming-of-age story of a guy who learns responsibility the hard way, the 20-year-old Bruno runs a street gang of adolescents who earn pocket money by snatching purses from likely pigeons and other passers-by as he and his confederates zoom past on a motorcycle. Upon returning from a stint in the "joint," he finds, but doesn't quite comprehend, that things have irreversibly changed: his girlfriend Sonia has given birth to their now 3-month-old child, to whom she is suddenly, and for Bruno, inexplicably devoted. Bruno's a slow learner; OK at his chosen "profession," he lacks panache (unlike the girl in "Stranger," described below, who gets what she wants by using all her wiles, all the while seeming the picture of innocence), and once forced to enter the underworld of real criminals, finds himself in way over his head.
        A few observations: Close-ups are used with extraordinary effectiveness to put the viewer in Bruno's shoes. In one scene the camera hugs the motorcycle as he and his young accomplice flee the pursuing gendarmes after having snatched a matron's purse, the wind raking against against their—and our—face, drawing us into their heart-pumping world, forcing us to identify with people we might ordinarily scorn as faceless, nameless punks. The growth of this man-child is beautifully, gently, heartbreakingly portrayed in the long sequence that begins when, hiding from the police, Bruno solicitously rubs the legs of his agonized, freezing young accomplice, which have grown dangerously numb as Bruno forces him to remain submerged in the icy water—then turns himself in to the authoriries to spare the boy from taking the fall for him. A story of redemption, the film shows Bruno's progression through purgatory. At the end, as Sonia visits him in prison, they weep quietly, foreheads touching, in self-abnegation and forgiveness. Winner of this year's Palme d'Or at Cannes.

    Zim and Co. (France, 2005; Pierre Jolivet, dir.) This wry, sweetly hip, kick-in-the-pants movie is ostensibly the story of 20-year-old Zim (played by the director's son, who also helped write the script; the lead characters are his real-life friends), who desperately needs a job in order to stay out of jail after his cycle collides with a car. Unfortunately, to get a job, he needs a car—and assures his prospective boss that he has one (the fact that he only has his learner's permit just an inconvenient detail that he's sure he can work around). As the old song goes, "I'll get by with a little help from my friends"—and they do, and he does. But not before they encounter the sorrier side of the adult world: from the guy who offers to sell Zim a car, then pockets the cash and drives off; to the former boss who offers to give Zim money if Zim will collect a debt from the shady character upstairs—who answers the door nonchalantly and returns with a fully loaded shotgun, which he begins immediately to use; to the overt racism that confronts this multi-ethnic crew, even from their own parents. In a post-screening discussion with Pierre Jolivet and his son Adrien, the director acknowledged that the subtle message of tolerance, forbearance, and "live and let live" would probably miss the people it was meant for, while those who were already sympathetic to it would fill the theaters because they were attracted to the film for other reasons.

    Holy Lola (France, 2004; Bertrand Tavernier, dir.) Based on a book of the same name by the director's daughter, Holy Lola is about a French couple (the woman is played by Isabelle Carré, whose resemblance to Nicole Kidman is astonishing) who travel to Cambodia to adopt a child. A story of the dispossessed seen through the eyes of the more privileged (i.e., middle or upper middle class), it is told with documentary-like realism and extraordinary compassion. Like Once You're Born, described below, it does not condemn those who work within the system, but rather the system itself and the circumstances that make their and its mission both more urgent and ultimately (the irony is painful and palpable) less effective. In pre-screening remarks and a subsequent podium discussion, Tavernier elaborated on his experience in making the film, describing in moving tones and with almost messianic fervor the horrific circumstances which, more than two decades after the genocidal destruction that wrought Cambodia, still leave children not only without parents, but without a basic means of day-to-day survival, reducing them to living conditions of unspeakable degradation.
        On the podium, which he shared with director Fernando Trueba—whose The Miracle of Candeal, a "social musical" shot in the Brazilian favela (Trueba quickly interjected that Brazilians don't like the word, preferring "community") of Candeal, also screened to great acclaim at the fest—Tavernier agreed that, despite the sorrow he had witnessed (some even at close hand—one of the women who played a supporting role in the film had lost her infant child, and during the filming continued to pursue threads of hope that the child had survived), in the end, his film sent a message of hope. (Indeed, as the film nears its denouement, a character quotes—appropriately enough—Victor Hugo, to the effect that "happiness consists of tears as well as joy.") Trueba concurred that his film, too, which tells of two celebrated musicians who went into the slums of Candeal—one, to rediscover his African roots; the other, to teach music to street kids, created a band and set off a spark that lit a fire under the social conscience of the residents, resulting in what today is known as a "model neighborhood"—was in essence a hopeful one.

    This Revolution (USA, 2004; Stephen Marshall, dir.) One of the strongest sections this year was the American Independents. This Revolution was filmed on the streets outside the 2004 Republican Convention by Channel Zero creator and Guerrilla News Network co-founder Stephen Marshall, and created in a mind-blowing 100 days (and at a cost of "less than a 30-second spot") from initial development to final submission to Sundance. A highly charged docudrama that leaves both the political neophyte and the politically inclined or advanced viewer with more questions than answers...

    Bearing Witness (USA, 2004); Havoc (USA, 2005; Barbara Kopple, dir.) Two of two-time Academy Award-winning producer/director Barbara Kopple's most recent films (inevitably referred to by the inveterate punsters among us, no disrespect intended, as "a coupla Kopples") could not have been more different in subject matter or concept. Bearing Witness (2004) covers at close range, and with heightened awareness and empathy, the lives of five women reporters who seek "to put a human face on the otherwise impersonal tragedies of war." The film allows us, variously, to objectively and dispassionately observe these women, to observe them as we would a close friend or relative, or to live inside their skins. A different view of the Iraq war that will enrich your perspective and challenge your preconceptions.
        Havoc, written by Academy Award-winning writer Stephen Gaghan, is Kopple's first feature film, and displays the brutal honesty and insight and searing humanity for which she is known. The story of two affuent L.A. teens who decide to "go slumming" in the hip-hop, gangsta-rap world of Latino drug dealers, Havoc is in one way an important and meaningful object lesson that could go down smoothly with target-audience teens who may secretly find the "other side" forbidden and glamorous, and thus enticing. It is also an equally subtle exposé of a society that is, if not the direct cause, then certainly the inattentive facilitator of empty lives that believe they need the "boost" which only the thrill of danger can bring.

    Made in Germany (Germany, 2005; Konstantin Faigle, dir.) In what may be either—depending, I suppose, on one's pont of view—a refutation or validation of the film's title (which in German actually translates as "The Great Depression"—and which, given the phrase's singular meaning for Americans, is probably why it was not translated literally for the English/American title), this film elicited the heartiest laughter, sometimes verging on the hysterical, of any I attended. The film (which, while certainly not malicious, could easily offend any of several ethnic groups—which probably would not surprise, and might even please, its director, who also wrote the script), hypothesizes that Germans are genetically prone to depression, and supports this theory with a series of both real and fictional, and at times hilariously fanciful, projections. I will stop here to avoid offending any readers; but take it from me, this one was a real crowd-pleaser.

    Me and My Sister (France, 2004; Alexandra Leclere, dir.) This was one of the runaway hits of the festival—not only because it was played to the absolute nth degree by two of France's most gloriously, seethingly, wickedly antipodal actors, but because the script was spot-on hilarious, the music was a rousingly perfect complement to mood, character, and mise en scene—and because anyone with a sister (or brother) soon found him or herself nodding with a rueful recognition that burrowed down to the very depths of their sibling soul. Briefly described, Me and My Sister is the tale of Louise, the good-natured, contented, Pollyanna-on-Prozac-with-a-book-contract country mouse, who comes to visit her city-dwelling, uptight, depressed, neurotic, serpent-tongued sister Martine—and the fur flies. (As do assorted select objects and the occasional body.) As a final recommendation—perhaps the piece de résistance?—the audience was told that both of the leading ladies were invited to the festival to present the film and both declined. It seems they can't stand each other.

    Once You're Born You Can No Longer Hide (Italy/France/Great Britain, 2005; Marco Tullio Giordana, dir.) While the title forms a clever segue from the foregoing, the only relationship this film bears to Me and My Sister may be its diametric opposition to it. What begins as a warm family film about a 13-year-old boy who sets out with his father on a Mediterranean sailing trip becomes a gripping portrayal of the perils of refugees and the inhuman degradations they encounter, both physically and emotionally, on their way to what they desperately hope will be a chance at a decent life. The relocation camp itself and the antiquated, unresponsive laws and regulations that make the bureaucracy a roadblock that fails those who most need help, rather than a road to freedom, are unsparingly depicted in almost documentary fashion. The cinematography and score are richly evocative. Though I have no direct evidence of this, it would seem that the film is intended not just to entertain, or even to instruct, but to open a few eyes—government as well as social—to the inadequacy of the refugee-assistance structure, and to the desperate need for change to the mechanisms and institutions that support it.

    Tokyo Lullaby (Japan, 1997; Jun Ichikawa, dir.) An episodic story of residents of this city, the film is distinguished by gorgeous cinematography, with frames shot as exquisitely as if intended to hang in a gallery. In one memorable sequence, after a dark, gloomy scene of lovemaking, splashes of color awaken the world as a gaggle of giggling, playful children in brilliant blues, reds, and greens chase each other off-screen like butterflies. "One day is long," a woman in the film observes, "but one year is so short..."

    A Stranger of Mine (Japan, 2004; Kenji Uchida, dir.) This really fun film is set in modern-day Japan with characters you can readily identify with (on being asked what kind of food she likes, the prospective date responds, "Chinese") in which, Rashomon-like, three story lines are presented from the POVs of five characters, each a participant in one or more of the stories. At the end, the last piece of the puzzle falls into place, the stories intersect, and the circle is completed. The director has a wonderful feel for the ridiculous, for the Murphy's Law-ness of life, and for the pointlessness of our pretensions, and there's a lot of humor underlining his sharp—but never condescending, and occasionally affecting—portrayals of human relationships.

    Musumedodoji (Japan, 2003; Yukiko Takayama, dir.) A film with the cinematic richness of a Rembrandt and executed with the exquisite care of a kabuki play, this is the story of a young woman who convinces the reigning kabuki onnagata (female impersonator) to take her on as a student. Her ostensible reason is to find the answer to her twin sister's suicide—her sister was (before her) the only female student ever accepted by the master—but things do not go according to plan...

    There is, and was, of course, much more, but this will at least give DCFS members an idea of what awaits them at the Munich film festival. Hope to see you all there next year!

    The Chumscrubber: Q&A with Producer Lawrence Bender and Actor Camilla Belle

    By John Suozzo, DC Film Society Member

    Producer Lawrence Bender talked with audience members after a preview screening of The Chumscrubber at Landmark's E Street Theater on June 29. The film opens in nine cities during August.

    Q: Do you think prescription drugs are ever valid, particularly if monitored by a physician? How accurate do you think the film was in portraying current American life?
    Lawrence Bender: I’m sure there are times when prescription drugs are valid, but what I feel is more important is full disclosure. I believe we have known for years the adverse affects of these drugs on kids. Schools are really pressuring parents to put their kids on drugs. It just came out [in June] that Ritalin is a Class II drug--the same category as cocaine, morphine and opium. Parents need to know what to look for and see how dangerous these things can be, and that they have a choice whether to use them. The drug industry is trying very hard to portray these things as “safe”. The American people don’t really understand how dangerous they are. The thing is it is so easy to get these drugs. Behaviors as common as fidgeting or forgetting your homework qualify a kid as a candidate for a prescription--I did practically all of these things when I was a kid and never took any drugs.
    Camilla Belle: Is this an accurate picture of today? At my school, I don’t think there are drug dealers all over the place. There are people who are taking drugs for ADD or bad skin and they could be addicted to those but I’m just not aware of that. But they have the access to drugs and are giving it to their friends. There are a lot of my friends who are taking drugs--it’s very acceptable and I wouldn’t doubt that some were addicted.
    Lawrence Bender: On college campuses everywhere, [Ritalin] is called “The Magic Pill”. Students take it constantly to get better grades. It is a serious problem.

    Q: Is this movie about a “sick culture”?
    Lawrence Bender: We live in a society where people want things faster, sooner. There are people that are gaining a lot of weight--obesity is a problem. Instead of attacking the root causes, doctors are just putting people on drugs. Everyone wants the fastest car, the prettiest girl and to be skinny--all of those things that flash in front of us in a thousand images every day. So I do think the lives we live are changing.

    Q: Could you give us a little bit of background of how the director and screenwriter developed this story. Was it adapted from another medium?
    Lawrence Bender: This just came out of their minds as most screenplays do. I think both of them grew up in an environment that felt disconnected and somewhat hostile for them. You can see from the finished product that both men were really smart people--the story is so well written. For me, the script was interesting because at the time I was looking to do a bigger film with a bigger budget. But when I read the script, I really loved it. What attracted me to the script was both the writing and the issues it tackled. That’s why I brought in my producing partner, Bonnie Curtis, because while these low-budget movies are so hard to make (nobody makes any money), I felt that we had an important story to tell.

    Q: How did the title, The Chumscrubber, come about? Was it that chum is fish and scrubber is what they do to fish?
    Lawrence Bender: That’s true. But “Chum” is also a pal or a buddy and it could also mean a buddy has been left out of a group.

    Q: What is The Chumscrubber? What is the symbolism of the dolphin?
    Lawrence Bender: You’ll notice in the movie there really is no Pop Culture shown. That was a very deliberate decision by Arie Posin, the director. But he designed one specific element of Pop Culture which was the Chumscrubber. You see him on video games, on posters and iconic figures throughout the movie. The Chumscrubber survives the apocalypse the parents created. He is the hero for the teenagers. The teenagers feel that if the Chumscrubber can survive the apocalypse that the parents created then they can survive suburbia. The dolphins represent hope for those in suburbia. They represent beauty, vision and hope--even for those in suburbia.

    Q: I believe Camilla has a very bright future. You had an opportunity to work with a lot of great actors. What was it like to work with such a great cast? Also, I noticed that the three kids who were involved with the kidnapping never took drugs.
    Camilla Belle: We had a wonderful time shooting this movie. Arie is actually a kid himself and he was always jumping around giving us the energy we needed. Ralph Fiennes, Glen Close and Carrie-Anne Moss (playing against type) were all so nice. It was such an amazing experience. We focused on making the best movie we could. We all believed in Arie, who was doing his first feature film, to make a terrific movie. As far as the three kids go, I think they’re just the dealers who sell them to everybody else. I think Crystal is a very smart character who covers up her loneliness by hanging with these guys and having Billy as her boyfriend. She copes with life by being popular but she’s smart enough not to take the drugs. They’re just suppliers, not users.

    Q: I have a different take. The most troubling thing to me was the thought that this group of kids was the generation the Baby Boomers raised. There were so many things wrong with these kids, whether or not they were taking drugs. So many things were given to them; there was so little parental oversight from a very young age. To me, that was almost scarier and overshadowed the drug taking and the drug selling. You could see there was going to be trouble here whether or not drugs were present. What are your thoughts about that?
    Lawrence Bender: I agree with you to a certain extent. I think we do live in a troubling society. More and more we have both parents working constantly, more and more kids are left on their own. If you’re lucky you have a nanny but most times it’s tough to be a single parent. This movie is not just about drugs. It’s a story about a group of kids in suburbia and what they’re going through and drugs are a part of it.
    Q: And maybe a reaction to it?
    Lawrence Bender: The reason why I think it’s important to discuss the over-proliferation of prescription drugs is because they have just exploded without people realizing it. There are more lobbyists for the drug industry than there are members of Congress. They spend about $4.5 billion a year advertising drugs and when I was a kid there was no drug advertising on TV. I think the drug industry and the medical professions are both making a tremendous amount of money today. Who’s looking out for the kids--who’s minding the shop here? That’s one of the reasons that we’re here in Washington. I think the drug industry has known that there are severe problems--violence, suicide, erratic behavior--that are associated with drugs that the public does not know about.

    Q: What are your plans for the film’s release?
    Lawrence Bender: Tonight is the first screening we’ve had with an audience. The idea now is to get the message out on two prongs. First, teenagers love this movie but it probably will be rated “R” so it will be marketed to teens 17 and over. We found that when we screened this to 17-20 year olds they loved it because they thought we were not condescending to them. It’s not just another comedy making fun of teens but it’s actually about them, so to hear that from them was very fulfilling. The other target group we’re looking at is parents whose kids are experiencing these issues. The movie opens August 5th in 9 cities.

    Q: My brother took Ritalin and then graduated to hard drugs. I believe one of the reasons he experimented with drugs was that his psychiatrist told him it was OK to take drugs. Have you heard of other episodes like this?
    Lawrence Bender: That is a story of a terrible tragedy. Unfortunately, Ritalin is often the gateway to other drugs that are just as bad or worse.

    Q: What do you think was the biggest lesson learned from making the film? And what is your next step?
    Lawrence Bender: First of all, I hope this is an entertaining movie and people want to watch it. As far as lessons go, I think the first thing is we have this problem with the over-medication of society. It’s not just kids, it’s adults as well. I think one of the kids’ biggest enemies is not the drug lords from Colombia but the contents of the medicine cabinet at home. It’s so easy to get these things--too easy. I would like to see some Congressional oversight, a Federal investigation to see why the pharmaceutical companies have kept these things under wraps for so long and to open up a major debate across the country to fix this problem. And perhaps some legislation for the drug companies. I realize a private citizen should be able to choose for himself but we need full disclosure that some of these drugs can lead to outbreaks of violence and suicide. People need to know that we have 8 ½ million kids right now that are either on an antidepressant, stimulant or psychotropic drug. That’s a lot of people.

    An Interview with Greg Harrison, Director of November

    By Caroline Cooper, DC Film Society Member

    In his latest film, editor and director Greg Harrison takes the audience into the mind of a trauma victim (played by Courteney Cox) who struggles to find the truth about her boyfriend’s murder. The film, which was shot on mini-DV in just two weeks, is an interesting look at what happens to a person over the course of one month, both physically and mentally, after a trauma occurs and she cannot discern truth from reality.

    I sat down with Greg Harrison in June to discuss what inspires him as a filmmaker and his experience in making November. The film opens in the DC-area on August 12.

    Caroline Cooper: Can you tell me what got you interested in film? How did you get started in the film industry?
    Greg Harrison: I went to school in Michigan and studied film and television. My big break was getting an internship in LA for a trailer company that did coming attractions for Touchstone and Disney. By day I was running coffee and dubbing tapes, and at night I would learn the editing system, watch the movies, and cut my own trailers. Near the end of my internship, I showed my boss what I was working on and he liked it. He worked with me to hone my skills, and by the end of my internship the trailer I cut got picked. The movie was for Scenes from a Mall with Woody Allen and Bette Midler. When I finished my degree, I got a job offer cutting trailers. I entered the industry through editing, which I think is a very viable way to transition to directing. With trailers, it’s like making a short film. That was my training ground, and that led to assistant editing on feature films and editing independent films, documentaries, and music videos. That was the first three years of life in LA, but I soon realized that (a) I didn’t love living in LA and (b) I was becoming an editor, not a film-maker. So, I saved money and moved to San Francisco; I had enough to live very simply for a year without working, so I wrote music, played in a band, wrote short stories, wrote screenplays, and I also got involved in the rave scene. Out of that, grew my first screenplay Groove. But, that was just the beginning. It took me a number of years to figure out that I would not be able to make this movie in any traditional sense, so I took a year and a half to learn business. And that’s when I met my producing partner Danielle Renfrew. We cobbled together about $225,000 through private investment for production and made the movie completely on our own—outright owned it with creative control. We got into Sundance and, at our premier screening, we sold it to Sony Pictures Classics. It was a huge gamble that paid off.

    Caroline Cooper: How did you become interested in this film?
    Greg Harrison: The script was written by a good friend of mine, Ben Brand, also a good friend of Danielle Renfrew. We all lived in San Francisco together, where I made my first film Groove. He’s pretty prolific—he’s made a living as a writer. He wrote November as a low-budget film, conceiving of a story with six main characters with six locations and indulging and experimenting with his love of fractured narrative. At the time, Danielle and I were developing a project at Fox Searchlight that was unfortunately having a lot of budget issues and trapped in development hell. During that time, we had read November and thought it was intriguing. I was talking to Ben about his ideas for it, and it was percolating in my mind. When our project was put into turn around at Fox, I took November really seriously. I felt it would be a great opportunity to go make a film because it was written in such a way that we could do it cheaply. Around that time, we met Gary Winick, the creator and owner of InDigEnt (the studio responsible for Tadpole and Pieces of April). These were all mini-DV movies, in which you shoot for $150,000 on mini-DV in 15 days. Although this presents some constraints, you have creative freedom. We gave Gary the script and he was really interested. Then, we spoke on the phone about my visual and directorial take on the material, and he was very supportive. From the time he first read it to when we went into official pre-production, it was less than six months.

    Caroline Cooper: Would you like to continue making films in thriller genre and in the same manner (i.e., mini-DV format)?
    Greg Harrison: I see the kind of scripts and projects that I’m either writing or developing or looking to do as very eclectic. Some directors use the term “interpretive director.” I feel like I’m an interpretive director who looks at stories that I feel drawn to personally for whatever reason, and come up with an approach to make that particular story unique visually. November was so radically different from the first script I ever wrote (Groove), but it did not represent the kind of movie I wanted to make. November had a lot of interesting and challenging elements, from a directorial standpoint, that I was interested in—playing with ambiguity, having a fractured narrative, a traumatized character.

    Caroline Cooper: How did you decide to cast Courteney Cox for the role of Sophie?
    Greg Harrison: The project that I mentioned we were developing at Fox Searchlight was an ensemble comedy that I developed with Gary Trudeau—a black comedy about experimental disease research that took place at the NIH—and I was considering Courteney for one of the roles in that. Right away, in first our conversation, it was clear she was interested in finding new and different material. Because of her success as a comedienne, it was hard for her to get dramatic material. When November came along and the Trudeau project went into turn around, it made sense to give her the script. I did have to prepare her about the fact that this would be unlike any character, acting challenge, or movie-making experience she had before. A budget of $150,000 means no trailer, three lights, shooting four emotionally intense scenes back-to-back over 12 hours, laying on the dirty floor, doing your own stunts, and getting bloody. She was very much interested in that and really ran with that. I came to her with things I wanted her to do—cut seven inches off her hair, wear glasses, no makeup, design clothes that were not about fashion, but about hiding behind clothes—and then she brought all of this interesting research as well. She did research on trauma and trauma victims, and found that often they can grow a shock of gray hair. She brought that into the character. I thought that was a great choice; it transformed her.

    Caroline Cooper: Did you shoot the film in Los Angeles? And where did you shoot the school scene?
    Greg Harrison: Yes, we shot the film in Los Angeles, although, I aspired to make the film anonymously urban because I did not want to play to LA. The school scene was shot at a big auditorium as part of school in downtown LA. It had this wonderfully cavernous look—it was all dark and black—it really was a find for us and we could afford it too. We saw a lot of locations that we couldn’t afford. All of the locations were in and around downtown LA. The apartment we used was Danielle Renfrew’s, my producer. That apartment was a beautiful, airy, open, and light-colored Spanish duplex and our great production designer, Tracy Gallacher, had $400 to transform it into this dark, dank, and eroding mid-century modern crypt. After she had repainted everything, wallpapered, and brought in new furniture within two days, I thought it was amazing.

    Caroline Cooper: Given the budget and the limited amount time in which you had to make the film, did you rehearse before shooting? As I understand, the film was shot in 2003, so was Courteney finished shooting Friends at that time?
    Greg Harrison: We actually shot right on her hiatus prior to the final. She and I spoke at length in various meetings when she agreed to do the film. I remember our very first meeting at her house where we went page by page throughout the script and exchanged ideas and asked questions. From this, she started to understand how I saw the movie, and she was forcing me to answer questions for her. Then we focused on getting her into costume because I thought physically changing her would help her a lot in changing her performance. In terms of actual rehearsal, it was only one day for each pairing—she and James and one day, she and Anne got one day. We would hang out at her house, run the lines, feel out the scenes, make some dialogue changes, and the actors would answer each other’s questions. The proper rehearsal was very limited. Most of the film was comprised of one or two takes. For the more difficult scenes, we might do three or four. The beauty of shooting digital is that you don’t have to call cut; I hate calling cut because all the tension is released. With video, you can keep rolling.

    Caroline Cooper: Did you edit as you were making the film?
    Greg Harrison: No, I was the editor and so we waited to digitize everything after we finished shooting. To give you a sense of the schedule: it took 15 days to shoot, but I actually cut it over a period of 18 weeks. A lot was discovered and found in editing. In terms of the final film, it felt like an actual translation of the script because the movie was so fragmented. The fragmentation can survive much more easily as a reading experience from a written page. But, we found it difficult to experience the fragmentation visually and in real-time. That started a whole process where I was rearranging the film, fairly profoundly, to find its original intention.

    Caroline Cooper: When did you finish everything, at the end of 2003?
    Greg Harrison: Yeah, that would be about right. We had gotten into Sundance and premiered the film in the dramatic competition in January 2004. Nancy Schreiber, our Director of Photography, won the cinematographer award that year. Then, we were purchased by Sony Classics, and we were going to release a year ago around this time, but Courteney was having her baby. That made it really hard to release the movie.

    Caroline Cooper: Can you tell me about your next film?
    Greg Harrison: I’m adapting a book into a screenplay that I will direct. It’s a true story about a 16-year old Boy Scout who, in his pursuit of an Eagle Scout badge, builds a nuclear reactor in his backyard that is shut down by the government. It’s called The Radioactive Boy Scout. It’s from a book that came out last year. It’s a very personal film that allows me to explore growing in mid-west suburbia living a rich, reclusive, creative life in a suburban setting. His family didn’t understand this kid’s true scientific genius. He was self-taught chemistry by age 10. There are a lot of great character themes running through the film about finding your place in the world. Ultimately, it’s about a kid trying to follow his dreams and become a scientist, but he has no mentor and support. I’m excited to get into writing it.

    Caroline Cooper: What advice would you offer to budding filmmakers?
    Greg Harrison: The number one thing you need to break into the film industry is passion and vision of what you want to do. The second thing you need to do is learn to make films, at whatever level you can. The best way to learn is by doing.

    Forty Minutes with Fernando Meirelles

    By Adam Spector, DC Film Society Member

    Every once in a while a film comes from out of nowhere and throws me for a loop. That happened to me two years ago when I saw City of God from Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles. City of God was a jolt of extraordinary creativity and kinetic energy. Meirelles told many inter-connected stories set in “favelas”--the worst slums of Rio. The gangsters ruled, but these gangsters were adolescents and teenagers, most of whom did not live past age 20. Through his brilliant camerawork and innovative editing, Meirelles drew you into to these kids’ lives and their environment. If that was not impressive enough, Meirelles worked with mostly first-time nonprofessional actors, many of whom lived in the favelas. For his effort and artistry, Meirelles received a 2004 Oscar nomination for Best Director.

    Of course Meirelles did not come out of nowhere but has been directing in Brazil since the 1980s. He began in television, commercials, and promotional videos. The independent studio he founded, O2 Filmes, became the largest in Brazil, and won many awards. In 1997, Meirelles moved to feature films. City of God was his third feature.

    His fourth feature is The Constant Gardener, adapted by Jeffrey Caine from the novel by John le Carré. Like many le Carré stories, The Constant Gardener tells of murder and intrigue. Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes), a mid-level British diplomat stationed in Kenya, lives a quiet existence. His activist wife Tessa (Rachel Weisz) gradually discovers that large pharmaceutical corporations are secretly using Kenyans to test new drugs, often with deadly consequences. When Tessa uncovers too much she and her friend are brutally murdered. Once passive to a fault, Justin marshals his grief and anger to continue Tessa’s work. As Justin digs deeper he discovers a conspiracy stretching across nations and involving those closest to him, including his colleague Sandy (Danny Huston) and his boss Pellegrin (Bill Nighy).

    A few weeks ago I attended a screening of The Constant Gardener, followed by a Q&A with Meirelles (see below for the Q&A). The next day I had the privilege of participating in a group conversation with the director as he discussed his new film and what lies ahead:

    Question: I read that you were recruited for this. Can you talk a little bit about that?
    Fernando Meirelles: Yes. Who was supposed to direct this movie was Mike Newell. So Simon (Channing Williams), the producer, bought the rights. He developed the script one or two years and then Mike Newell was going to direct. He invited Ralph and then he (Newell) was invited to do Harry Potter and so he left the project. During this week I was in London by accident, just came from Kenya, and I met Simon through a friend of mine and he said “I have this script here and I thought about you.” I read the script and thought it was very interesting. The story was set in Kenya and I was just coming from Kenya researching this place to do another film, a different story that I was planning to do, still planning to do. So I thought it was a good opportunity for me to shoot in Kenya with a big production behind me. It was a story with the pharmaceutical industry behind it and I thought the pharmaceutical industry were perfect bad guys. This is a big issue in Brazil, pharmaceuticals, because in Brazil the government pays for treatment for AIDS 100 percent. The past five years has been like a war between the big pharmaceuticals and the Brazilian government because the government is always trying to negotiate lower costs of drugs and the pharmaceutical industry doesn’t want to lower the cost so the government starts to use generics for some drugs. All kinds of pressure comes because of this... So this issue has always been in the front pages of Brazil. For years you’d see and read about the pharmaceuticals and the pressure and how it works. That’s why I was so interested in exploring this subject.

    Adam Spector: Following up on that, what was the most surprising thing you found when you were doing research on “Big Pharma” for the film, and what do you think the most surprising thing would be for the audience, many of whom would just be learning about it now?
    Fernando Meirelles: Well, actually the story in the film is about using Africans as guinea pigs. This is a real story based on a story that happened in Nigeria. There was a company that did essentially the same thing. People in Nigeria signed informed consent because they had medical treatment for the families for free. Then they test the drugs and everybody had problems with their legs, their joints. So now there are a lot of American lawyers suing this big company. And the story for the film is based upon this real story. But I think the biggest problem with pharmaceuticals is not using Africans as guinea pigs. It’s really about pricing. They have the monopoly of pills that they help to invent, to create. If you have a pill that saves lives everybody’s prepared to pay anything, and they know that. So they can charge 50, 60, 100 times more than it costs. That’s why it’s such a profitable industry. They say they spend a lot of money on research and all of that. That’s an excuse to charge 100 times more than it costs.

    Adam Spector: Clearly your film has a message. It has things to say about Big Pharma, what’s going on in Kenya and other African countries. Yet audiences, especially American audiences, hate to feel like they’re being preached to. How do you walk that fine line--getting your point across without hitting people over the head with it?
    Fernando Meirelles: This was an issue. I think I mentioned yesterday that I shot a documentary to insert in the film. Even I could tell... I could hear my voice, the director saying things. You know, the middle of the film the director comes and says [in fake authoritative voice] “Now you see...” We tried to take all of this out. That was the limit. But I was aware that this could happen. It was a pity because I liked the documentary very much... I liked the information that was said in that little piece. But it really didn’t work. I was really aware of the problem and we noticed that it wouldn’t work.

    Adam Spector: You mentioned yesterday that you’re putting the documentary on the DVD.
    Fernando Meirelles: Yes. On the DVD it’s different because you click just to see a specific thing. Seeing the documentary makes sense.

    Adam Spector: With City of God, you were in that one location, that one neighborhood. Whereas with The Constant Gardener, you filmed not only in several different areas, but in several different countries. What type of challenge was that for you?
    Fernando Meirelles: In City of God it’s a low budget film so it was like a war, a guerilla type shooting. Just a small camera on shoulder and a small crew in the middle of a place where we did not know exactly what we were stepping on. And now it was different. We had a big production behind us, so we shot in different places, some very difficult places like in the desert where we shot that scene with the raiders. There was no hotel, no lodge, no nothing. We set a camp with 250 tents and everything was brought by plane. We built the air strip and brought horses and food and everything. It was such an operation. I was not the producer so, from my viewpoint, it was very easy. This was an interesting experience for me as well because I had always produced my own projects like I did with City of God, which I even financed myself, and now I was just a director. It was so much easier. You don’t have to deal with any problems. I had this excellent crew and they would provide anything. It was even a bit scary. Sometimes I would say things in a meeting, just putting ideas out and they would provide. So like “Oh, it would be nice having some camels” just in the middle of a meeting. And then one week later I see people calling because the camels are coming in from Somalia and the plane has to get the camels in. “Hey, what are you doing?” “We’re bringing the camels.” “No, please you don’t have to bring camels from Somalia. If there’s no camel around, let’s forget camels.” It’s really scary. They’d bring you anything. Whatever you say.

    Question: Budget was not an issue?
    Fernando Meirelles: No, it’s a $25 million film. For my standards this is big, but from American standards this is not a big film.They say it’s not a low budget but a medium film. They really know how to spend money.

    Question: Was there anything you wanted that you weren’t able to get?
    Fernando Meirelles: No. Everything I wanted was there. Money was never an issue. I think the way I shot, me and my director of photography (César Charlone), it’s a very light way. He doesn’t use equipment, lights, generators. It’s all just changing bulbs... The heavy work on the images is done in the post-production when transfer from film to tape then bring back to film--that’s the process. And this process, that’s when you fix light and we really do our photography. So during the shooting there is not much equipment, not much lights, and used a very small camera, 16mm. So our set was very, very light and inexpensive and there was some money left. Whatever I wanted I could have because they did a budget for an average kind of set and our set was more inexpensive.

    Question: What was it like working on an English language production?
    Fernando Meirelles: This was difficult because I think I understand English 80 percent, but sometimes even understanding what the words mean or what the lines mean you don’t get what is behind... In Portugese when I say “There was a boy under the mango tree.” A mango tree is not just a mango tree. It speaks to my childhood and it’s something in the past and a lot of things when I say it. In English each word... I just don’t get it. I just see a tree. I don’t see all that is behind the tree. This was very hard. All the actors and the writer and everybody... I had this problem and I was always asking them “What’s the meaning of this?” and “Why do you say this line this way and not in that way?” They were very patient in explaining and tried to include me in that script but it was very hard.

    Adam Spector: One of the reasons City of God worked so well was because, in addition to the main story or stories, you got a real flavor of the neighborhood, a real sense of what it was like to live there regardless of whether you were involved in what was going on or not. I thought this quality carried over to The Constant Gardener. The scenes in Kenya gave you a real idea of what it was like to be there at that time. From the press notes it seems you spent a lot of time working on that. I was hoping you could talk about your research into Kenya and how you brought that into the film.
    Fernando Meirelles: That’s why we decided to shoot in Kenya. You’re in the middle of Kibera (a large slum area in Nairobi) for instance, that slum you’re shooting here with the actor. And then you look there and there’s an interesting face. Just point the camera. So we used to do a bit of documentary in between the scenes. It’s such a nice environment. Just point the camera around and there’s a world to be shown. We used this. Instead of trying to produce a reality we just used what is around, which is really very rich. We had never seen Kenya before so everything there looks different and interesting.

    Question: I read that you thought Kibera was shocking.
    Fernando Meirelles: Yes, I never thought that I could see places worse than the favelas in Rio, but it’s really, really.... First of all, the huts in Rio, in Brazil, they’re built with bricks, so you have a floor, you have walls. In Kibera, in Kenya, it’s all mud and it’s a dirt floor. There’s no electricity and no sanitation at all. In Rio all the houses have electricity. They had a television and fridge and in Kenya they had nothing. Just a dirty floor and no water. This is the biggest problem in Kibera. They have to get water tanks and walk four kilometers to get water and bring it home every day. And they cook with fire, burning wood inside the huts. There’s no trees around because they cut all the wood they can get. So they walk to get wood and they walk to get water. It’s a very hard life, very hard life.

    Adam Spector: At the Q&A last night you mentioned that the book had less of an emphasis on Kenya and more of an emphasis on the British class system. You changed the story so that Kenya would be more of a focus. Did you do that because that would interest you more, did you think it would make for a better film, or both?
    Fernando Meirelles: I was not very interested in this British class system. I think you have to be British to understand all the things. I could have done it, but I was not really interested. I was much more interested in trying to show Kenya. But in the book, even in the first script, Pellegrin and Justin are upper class. Their families were friends, and Sandy was a working class guy who went to grammar school, which is a bad school for working class people. So he’s kind of a wannabe. There were all these subtle things, all the relations between the characters. Gloria, Sandy’s wife was upper class, so Sandy married to raise his status. It was all about that. You have just two hours to tell a story. You can’t spend time explaining all of this which was not the focus of the film.

    Adam Spector: You also said that it was new for you to follow one character from the beginning to the end.
    Fernando Meirelles: Yes. I had never done that. When we finished the film our first cut was a linear story, just following from the beginning--and it became a very boring film. So that’s when (editor) Claire Simpson and I started to take different approaches to the film. Because we actually shot a very linear story about one character. But then, changing the order of some sequences, you give a very different approach to the story. That’s what we’ve done. We edit the film in nine or ten weeks and we had the linear story. Then we spent four months trying different order, structure, taking things out. We did two screen tests in New York to check the reaction. Because after a while we are so involved in the scenes we lose all judgement. So it was very useful being able to test it, to see what the audience was understanding and then working from all that. But this is probably still the most linear story I’ll do. I always think in different structures.

    Adam Spector: One more thing you discussed last night: Rather than storyboarding scenes and putting the camera in a particular place, you have the camera react to what the actors are doing. I would think that actors would enjoy working this way. Do they respond to that style?
    Fernando Meirelles: Yes. In the beginning they thought it was a bit weird, especially because I was always asking them to improvise, to give new lines, to make the scene fresh. Because sometimes if you repeat the same thing over and over it gets automatic. We were working with great actors. I always ask one actor to change lines so it will surprise the other actor. You know, keep it fresh. And the other thing is, as I was saying yesterday, we always shot from the top of the scene ‘til the end. We never break the scene--“Now your dialogue, now it’s your turn.” We just do the scene from the top to the end. And the actors started doing this and they started enjoying it. In the end Rachel told me that it was going to be very difficult for her to go back to the other way of shooting. Usually they have to hit marks and have the right light in the right position and I think it’s very hard. You’re in an emotional sequence and you have to be aware of where the camera is and where your angle has to be. With me, you don’t have to think about it. Just focus on the energy.

    Adam Spector: Does this way of shooting make editing more difficult?
    Fernando Meirelles: Yes. I don’t care much about continuity. City of God probably is the record breaker in mistakes of continuity. Plus I did not have a continuity person on set. I didn’t want anybody telling me that the guy was holding something in the wrong hand. So there’s so many mistakes. But, at the end of the day, there a lot of people who love seeing mistakes of continuity. There are programs, shows on television, about mistakes so I provide them with material for their shows. That's the truth.

    Adam Spector: Besides continuity issues, what were some of the other challenges in editing the film?
    Fernando Meirelles: When I was editing I was dealing with the script, changing order. When you change the order of a scene, it's not only that the scene happens. When you have Tessa dying in the middle of the film a lot of lines that come before are prepared just for that. When she dies in Scene One there’s a lot of dialogue in the scenes that happen afterwards that you don’t need anymore because you know she’s dead. So when you change something like that everything else changes. It’s like a puzzle. You do this so you have to take this line. You have this line here to explain something. It’s great. I love to do this. The part I like the most in the process is trying to find different possibilities for the same story and it's really exciting. Sometimes I don’t even sleep thinking, “What if that scene’s here and that scene’s here?” You have to have two hours in your head and know exactly what line’s where. I love this... it's like a game.

    Question: Did you have to go back to do any additional shooting to make the pieces work together?
    Fernando Meirelles: No, but I did a lot of additional lines. Sometimes you don’t need to bring the actor, just his voice. You put somebody else’s face, you can add lines and I did it a lot. Because in the last weeks we were editing, mixing the film in one room. In the other room we had actors to add new lines. I started to work on this film too soon. I read the script and forty days later I was in Africa, in Nairobi. So we never got the script right. At the same time I was talking to actresses and trying to understand the character I was looking for. That’s why I kept changing it, until the end. In City of God I changed it a lot too, but I spent two years working on the script so when I decided to do the film I knew it precisely. And now, in this case, I’m still in the studying stage. [laughs] It’s true.

    Adam Spector: You mentioned last night that after City of God you had many offers from Hollywood studios. I’m sure you’ll get even more after this film. Would you like to make more big budget films, would you rather stay in Brazil or would you like to so some of both?
    Fernando Meirelles: I think the ideal world for me is to stay in Brazil and produce international films. I would like to tell the story I want to tell from that viewpoint. But I would like to be connected to international business and cinema, especially because of financing and distribution. Because if I’m in Brazil only producing for Brazilians my film would only be shown in Brazil. So I’m interested in being connected with the industry. But I’m not interested in telling European stories or American stories because I’m not the best person to do this. I thought about doing a script called The Confederacy of Dunces. It’s a brilliant script and I read it and was very interested because it was a really great story, great script, but then I decided not to do it because I wouldn’t know what to do with it. You must be an American and born in the south to understand the story and the context. I felt it was not part of my culture. I decided not to do it, to avoid spoiling a very good script. I hope somebody makes this film. This was one of two films that I thought about directing.

    Adam Spector: And the other one?
    Fernando Meirelles: The other one was Collateral. They invited me and Russell Crowe was going to play the part Tom Cruise played. This project, I liked the script and I went two times to Los Angeles to talk about it and then this was for personal reasons. They wanted to shoot it in July. I was traveling for such a long time and wanted to go back home. I was writing this script about globalization and so in the end I decided not to do it. And it’s a very different film from when I read the script. I see a much different film. It’s funny, you spend some time trying to see a film and then you see it. I like very much the film Michael Mann made. I was going to do it more like a comedy. Have you seen After Hours? The tone is drama but it’s a comedy. It’s very funny and that was the tone I was proposing to the studio. They said this could be interesting and that’s what we’re talking about. Because it’s so absurd, the idea and everything is so... that I was going to make it crazy, dramatic comedy and it’s fantastic. Michael Mann read the script and he believed in all that... and he did it for real and it worked.

    Question: What’s the other story you were shooting in Kenya?
    Fernando Meirelles: It’s part of a film about globalization. I’m writing this story set in seven different countries, seven different languages.

    Adam Spector: Is that Intolerance?
    Fernando Meirelles: Yes, this project that I was supposed to shoot last year but then I shot The Constant Gardener and now I’m going to go back to it. So there’s this story set in Kenya about a Kenyan runner that lives in Eldoret, north of Nairobi. So that’s why I went to Eldoret. I visited all the training camps. The Kenyans are the best runners... they’re amazing. In marathons they’re pretty unbeatable. So one of the runners is one of the key characters in the film.

    Adam Spector: What are some of the other parts?
    Fernando Meirelles: There’s a character in the U.S. There’s a boy in Brazil, which is a poor boy but he’s brilliant. He’s the guy who tries to explain how the world works. And then there’s a worker in China. It’s an interesting story. I hope I can do it next year, depending on the script.

    Question: Did you write the script?
    Fernando Meirelles: Yes, I’m writing with the same guy who wrote City of God with me--Braulio Mantovani. That’s why we were traveling. I’m writing a story set in the Philippines, in Manila. I’ve never been there, so we went to Manila to see locations.

    Question: Is there a connection between all the stories?
    Fernando Meirelles: Aha. You’ve gotta watch the film. [laughs].

    The Constant Gardener: Q&A with Director Fernando Meirelles

    By John Suozzo, DC Film Society Member

    This Q&A took place July 26 at the Regal Gallery Place Theater with DC Film Society Director Michael Kyrioglou as emcee. The film opens in the DC area on August 26.

    Michael Kyrioglou: I would like to start with the beautiful look of this film. You and your DP [director of photography] come up with some stunning images. The first few minutes reminded me of City of God.
    Fernando Meirelles: I’ve been working with the same DP for 15 years. We work in a way that is a little different from usual. Usually you build the set, then put the lights in it and then the actors perform in front of the camera. We do it the other way around. The actors perform and the camera just follows them. We’re able to do this because Cesar [Charlone] never uses cinema lights or stands. He just changes bulbs in the natural environment to make things brighter. That leaves the actor free to go wherever they want and the camera is trying to chase the actor and not the other way around. That’s why sometimes it looks like a documentary, because the camera is trying to find a better angle. I always ask the actors to forget about the camera and just do it.
    Michael Kyrioglou: There’s a great sense of a color palette, especially in the landscapes at the beginning and end of the movie.

    Michael Kyrioglou: Tell us about the process about bringing this movie to the screen.
    Fernando Meirelles: I fell into it almost by accident. I was in London, recently arrived from Kenya where I was working on another script, when a friend of mine introduced me to [Producer] Simon Channing-Williams. He had a project that Mike Newell was supposed to direct but he had to leave the project to direct Harry Potter. So he had a script that was ready to go and Ralph [Fiennes] already attached. I really wanted to go back home to Brazil, but he was very persuasive and offered to fly my whole family to London to join me.
    Michael Kyrioglou: Was the script where you wanted it to be when you jumped in?
    Fernando Meirelles: Yes. It was a good script about one character from the beginning [of his story] to the end. I like to follow characters along their entire journey. The story was to be shot in Kenya and I had just been there and loved the beautiful landscapes and the people. I also wanted to shoot my next film in Kenya so it was great to have a big production shoot there to learn about shooting in Kenya. Secondly, the bad guys in this film were the drug industry and this is a big issue in Brazil. The Brazilian government has provided free treatment for AIDS for the last 6 years. It’s a very expensive program but it is one of the few things that really work well in Brazil. About four years ago, the government tried to lower the cost of the program by producing its own generic drugs and this became a big issue between Brazil and the US drug companies. So I was very interested in exploring the working of “Big Pharma” companies.

    Q: I’m an African and therefore bring an African point of view to this. It seemed to me that the African characters were always shown in noisy crowds as part of a large group but when the European characters were shown in the market they spoke clearly and distinctly as individuals. As a Brazilian, what were your feelings when shooting the film?
    Fernando Meirelles: I think you have a good point. When I decided to do the film I asked the producer for time to work on the script. I went back to Brazil and worked with two Brazilian writers on the film. The story is told from a British viewpoint with a lot of British characters and references to British society. British society is a lot like Indian society with a strict caste system. Your class is based on your parent’s status. Since I didn’t really understand this type of society I took it all out of the script and tried to include more Kenyans. We created 3 Kenyan characters and created a couple of scenes for them. But the first cut of the film was 3 hours long and we had to trim things. We had to take out the scenes with the Kenyans characters, together with a scene that we shot in Winnipeg which showed the drug company’s factory and a mini-documentary that we had inserted. When I watched all the subplots, I thought the audience would only be interested in Justin’s journey and all the rest didn’t work.

    Q: Who were the three Kenyan characters?
    Fernando Meirelles: First was the backstory of the guy who administers the AIDS test. Also, Justin’s servant is more complete. And we tell more about Grace, who is in the film briefly.

    Q: As a Kenyan, I hope that the situation in Kenya is not as bad as it is portrayed in the film. I know AIDS is a big problem.
    Fernando Meirelles: It is a big problem. One in every 9 persons has AIDS.
    Q: And the drug testing portrayed in the film?
    Fernando Meirelles: Actually, this story never happened in Kenya--it happened in Nigeria. John LeCarre, the author, based it on an incident in Nigeria but that incident is now being litigated in American courts. There is not a real drug called Dypraxa. The real health issue there is the story of the TB epidemic, which is spreading very quickly in Africa. One of the problems is that the cure for TB involves taking a pill for eight months. But many people feel better after taking it for a month or two and stop taking the pills. This creates a multi-resistant TB and that creates an even bigger problem. And even though the government allowed us to shoot in Kenya, the novel was banned in Kenya. The book had portrayed Kenya as thoroughly corrupt but it was written during Moi’s government. Everybody says the new government is better than the previous one. I hope so.

    Q: Could you tell about the differences in making City of God more or less on your own and then working for a company like Focus Films?
    Fernando Meirelles: It was very different, certainly. You are right that I did City of God all on my own and then sold it to Miramax. This film was originally supposed to be a British independent film, but some law changed while we were scouting for locations and all the money they were counting on disappeared. The producers had to sell the film to Focus. I was terrified at first because I thought Universal would come in and tell me what to do, but they were great. They never interfered or told me to cut anything. Of course, we would discuss the film and ran 2 test screenings in NY. But they are smart people who do smart films.

    Michael Kyrioglou: I thought this was an incredibly involving story line with a lot of thriller/suspense parts but with such a great story behind it.
    Fernando Meirelles: True. I don’t know if this is a love story, a thriller, a drama or what.

    Q: Could you tell us how much the movie cost and also about the casting.
    Fernando Meirelles: The movie had a budget of $25 million. Ralph was already attached to the movie when I came aboard so he had to approve of me as the director and not the other way around. The second step was to try and cast the part of Tessa. The first idea was to look for a very young Tessa, like she was in the book. We started looking at 19 and 20 year olds but we thought if she was that young, she might come across as naïve. So after 1 or 2 months of looking for young actresses we started looking at older ones and that was when I found Rachel [Weisz], whom I think is a great choice. She’s really smart and, like Tessa, she’s committed, knows what she wants and is very intelligent. For the love story, it would have been very interesting to have this very young girl challenging a 45 year old man. But for the drug company investigation part, it might not work. For the rest of the cast, I met a lot of other British stars in London that I didn’t know. I’d ask if they had done theatre and they’d say “Yes, for 42 years!” (Laughter)

    Michael Kyrioglou: You shot the film in a lot of locations. What was your shooting schedule?
    Fernando Meirelles: We shot the film in 12 weeks. Eight weeks in Kenya and 4 weeks in London, Winnipeg and Berlin.

    Q: Do you expect to hear from the pharmaceutical industry in their own defense?
    Fernando Meirelles: I don’t think we’ll hear because we weren’t against a specific company. We were a “generic” film. The film is about Big Pharma using Africans as guinea pigs in drug testing. But I think an even bigger problem may be the cost of drugs.

    Q: When you mentioned the distribution of 1200 prints, was that for the US or was that globally?
    Fernando Meirelles: Just for the US. In October it will be released in the UK and that’s all we have set for now. We’re waiting for an answer from the Venice Film Festival.

    Q: I’m from Oxfam. I think this movie is a great way to help advocacy agencies like us get our message to broader audiences across the country.
    Fernando Meirelles: I hope so. Originally, there was a 9-minute documentary about AIDS inserted in the middle of the film. But, like the Kenyan characters, we had to take it out because the film was so long. But it will be on the DVD.
    Michael Kyrioglou: In a similar vein, I read that you worked on the play about AIDS that was shown in the film.
    Fernando Meirelles: The play that you see at the beginning of the film being performed in the slums is a beautiful thing. My idea was to use about 12 minutes of it in the movie but…the DVD will have it all.

    Bring-your-own-film event spotlights historic amateur work

    Third Annual International Home Movie Day to Showcase Amateur Filmmaking

    On August 13, 2005, archivists will take time out of the vaults to help the public to learn about and enjoy films now considered obsolete. Home Movie Day shows how home movies on 8mm, Super8, and 16mm film offer a unique "you are here" view of decades past, often in gorgeous living color, and are an important part of personal, community, and cultural history.

    "Saving our film heritage should not be limited only to commercially produced films,” says legendary director and film preservation advocate Martin Scorsese. “Home movies do not just capture the important private moments of our family's lives, but they are historical and cultural documents as well. Consider Abraham Zapruder's 8mm film that recorded the assassination of President Kennedy or Nickolas Muray's famously vibrant color footage of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera shot with his 16mm camera. Imagine how different our view of history would be without these precious films. Home Movie Day is a celebration of these films and the people who shot them. I urge anyone with an interest in learning more about how to care for and preserve their own personal memories to join in the festivities being offered in their community on August 13th."

    Don't throw your films away--take them to Home Movie Day! Local film archivists will be on hand at the Washington, DC, Home Movie Day event, and will discuss the best way to care for home movies. And, best of all, there will be continuous screenings of home movies brought by participants! All films will be inspected and projected on a first-come, first-served basis. Damaged films will not be screened. No films of your own? Just come and watch the show! Visit the
    Home Movie Day website.

    Warehouse Theater Screening Room
    1021 Seventh Street, NW, Washington, DC
    August 13, 2005 -- 7:00pm to 9:00pm

    We Need to Hear From YOU

    We are always looking for film-related material for the Storyboard. Our enthusiastic and well-traveled members have written about their trips to the Cannes Film Festival, London Film Festival, Venice Film Festival, Telluride Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival, Edinburgh Film Festival, the Berlin Film Festival—and for the first time the Munich Film Festival. We also heard about what it's like being an extra in the movies. Have you gone to an interesting film festival? Have a favorite place to see movies that we aren't covering in the Calendar of Events? Seen a movie that blew you away? Read a film-related book? Gone to a film seminar? Interviewed a director? Read an article about something that didn't make our local news media? Send your contributions to Storyboard and share your stories with the membership. And we sincerely thank all our contributors for this issue of Storyboard.

    Calendar of Events


    American Film Institute Silver Theater
    All six of the popular Thin Man movies with William Powell and Myrna Loy will be shown in August. Also a series of 1950s films by Douglas Sirk and a series of films by Jim Jarmusch. Check the website for titles, dates, and times.

    Freer Gallery of Art
    The 10th Annual Hong Kong series of films ends this month with Come Drink With Me (King Hu, 1966) on August 5 at 7:00pm and August 7 at 2:00pm; Security Unlimited (Michael Hui, 1981) on August 12 at 7:00pm and August 14 at 2:00pm; Police Story (Jackie Chan, 1985) on August 19 at 7:00pm and August 21 at 2:00pm; and The Killer (John Woo, 1989) on August 26 at 7:00pm and August 28 at 2:00pm. Two films from Indonesia are also screened: on August 18 at 7:00pm is Whispering Sands (Nan Achnas, 2001) and on August 20 at 2:00pm is A Courtesan (Nia Dinata, 2002).

    National Gallery of Art
    The Gallery continues its series of recently preserved films in August with Pather Panchali (Satyajit Ray, 1955) on August 6 at 2:30pm; The Man From Planet X (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1951) shown with Edgar G. Ulmer--The Man Off-screen (Michael Palm, 2004) on August 7 at 4:30pm; Suspicion (Alfred Hitchcock, 1941) shown with Shadow of a Doubt (Alfred Hitchcock, 1943) on August 13 at 2:30pm; Summertime (David Lean, 1955) on August 14 at 4:30pm; and The Women (George Cukor, 1939) on August 20 at 2:30pm. Two early films by Frank Capra The Italian Cruiser Libia Visits San Francisco and Fultah Fisher's Boarding House will be accompanied by Gillian Anderson on August 27 at 2:30pm. Paid (Sam Wood, 1930), shown with three short films is on August 28 at 4:30pm. The American premiere of Souls of Naples (Vincent Monnikendam, 2005) is on August 21 at 4:30pm.

    National Museum of African Art
    Recalling the Future (2000), a short documentary about modern African artists, is on August 28 at 2:00pm.

    National Museum of the American Indian
    A documentary Into the Circle: An Introduction to Oklahoma Powwows and Celebrations (Scott Swearingen, 1992), filmed at dances in Oklahoma, presenting interviews with elders and dancers and exploring powwow history, etiquette, regalia and dances, is on August 5 at noon and August 13 at 3:00pm. Another documentary about dance, The World of American Indian Dance (Randy Martin, 2003), on August 6 at noon and August 12 at 3:00pm, looks at the meaning and origin of many American Indian dances.

    Films on the Hill
    "A survey of Westerns through four decades" includes films from the 1910s, 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. The legendary Tom Mix and William S. Hart can be seen in a silent double feature of The Disciple (William S. Hart, 1915) and The Last Trail (Louis Seiler, 1927) on August 10. The 1930s is represented by Walter Huston in Law and Order (Edward L. Cahn, 1932) and the 1940s by Robert Taylor in Billy the Kid (David Miller, 1941). All are preceded by a western comedy short.

    Washington Jewish Community Center
    "Soiree on the Steps" ends in August with Rosehill (Mari Cantu, 2004), a Hungarian film set in 1956 during the Hungarian revolution, about a veteran communist who has rejected his Jewish family roots.

    Pickford Theater
    "Alain Delon in Hollywood" is a short series of three films Once a Thief (Ralph Nelson, 1964) on August 4; Lost Command (Mark Robson, 1966 on August 11; and Scorpio (Michael Winner, 1972) on August 19. All are at 7:00pm.

    Goethe Institute
    "Great Novels, Great Films," a series of films based on novels by the Mann brothers (Thomas, Heinrich and Klaus) concludes in August. On August 15 is Die Buddenbrooks (Alfred Weidenmann, 1959) (no English subtitles); on August 22 is The Kaiser's Lackey (Wolfgang Staudte, 1951); and on August 29 is Mephisto (Istvan Szabo, 1981). All start at 6:30pm.

    The National Theatre
    The series of Hollywood baseball movies ends August with Eight Men Out on August 1; Bull Durham on August 8; and The Rookie on August 15. All begin at 6:30pm.

    Screen on the Green
    Watch movies on the mall on a giant screen. All begin at dusk. On August 1 is Suspicion; on August 8 is Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; and on August 15 is The Big Sleep.

    Loews Cineplex "Fan Favorites" Film Series
    "Water" is the theme for August: on August 4 is Open Water; on August 11 is Whale Rider; on August 18 is Master and Commander; and on August 25 is A River Runs Through It. All begin at 8:00pm.

    Bethesda Outdoor Movies: Stars on the Avenue
    Bethesda's new outdoor movie series begins on August 10 with the great classic Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942). On August 11 is Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (Steven Spielberg, 1984), the second of the Indiana Jones series. Both begin approximately 9:00pm at the corner of Norfolk and Auburn Avenues in Bethesda.

    Cinema Arts Theater
    "Movies in the Morning" is a series of classic films shown Wednesdays through Sundays beginning around 10:00am. For August 3-7 is Bringing Up Baby (1938); Pat and Mike (1952); The Verdict (1982); and Topkapi (1964).

    The Avalon
    The Local Filmmaker Nights continue in August with the comedy Company Ink (Riyadh Mahmood) on August 3 at 9:15pm and the mockumentary Yes And (Jack Reda) on August 10 at 9:15pm.

    Previous Storyboards

    July, 2005
    June, 2005
    May, 2005
    April, 2005
    March, 2005
    February, 2005
    January, 2005
    December, 2004
    November, 2004
    October, 2004
    September, 2004
    August, 2004
    July, 2004
    June, 2004

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