At the Sundance premiere of Steve James’ film about Roger Ebert, “Life Itself,” I found myself sitting next to Barbara Kopple. Barbara and I have known each other for a long time, and I’m a huge fan of her work. When I worked at Cinema 5, I did co-op advertising for “Harlan County USA,” and many years later I worked with her to find the financing for her “Woodstock ’94” doc. Since both of us are New Yorkers, we see each other a lot at screenings and other industry events.
Before the Ebert film began, Barbara and I were chatting and the subject of Don Rugoff came up. Barbara told me a couple of stories about her experience with his distribution of “Harlan County,” and it was one of those moments where I wished I had brought a camera with me to capture them.
Later, when I finally decided I was making a film about Rugoff, Barbara was on my list of people to interview, but she was going through an extraordinarily busy period in her career, so it was near impossible to find a time to do it. I caught her off guard at an event and sprung my camera on her, so the interview was impromptu and rushed. It turned out, unbeknownst to me at the time, that the camera was acting up, so you’ll have to forgive a few moments of soft focus in this great outtake clip, in which Barbara talks about the early history of “Harlan County,” when she had no idea that it would become the sensation that it later became.
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