The following is a panel I moderated at this year’s Traverse City Film Festival about the impact that social issue documentaries can have on society, as well as the responsibilities that come with it. The panelists were Pamela Yates, Paco de Onis, Pau Faus, and Zaradasht Ahmed. The panel was recorded on July 26th and broadcast on the local NPR station in Northern Michigan.
Last week, I tweeted out that I had been asked to give a keynote speech at the Cannes Film Festival. In an attempt at humor, I made it sound as if it had been a last minute thing, when in fact I’ve known about it for months. The truth is that I had been approached to help set the stage for a full day event–one in which the MEDIA Program of the European Union would take stock of trends in the film business, with the goal of setting priorities for the future of the program. In any case, here it is. Thanks are due to Tara Roy, one of my Columbia students, who taped it for me.
I heard the devastating news today that Jonathan Demme is no longer with us. I knew he had been ill, but the last time I saw him he looked like he was back to his normal self and seemed to be in quite good spirits. But then again, Jonathan always gave off the vibe of being in good spirits. I had the pleasure of working with him on two of his films, and then peripherally on two others, and in all that time he never treated me with anything but the utmost respect.
Jonathan Demme (bottom) and me (top) at Sundance in the ’80s. I have no recollection who the other folks are.
I first met Jonathan shortly after the Cinecom team screened “Stop Making Sense” and we immediately decided we wanted to distribute it. The film had been financed by Warner Brother Records; from their perspective, it was merely a promotional film intended to broaden the appeal of Talking Heads. We saw the film differently, as Demme was already on our radar as someone we would love to work with. Yes, it was a great concert film, but the simplicity with which it captured a live performance and made it feel as immediate and exciting as if you were in the room–this was something new. This was pure cinema.
Jonathan was coming off of a few films that, while well received critically, had not exactly set the world on fire. Worse yet, he had just finished “Swing Shift,” a fairly big budget Hollywood movie he wasn’t all that pleased with, that tanked at the box office. The experience of “Stop Making Sense” seemed to him like a breath of fresh air at a time when his Hollywood stock was not exactly rising. Perhaps it was his publicity background kicking in, but he was unusually respectful of the work being done to market and distribute the film, and showered us with public praise when the film outperformed expectations. Continue reading →
In yesterday’s New York Times, the showrunners of several current political TV dramas discuss how the outrageousness of current political reality has affected the plotlines of their shows. Some of them talk about how they had to change the direction of the current season to take into account the real-life headlines that, in some cases, might make a plot twist dated or moot. Reading this, I couldn’t help but feel that there’s another side to this—one that these showrunners might not want to face: that these fictional television series have unwittingly aided and abetted a climate of mistrust for government and the rise of “fake news.”
Fictional TV has always had a side that was “ripped from the headlines.” Famously, the “Law and Order” series would take actual tabloid stories and fictionalize them just enough to pass muster without needing the rights to anyone’s particular story.
In recent years, there has been a spate of series that have one underlying theme—cynicism about our government. This list of shows is long, and includes everything from “Madam Secretary” to “The Good Wife” to “House of Cards” to “Homeland” to “Designated Survivor” to “Scandal”—even to “Game of Thrones.” Continue reading →
This past Tuesday night, I was honored by the Art House Convergence with the first annual Spotlight Lifetime Achievement Award. Since then, I’ve been asked by many people who were there if I could post my acceptance speech. Thanks to the good folks at 4th Row Films, who were there to capture it, here it is. They even were so kind to insert the video that was made by Spotlight Cinema Network. Thanks to one and all.
This is the final part of a series. You can start at the beginning here
I actually never thought I’d see the day.
The experience of this year’s baseball season for an old Cubs fan like me was nothing short of magical. And my lifelong quest to be at Wrigley for every postseason game in my lifetime has been completed. It couldn’t have ended on a higher note. I feel fulfilled. I was there when it happened.
This victory is so very sweet. This is for Ernie Banks and Ron Santo and Harry Carey and Steve Goodman and the millions of other fans and players who never got to see this day. It’s for every underdog in every pursuit. It’s for everyone who loves baseball, still the most beautiful, most storybook of all sports. Continue reading →
This is part 8 of a series. You can start at the beginning here.
After the Cubs victory in Game 5, my phone went haywire with messages from friends and family. Everyone was asking the same question, “Are you going to Cleveland?” I responded to each one of them, “If there’s a Game 7, I’ll be there. I haven’t decided about Game 6 yet.”
The truth is, I had decided days ago that I would only go to Game 7, assuming it was played. For one thing, I had no connection for tickets in Cleveland (believe me, I tried every angle I could think of) and tickets were going for astronomical prices. By skipping Game 6 and focusing on Game 7, if I had to spend big bucks, at least it would only be for one game. Also, my travel was already set for the return flight to New York, and changing it around would be a pain in the neck. Continue reading →
This is part 7 of a series. You can start at the beginning here.
Game 4, Indians at Cubs, Wrigley Field
I texted Jeff Santo to see if he was in town for the games. Jeff is the son of Cubs legend Ron Santo, and I had worked with Jeff a decade ago on a film about his Dad. Jeff replied that he was indeed in town, but that he only had tickets for Game 5. He would be watching Game 4 at a bar in Wrigleyville called the Schoolyard. We conspired to meet there prior to the game so we could see each other.
Meanwhile I started to get antsy, so I started waking toward the ballpark even though it was quite early. I purposely wove my way though side streets that I was unfamiliar with. When I finally reached the Wrigleyville area, it was almost time to head to the bar to meet up with Jeff. Just like every other bar in the area, the Schoolyard had a long line of people waiting to get in. I mentioned to the bouncer at the door that I was with Jeff Santo, and he said Jeff hadn’t arrived yet, but he had a table put aside for him and his party. As I hung out in front, a couple of other guys arrived asking for Jeff. We connected and started talking about all things Chicago while waiting for Jeff to arrive. Then I got a text from Jeff saying that his Uber was tied up in traffic. By the time he finally arrived, I had to run off to meet up with John Iltis, who had the tickets for tonight’s game. A quick hug and off I went. Continue reading →