An Interview with Charlotte Fantelli, Writer/Director/Producer – Journey to Le Mans

Charlotte Fantelli

“Challenge yourself to do something you know you could never do – and what you will find is that you can overcome anything…” – Anon

The motor racing documentary “Journey To Le Mans” ( reviewed here ) was an intense and exciting look at the JOTA Sport Team’s entry into the 2014 European Le Mans Series (ELMS) culminating in the race at the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans. What made the film even more impressive was that it was the debut film for Charlotte Fantelli, who wrote, directed and produced the documentary. Wanting to know more about her amazing journey I managed to track her down and she very kindly agreed to be interviewed. Read on for an inspiring story.

Documentary Dude You had no previous background in film-making, had never made a film before.  Most people without that sort of experience would never dream of making a film.  Explain how you got the idea and the belief that you could make it happen?

Charlotte Fantelli I had always written films since I was a kid, albeit for my bottom drawer so it was a lifelong dream. I suppose the belief came from a place where I didn’t believe anything was impossible. I’d faced quite a few challenges in my younger years and I think it kinda toughened me up enough to know that I wasn’t scared of getting up again if I failed, which really is quite a liberating state of mind. I also believed if other people had done it why couldn’t I.

The idea came a couple of years before-hand, I have always loved motorsport and while hearing a drivers talk from JOTA Sport while watching the ELMS I was captured by the real feat of human endurance, dedication and physical fitness it took to race. I’d always looked at the cars in awe and yet the men (and women) that drive them and the team that surround them tell the real story, a story that captured my imagination and one I wanted to bring to life.

DD From getting the idea to completion of the film how long did the whole process take? How much of that was actual filming?

CF So the idea was bubbling away for a year or two while I was in business and busy with family and work, it wasn’t until I gave up the business to pursue my film dream that pen hit paper on the project. I pitched it to ITV in Feb (2013), when I had a positive response from them, as in, they agreed to air it (if I funded it). I set about looking at other platforms and financial opportunities for it.  This process took a lot of time and energy, in fact it was still going on after filming started.

We first shot a frame in September 2013 at Paul Ricard Circuit, we finished official race filming at Le Mans June 2014, and picked up a few days filming after this. The post-production started at the end of June and would have finished before our premier day in November 2014, however we had a few issues with this and the international edit took far longer.

DD I understand Simon Dolan was already an investor in one of your businesses.  Given that you had already worked together and that the film revolves around his team JOTA Sport do you think that made things easier for the film than if it was someone completely unknown to you?

CF Of course, Simon was my way in to the team, and without that sort of relationship where you can really be accepted into the heart of the action it couldn’t possibly have been the same. I also think that us being a small production crew and really getting close to all the members of the team helped portray the emotional side of things, for example when Simon had his crash we made a very awkward, very unpleasant few minutes viewing, as well as it being sad it is also very chilling and unnerving, we lived those long minutes (nearly 30) not knowing and our investment in what was going on allowed us to portray it much more realistically.

DD How did you go about assembling your team?

CF I wanted the very very best team possible so I started by finding out who had made films/programmes of this nature. I knew I needed a very experienced crew as I was so inexperienced myself. The obvious productions that came to mind were Top Gear, Fifth Gear and F1. So, I set about contacting directors, producers and crew who had this experience. I met with as many as I could, I learned as much as I could, I asked, I listened and I grew contacts.

I ended up with two guys Stuart Keasley and Adam Parkes from Black Flag TV. Black Flag had fantastic equipment and knowledge of this type of shoot and understood filming cars from every angle, especially the specialist mini cameras as these at times had to be worked into the car – a car that needed every gram to win a race, the aero, the weight etc etc all had to balance and I needed experts to help. It turned out that Stu and Adam were fantastic guys and ended up being my DOPs (Directors of Photography)  and helped shape the whole production with me. I learned that giving them my vision and listening to their expertise, feedback and direction enabled me to get the story I wanted and learn about filmmaking as I went. It was a very give and take dynamic.

The biggest shoot we had a crew of about 20, this was when we hired Blyton Park circuit, here we were able to get tracking shots and other bits we simply couldn’t in race conditions, but usually on race days we were a crew of about 3, I remember Spa circuit where I decided to save money and AC myself… Never again! To all directors, never underestimate the job of an assistant cameraman – I think I still have the scars on my feet! At Le Mans we had three crews who covered the 24 hours, most of them Top Gear guys.

DD As a new unproven film-maker, obtaining funding must have been difficult?

CF Funding was very very difficult. Many people have said surely Simon or Jota helped fund it, but no, firstly it would’ve been a complete conflict of interest and secondly even if we all wanted it, ITV, our biggest UK platform wouldn’t allow any funds to come from that direction, it was made very clear as an impartial editorial piece and not ‘an advert’ it had to be third party funded.

I put in the first £40k from savings my husband and I had from our wedding gifts and house deposit. Next I maxed out my borrowing with two whacking great £25k loans and nearly £10k on credit cards… NOT how I would suggest anyone does it, but I was in deep and kept digging, at one point my £3k overdraft was maxed too and I had two jobs while doing 70hours + a week on Journey to Le Mans.

I was turned down by 147 potential sources of funds as I pushed on with filming regardless. One day I had T.J. Scott the amazing director of Spartacus/Longmire/Black Sails, flying in from LA, he was coming to Silverstone with us and I didn’t even have the money for our passes let alone a film crew… About an hour before his plane took off I secured the £6k I needed and Stu and Adam also chipped in and now own 3% of the film.

Finally on the home straight I secured private funding and one sponsor pontjago.com and together we made it to Le Mans…

DD How did you manage to get  such a big star as Sir Patrick Stewart onboard as a narrator?

CF Again, getting Patrick Stewart came from the same bloody-minded determination as everything else. I asked my husband who he thought should narrate and he said Patrick Stewart, I said ‘fine I’ll get him’. I managed to get his email address and sent a personal note. Knowing he was a huge motorsport fan helped and before long I had his commitment, I just had to talk numbers with his agent. 

DD When Simon Dolan had his crash at the beginning of the season, this must have made you think that the whole project was over?

CF Ha, funnily enough no. When Simon had his accident those first 30 – 40 minutes we only thought about Simon, will he live, walk, you know I don’t think I even thought about the project.  Adam Parkes and I were in the pit lane waiting for Simon to come in when it happened, my son, husband and friends were in the garage and a deathly silence hit, my blood ran cold when I saw what had happened, I just wanted to be with them and the team. Adam however is ex military and was absolutely resolute in his role as DOP to capture everything, so that whatever the outcome we could have made something very special (obviously family and team willing) but as I say it wasn’t really thought of in that way, we all just acted in the moment.

DD Not wanting to give too much away, although the results are in the public domain, the season ending must have been a dream come true for the project?

CF Indeed, I remember being asked the night of the premiere what did you think when the team won. My response then is the same now, I said ‘I thought shit I might actually make my money back’… That week had been full of ups and downs and when we lost Marc Gene on the Wednesday, that was really when I thought it could be over, I mean losing our platinum driver just before the race, if the team didn’t make the finish line there is still a story, but not to make the start line?? So yes, it was very emotional, obviously I was ecstatic and emotionally invested in the team, but selfishly my thoughts were with my own personal family investment as I had given up SO much to be there myself.

DD What was the most challenging part of the film making?

CF All of it. I think though I underestimated the post production, I thought it would all just fall into place as it was a real life story and we had captured it for a season, but it wasn’t like that at all. We had 100 hours of footage and some very big problems in the process, these maybe not the most challenging parts for most filmmakers, but for me they were due to my complete underestimation of the process.

DD Did you ever have any self doubt during the filming and how did you get through it?

CF Self doubt? I probably doubted myself 100 times a day but I didn’t let silly doubts get in my way. I actually and probably very egotistically, had told myself failure wasn’t an option and I truly made myself believe it and live it as if it were a foregone conclusion. I say look at each problem like a hurdle and not a dead end, this way there is ALWAYS a way to jump it, you just have to find the solution.

One night I remember it really hitting home, I was £60k in debt, had no money to film the next stage and on the phone to a friend asking for money. I’d stooped lower than I thought I could, they said no. I just remember hitting the floor in tears and I’m not the crying kind… Ah well, 10 minutes later I’d pulled myself together and tried something else. You just do – when failure isn’t an option.

DD If you were to do it again what, if anything, would you do differently?

CF The post production process. Let’s just say I was let down by my first choice edit suite despite it being booked for months. In haste to find another, I chose poorly and from going with very experienced crew to film with, I went to an inexperienced suite in post production. It turned out to be a very costly mistake and while I admire some of the people who worked hard with me to make it work, I have a £36k insurance payout for a ‘faulty edit’ and a year of my life I wont get back.

DD What has the response to the film been like?

CF It has been very good, although IMdB reviews are mixed, which frustrates me due to the fact 50% of them were American 6 months before the film was released stateside which means people either saw it illegally or gave fake ratings as we were not available in their country. IMdB takes no notice or responsibility of this. Amazon on the other hand, we have awesome 4/5* reviews and have been very well received.

I think you always take criticism to heart when you work so hard and invest in something emotionally, but the whole process has made me a much tougher person and to those who criticise I say ‘I have a film I made from scratch available in around 100 countries across the world, show me what you have done better’.

DD What advice would you give someone wanting to make their first documentary?

CF Surround yourself with experienced people, never pass up an opportunity to learn, throw yourself in and just ‘do’ it. I would suggest people secure funding before they jump in, as I probably risked too much, especially with a family. That said if I hadn’t risked everything, if I had not filmed that season, we wouldn’t have captured the most incredible story, yet to be replicated.

Ultimately believe in yourself and your dream and work harder than you ever thought possible, that is the only route to success.

DD What next for Fantelli Productions?

CF I am having a little time away, time with the family, the process was tougher than I imagined, I have some fabulous opportunities to be part of a production company at Shepperton Studios with Black Flag TV and some TV and film projects that just seem to find me, but I am concentrating on today before I rush in to the next ‘dream’.

DD How can people follow Charlotte Fantelli online?

CF Follow me @Cfantelli

Charlotte Fantelli

An Interview with Mira Rai, star of the film Mira

Mira Rai

Photo Credit: Lloyd Belcher

I recently reviewed the inspiring documentary ‘Mira’ about the young girl from a small village in Nepal who is now setting the trail running world on fire. ( Read the review here )

The New Zealand Trail Running magazine Kiwi Trail Runner recently featured an interview with Mira Rai and have very generously allowed me to reproduce the article here:

Mira Rai – The Nepalese Trail Running Phenomenon

If you don’t already know the name Mira Rai,  I am sure you soon will. This diminutive 24 year old from Nepal has burst onto the international trail running scene seemingly from nowhere, with astonishing success.

A year ago she didn’t even know trail running was a sport. To her it was just a way to get around in an area so remote and mountainous that a journey to buy supplies from the nearest shop can easily take 3-5 hours  on foot. Since then she has won 13 of the 19 races she has entered and had a podium finish in another 4! Her victories include races in the Asian Sky Running Championships in Hong Kong and setting a new women’s record at the Mont Blanc 80km!

Raised in a mud walled house, without power or running water, in a remote village in the Bhojpur region of Eastern Nepal, she grew up as the second of 5 siblings, her parents, subsistence farmers. Life was not easy and regular meals were often dependent on the weather and the quality of the harvest. Mira dropped out of school early to help support the family, carrying sacks of rice to the market for hours over mountain trails. In retrospect this must have been good training for what was to come.

At the age of 14 in search of a better life she ran away from home and joined the rebel Maoist Army. Nepal had been battling a civil war for the previous 10 years but by 2006 the peace treaty between the Maoists and the Nepali Government had already been signed so Mira was fortunate not to see any fighting. Life wasn’t much easier though with the discipline and the daily survival and weapons training but there was regular food and the opportunity to train in sports, to build up her fitness. She learnt Karate and became a brown belt but it was running that gave her the greatest pleasure.

The camp was eventually closed down and her unit absorbed into the Nepali Army. Mira was discharged, and not wanting to return to her former life in the village, travelled to Kathmandu. With limited resources she stayed with friends, and focused on track and road running. However fate, as it so often does, was to play another hand.

One day on a training run she met another runner who told her about a mountain race that was free for Nepali women to enter and so a few days later she found herself on the start line of the ‘Himalayan Outdoor Festival 50km’. The only local woman to enter, she seemed woefully unprepared, clad in a cotton t-shirt, tracksuit pants and without food or water.…………She won the race!

A month later she won the multi stage Mustang Trail Race and it was then that people started taking notice. Well-wishers and friends raised funds for her to compete in Italy, her first ever trip overseas. Last minute Visa problems meant she arrived just before the race but it didn’t stop her winning the Sellaronda, a tough 59 km run through the Italian Dolomites.

More victories followed, bringing her to the attention of Salomon who now sponsor her race and travel expenses. Her multiple successes in Hong Kong have resulted in a soon to be released documentary on her life.

Inspired by her meteoric rise and wanting to know more, we enlisted the help of her mentor, Trail Running Nepal’s Richard Bull, and an interpreter, and managed to track down Mira during a brief return visit to Nepal to ask her a few questions about her new life as an international runner:

When did you first start running and why?

  • I actually started running while I was in the Maoist camps when I was 15. We used to have many sports and I got opportunities to join in. I was pretty capable in running then but you can say that I began from my childhood, running up and down the hills, near my village.

We had heard that you had initially focused on running track, what made you switch to trails?

  • I was still running tracks when I was introduced to trail running for the first time through the Himalayan Outdoor Festival. Since then I’ve seen my strength is on trails and, I leave track now to the experts!

Where is your favorite place to run?

  • I like running anywhere. I don’t have a particular place. But if I had to mention the trails that I have run, I liked Hong Kong and Manaslu (Nepal) trails particularly.

How do you find the trails in the mountains in Nepal different to the ones you have been running in Europe?

  • In terms of difficulty, there is not much difference in the trails of Nepal and those of Europe. But, the trails in Europe are managed and more developed and easier to run on.

What’s a typical training day like for you?

  • In Nepal, I run different distances every day. Sometimes, I run for 1-2 hours, sometimes for 5-6 hours and on occasions, even 9-10 hours. The trainings are similar abroad as well. I train both hard and easy. Usually, I run 5-6 hours a day. For ultra, most is slow fat burning running with sections of high heart rate running.

What does your family think about what you do?

  • My family has been really supportive and encouraging of my pursuit of sports. My parents are very happy with the wins that I have had. I don’t know why I began running in the first place, but when I see my family, I am very happy to have followed this path. 

How did you feel when you first went overseas to race?

  • After I won the Mustang Trail Race, I was invited to participate in an international race. Travelling overseas was a very different and exciting experience for me. I went out of my country for the first time, all on my own. Undoubtedly, there were many obstacles but it still remains one of the most memorable events. The race (Sellaronda) was very difficult; I had to cross four hilltops. But I loved the challenge.

Has it been hard getting sponsorship to run overseas?

  • Getting sponsorship is quite difficult. But I am lucky I got chances. In the beginning, Trail Running Nepal supported me and now Salomon team has been supporting my travel as well.

Have things changed now you are getting international recognition?

  • With me, my country is getting recognition too, and so are the women of our country who have had a challenging childhood and life. More people in my country now have knowledge about trail running; a sport, which is not well known in Nepal. I feel I can push myself even harder now, that I have more people supporting me. Besides this, well, not much has really changed.

How has running changed your life?

  • Running has given a purpose to my life. Also, I earned recognition for myself and my country through running.

Do you think from the time you started running to now, the running scene in Nepal has changed?

  • It hasn’t been long since I started running. The situation hasn’t changed much although I am hopeful that more people now know about trail running than before.

Given your experience with international races, how would you like the running scene in Nepal to progress from here?

  • Many people don’t see trail running as a significant sport in Nepal, although its potential is obvious here. There is no governmental or non-governmental support for trail runners in Nepal. They need to find sponsors or support groups which is very difficult. Development of running trails is important and we runners can work on that.

What advice would you give someone just starting out?

  • Well, the most important thing is that you need to enjoy and secondly, focus is important. When I run, I have no idea what is going around, all I know is that I am running, and I should be running. You should run freely.

Any plans to run in New Zealand in the future?

  • I don’t have particular plans at the moment, but I would love to. I am willing to take up any opportunity that comes my way.

Following this interview, Mira Rai competed in the final race of the World Skyrunner Series, the 110 km Ultra Pirineau in the Spanish Pyrenees. Challenging the Swedish runner Emelie Forsberg for this year’s title, Mira pushed her hard over the mountainous course. In a nail biting duel, the duo were neck and neck for much of the race. At 100 kms Mira was just 90 seconds behind Emilie, who eventually claimed the win and the series title. Mira came in second just 2 minutes behind, and achieved an incredible 2nd place in the series in just her first year of competition. For her to be challenging Emelie Forsberg, the 3 time World Skyrunning Champion so closely hints at great things to come from this phenomenal young runner.

Useful links:

Ronaldo

I enjoy watching documentaries about famous people. We build up a picture in our heads of how a celebrity is, what they do, how they function, but it’s usually based on half knowledge, based as it is on news reports and social media. What we read is often filtered through someone else’s prejudices and gives us a biased picture of the person.

Documentaries help us form our own opinions, help us to build a broader opinion of a person, and although they too will be filtered through the film-makers biases, hopefully help to fill in the gaps in our knowledge.

Now I’m not a football fan, I don’t watch matches or follow the football news. However I do know who Christiano Ronaldo is. Who doesn’t? His face is seen on billboards all over the world, his achievements are well known.

The film “Ronaldo” although not an in-depth documentary, takes you with the famous footballer for just over a year as he trains, plays and relaxes at home with his son and family.

We learn about his family, where he has come from, how he started. We get to see his brother, who talks about his struggle with addiction, how he coped with it and now manages Ronaldo’s museum, and what it is like to be living in the shadow of his famous brother. It delves into the loss of his father to alcoholism, the fact that his mother originally wanted to abort him, and his life with his young son, who he obviously loves immensely. One gets the impression that he misses his father a great deal and wants to be the best possible parent to his son.

Ronaldo” is not a critical documentary, more a show-piece of the lifestyle of a successful footballer but nevertheless we do get an insight into his life and his thoughts.

There are a few scenes that seem rehearsed or staged, like when Ronaldo asks his son to guess which one of the sports-cars is missing from the garage  but this goes to highlight the seeming insecurity of the man. Perhaps this insecurity is what drives him to be so good? To keep striving for success? This again is pointed to when we see his reaction to his rival Lionel Messi winning multiple Ballon D’ors.

One gets the feeling that despite all the success, all the acclaim, all the material rewards, that he is troubled and not truly happy. We tend to idolise these famous figures, make them larger than life, but really what does come across in a film like this is that they are just as human as the rest of us, with, just like us, all their own personal demons to conquer.

Ronaldo
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An interview with Damon Gameau, Writer/Director – That Sugar Film

Damon Gameau

 I loved ‘That Sugar Film.’ It was entertaining and explained the science and dangers of sugar in an easy to understand way. (read my review here).

The film has met with massive worldwide success, ensuring international recognition for the Writer/ Director, and star of the movie, Damon Gameau.

Damon was kind enough to spare some time from his busy travel schedule to answer some of our questions:

Documentary Dude This, I understand, was your first major film? What made you decide on a documentary and why about sugar?

Damon Gameau There were so many conflicting views about it in the press that I wanted to find out the truth for myself and share that with people.

DD How long did the film take to make?

DG 3 years from idea to delivery. The edit and special FX process took 9 months.

DD Did you have the finished product in mind at the beginning or did the whole thing grow organically?

DG Very organically due to the nature of the narrative; an experiment. I was also sure that we wanted to make it sugary and fun and use all the trick that the food industry use to win us over.

DD I was surprised to see Hugh Jackman and Stephen Fry in the film. What made them get involved?

DG They knew we were trying to get the message to children. Most people are disturbed by the growing level of diet related diseases in our children. They were very keen to help spread the message

DD What I loved about the film is that the science is explained simply and it’s a film suitable for all ages. Was that a conscious decision?

DG Absolutely. These type of docos can often be dry and too ‘heady’. We really wanted to make an educational film that could be shared and enjoyed by the whole family. I think making people laugh no matter what information you are sharing is very important.

DD Were there any major problems you faced while filming?

DG Just trying to eat 40 teaspoons of sugar day and make a film was very tough. We were travelling with just a cameraman and myself and it was exhausting. We were doing sound, lights, camera, interviews and green screen travelling the world jacked up on sugar.

DD At any time during the 60 days were you scared or worried about what was happening to your health?

DG Towards the end I was. My girlfriend was heavily pregnant and I had a real fear of missing the birth. That would have been horrible.

DD How difficult was it for you to give up sugar the first time?

DG Very easily because I didn’t realize I was doing it, it just happened naturally over a few months.

DD What advice would you give someone wanting to give up or reduce the amount of sugar in their diet?

DG Be gentle and kind to yourself. Use fruit as a transition sweetener and trust that your taste buds will adjust. Remember too that you aren’t ‘quitting’ anything or giving it up..you are reducing and stepping into a much better, happier and consistent way of living. 

DD What tips would you give for someone having sugar cravings?

DG Healthy fats like avocado, nuts or a coconut product is great.

DD How has the film itself changed or impacted your life?

DG Enormously. We have been overwhelmed with how it has been received. I know too much now and will always have this topic close to my heart no matter what other films I make.

DD What advice would you give someone wanting to make their first documentary?

DG Assemble a wonderful team and trust the power of collaboration. Things get more magical when you can surrender ego. Also, always tell the truth, the audience demands that in a doco and make something that really captures your heart because it can be a long process to get it made.

DD The film has met with great success. What next for you? Have you been inundated with offers for a next project ?

DG I have some ideas but am not rushing into anything. I want to enjoy being a Dad for a while. The film has robbed me of that a little bit this year with all the travelling.

DD Where can people find/follow you online?

DG thatsugarfilm.com or on Facebook or Twitter.

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An Interview with Babita Modgil – Producer, Belly of The Tantra/Sudden Cry

Babita Modgil

 

“Banned, Censored & Offensive: The Not-So-Freedom of Speech”

 

Indian Film-maker, Babita Modgil produced and directed the controversial film ‘Belly of The Tantra’ which examined the often shocking lifestyles and practices of members of the Aghori sect of Shaivite Hinduism in India. The film ‘ruffled a few feathers’ and ended up being banned for a while by the Indian Government. It has since been released for public viewing and has been doing the rounds of the film festivals. Many of the scenes in the film are quite disturbing.

You can read my review of ‘Belly of The Tantra’ here, and  also subsequent interviews with the Director, Pankaj Purohit, and Producer, Jeremy Weaver.

Babita Modgil’s current project is the documentary film ‘Sudden Cry’, a look into the sinister world of child trafficking, to be released in 2016.

In the following candid interview, Babita Modgil talks about the struggles and difficulties she encounters as a female documentary film-maker in India:

Question The Documentaries ‘Belly of The Tantra’, ‘Tathagata’ and now ‘Sudden Cry’ are all unconventional films to come out of India. What intrigued you to the hard-hitting topics featured throughout these films?

Answer ‘Belly’ was an attempt to fearlessly touch my belief system. It significantly compromised my identity as a dedicated follower of Hinduism. It was extremely challenging for me to comprehend the fact that being a Hindu could reach extreme levels far greater than simply chanting mantras.
These followers who sacrifice animals, consume human flesh, indulge in sex with virgin girls in order to attain power to appease their Gods & Goddesses were also Hindus. God, to me, has always been very peculiar and I am unsure of his or her existence. If God does exist, I am uncertain of the form God inhabits. It is scary, thinking of a scenario, where one talks to God and then suddenly God starts talking back. For instance, if God comes into someone’s dream and says kill and they then set out to kill. This is the kind of one-dimensional mindset many so-called religious people can have.
I needed to have the courage to break my conditioning through the process of ‘Belly’ and as the film progressed, it became very difficult for me to understand my own religion and their version of that same religion.

Q. What intrigued you about the taboo nature of religion touched on in ‘Belly’?

A. Today, religion has become the most successful business throughout the world because you can simply sell fear in the name of God and nobody is going to question you. Unfortunately, this is especially true in a country like India. And even worse, if a woman questions God and the ways of worship, it becomes a greater blasphemy and her voice will be undeniably crushed.
I wonder how far we have really evolved as a humanity when we sacrifice reality in the name of fiction and when we live our lives based on some books that were written thousands of years ago. When Pankaj Purohit, the director of ‘Belly of the Tantra’, pitched me the film, I was very intrigued because I was about to tap into something that was totally unfamiliar to me. Questions like – Why most religions are fear based; why does an individual need a religion in the first place; why do we worship some unknown entity called God; if God is one then why do we all have different religions; and why do we all want to prove that our God is superior to another’s God?

Q. As a female filmmaker, did any of your discoveries about Hinduism from ‘Belly’, carry over to your process when filming ‘Sudden Cry’?

A. In ‘Sudden Cry’, I’m challenging our hypocritical society. On one hand, based on the scriptures, India worships many Goddesses in female form and worships holy rivers named after those Goddesses, but on the other hand, many of those same people buy and sell little girls and forcefully push them to be sex slaves and prostitutes.
I want to know what kind of culture we’re living in and I look for those answers in my work as a filmmaker. Where have we reached as a society? Child trafficking and sex slavery has turned out to be the second most profitable and criminal industry in the world. Disturbingly, India is rated in the top 5 of unsafe nations for women and young girls in the world. We have crossed all the limits of greed as human beings here. India says we have evolved and I am not sure about that. It is a great concern for me as a woman and as an artist.
I remember a man once told me publicly that he can rape me, murder me and get away with it. In India, a man thinks he can do whatever he wants with a woman’s body. He thinks it only becomes rape when the woman objects and at that point, it is the woman that has made the act a “problem” and therefore, if a woman simply keeps her mouth shut and does not oppose, there would be no “rape”. To further distort and make the scenario even more of an already perverse violation, the man will then let the woman know that he is able to buy anyone and everyone in the corrupt system.
A woman in India has no choice when it comes to rape. Rather than an issue to address and abolish, rape has become a joke. As a humanity, we have become numb to issues like these. We believe in turning our backs and saying, “Thank God it did not happen to me.” It’s unfortunate that our society is slowly and gradually becoming regressive and that is not a good sign for any kind of progressive spirit for any nation. Disappointingly, as a female or an artist, there is no place in India for a woman like me.

Q. Very few women venture into such out of the box filmmaking. Did you feel apprehensive stepping into the field?

A. I believe in doing films that can stretch the humanity & morality of the self and the collective. Whether or not a film changes the world is not the point, but making an attempt to further our awareness is what I find most compelling and motivating. When I did ‘Belly’, it became very clear that I am ultimately on a path where I will face a lot of opposition and hurdles in creating something significant. It was absolutely frightening because we were exposed to the extreme fundamentalism of Hinduism and the opposition can go to extreme lengths to damage us. I was very fortunate to have had a team who stood with me and continues to be very passionate about the work I do.
During the filming of ‘Belly’, a group of tantriks tried to rape me while I was shooting in a shmashan ghat, where women are forbidden. It was a narrow escape. I did a lot of thinking about the kind of projects I pursued and realized that I could have died in the process. With ‘Belly’, I was threatened by fanatic Hindu groups many times and with ‘Sudden Cry’, I faced opposition, threats from the authorities and told not to film or ask important questions about the illegal prostitution of children. It’s clearly not something they want seen. I was attacked by a mob in Mandsaur while filming ‘Sudden Cry’ and they demanded that I give them my camera. I retreated to prevent the footage I had already filmed from being destroyed. Even groups such as Shiv Sena and VHP contacted me in person and over the phone and told me not to screen ‘Belly’ when complete. The Indian government went on to ban ‘Belly of the Tantra.’
I believe in showing a mirror to the society through my work. My relentless passion keeps me going, but it can be extremely challenging. At times, it feels futile. I make projects that I strongly believe in. I am glad that people across the world have watched ‘Belly’ and it has received tremendous respect across the globe. My hope is that ‘Sudden Cry’ finds an audience as well so the children affected get help. My film is for them above all else so how can I not pursue it?

Q. The banning trend in India is rampant. Do you feel that the audiences are turning a blind eye to a number of social issues not because of what they will learn about the issue, but rather what the issue will teach them about themselves?

A. The hypocrisy of Indian society and it’s system is so deep-rooted and corrupt, that it does not want to see it’s own face in the mirror. The reality jumps
and bites your ass. It stings. Intelligentsia in India wants to keep on projecting it’s so-called modern and progressive global image of the ‘ever-so growing’ India that they have completely ignored to fix the very basics of human rights. Women are violated every possible way. They’d rather sweep it under the rug. We helplessly can’t speak up as women. If you do muster up the courage, you will be punished. How can a country progress when their women and children feel unsafe because they are constantly in fear of getting raped, abused and killed? Is that progress? Is that evolution?
Instead of working on the issues of sex slavery and child trafficking, our government has started to ban projects that shed light on those ‘hush hush’ and important humanitarian problems. This is outrageous. I ask, what kind of democracy is there when a Nirbhaya rapist is roaming freely? This is why there are constant cases of rape and sexual abuse happening throughout India. Because of the corrupt system and rotten bureaucracy, no change has even been attempted. It is simple and tragic. The Indian justice system is so docile that they do not want to punish the rapist. It has become an ugly, dark and brutal comedy with horrific themes. One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I know that parents teach their girls to behave, but I have not yet seen boys being told to do the same. Of course they’ll ban me because I don’t say things they want to hear. Currently, it’s regressive vs. progressive battling in India. It’s possibly the worst scenario ever.

Q. Financial funding for projects such as yours can be hard to acquire. Have you faced major financial difficulties in any of your ventures?

A. Financially, it’s been extremely difficult. All the time. Money is difficult to come by for the kind of projects we make. In India, because the vast majority of films are Bollywood Masala, any film that attempts to provoke social and political acknowledgment and change is not considered at all. In our current culture, we’d rather feast on lollipops than anything with substance. Filmmakers in India neither attempt nor receive funding for projects that really affect social change. Because I am compelled to those kinds of projects, money is extremely elusive and financing becomes impossible. Bollywood is full of fluff paid for by businessmen claiming to be artists. Name one really substantial Indian film to affect any social change or global awareness in the past 10 years?

Q. What about artistically and humanely?

A. Artistically, I cry. I can certainly understand the notion of selling out to a business in order to make money, but if I solely follow that path, I will not contribute to anything essential and will perpetuate the lack of awareness, effort and meaning. I cannot do that. It feels unnatural to me. Overall, it’s very unfortunate to be stifled in this way because of the industry’s priorities to produce inconsequential and mediocre entertainment. I have done everything possible to make my films happen. I’ve sold my land, I’ve sold my jewellery. Humanely, you fight. I get up everyday and assert that I am not going to get bogged down by all the meaningless bullshit.

Q. As a woman and artist, you have faced innumerable setbacks while unraveling the hidden truths of the world. What are some incidents that will live on in your conscience? Has there ever been an incident that caused you to re-evaluate your line of work?

A. Well, injustice is happening right under our noses and we are willing to murder at any cost. Look what happened in New Delhi. Akhlaq was stone pelted and killed by hundreds of Hindu men. That wasn’t the society and tradition I grew up with. We were taught India “is all peace and love.” These harsher realities I had to discover through my art. And now I question – where is the democracy? Where is secularism? What kind of a nation are we becoming?
My work has made me think a lot about our society on an individual level and on the collective level as to where we came from and where we are headed. As far as setbacks, women have been setback ever since our scriptures were written. Sita had to go through fire to prove her character. In Mahabharata, Draupadi’s husband wagered her in a gamble and lost her. She was then stripped naked in front of the public and presented so everyone knew she was under new ownership. In our society, women are enslaved and a woman is only property to a man. Nothing more. For me, it’s extremely difficult to play that role. Sometimes I fear for my life because the gruesome reality is that I can be traded, beaten or killed anytime like a piece of meat. Recently in Delhi, a two-year old little girl was abducted and raped. She’s still in the hospital because she bled profusely. How long will we allow this to continually go on? It’s well past the time for women to stand up and demand change. It’s about our dignity and respect.

Q. How important is social media to documentary filmmakers like you? Do you feel that it helps or harms the cause?

A. What I like most about social media is that it is a two-way communication. You can express anything and you will inevitably get a response. There is an immediate possibility of a dialogue. Social media is a great instrument for independent filmmakers like us. You can reach your audience not just locally, but also globally. It gives you a platform. When the system tries to cage your voice, the internet gives you freedom to communicate, a tremendous opportunity and a significant outlet. With ‘Belly’, the system was against us, but social media loved us. We became popular, not only because of what we were doing, but also because of the extent at which we could share our work. The industry knows of us now. They’ve acknowledged what we’re making and how we’re communicating. They know we’re here to stay.

Q. After ‘India’s Daughter’ and A.R.’s (Music Producer A.R.Rahman)fatwa how do you feel you are affected as an artist and human being?

A. Leslee Udwin was threatened, pushed and challenged. A.R. Rahman was given fatwa. I was almost raped by a mob in Central India. I was asking for help and the cops simply stood there and then turned their backs on me. We somehow managed to flee from there. There was a moment when I realized that this could be my last day alive. In those thirty seconds, I realized how circumstances are much larger than an individual. They had almost unclothed me.
India has become unsafe and uncivilized for any progressive woman. There is neither freedom of speech nor freedom of choice. Sadly, it has become a threat not just for me, but for any artist that aspires to create informative, journalistic, edgy and compelling work that has the ability to reach a global audience and affect change. It’s an ongoing challenge fighting that psychology everyday.

Q. How does a woman in India create stories that will inform the world?

A. They can’t. I don’t feel safe in India and neither do many other women. There is constant fear of getting attacked all the time. Acid attacks have been rampant. Rapes and murders are common with the assailants walking free. They say, “Well, just gotta be behind bars for 6 months and that’s it.” The government and authorities play mute and dumb, thereby encouraging more crime. I believe that they just don’t want strict punishments.
The Indian laws are old and obsolete and criminals have long known how to navigate the law. Basically, they don’t fear the law. Also, many of our politicians have been criminals themselves. Shockingly, goons become politicians here. The whole system is corrupt. This is the kind of government we have which is protecting the culprits by not giving them punishment.
Look what happened with Nirbhaya. She did not get security when she was alive and there was no justice after her death. Delayed justice is denied justice. Why wasn’t her case fast-tracked? A six-year old girl was raped with an iron rod. Who does that to a little child? The government does nothing. Of course I feel insecure. The silence has become the conspiracy and I feel we have become numb to this. These crimes have become routine, the news has become routine and the police inquiry has become routine. In the rare scenario if and when justified inquiry does happen, the system will then give lame half-truths until no more questions can be asked. These half-truths are as bad as lies. We absolutely need much more than that for any significant change to begin. The whole psychology has to be altered.

Q. How did these issues affect the process of filming ‘Sudden Cry’?

A. It made it impossible. It was not just difficult, it became absolutely impossible. I have been working on this documentary for three years. We are dealing with grotesque criminals here and selling innocent girls is their business. Cops are substantially bribed and are involved in it and then the government gets their cut and everybody is kept happy. The entire system is part of the business and is an active enabler.
Just because India now has some high-rise buildings and we’ve starting driving fancy cars and wearing Gucci and Armani, our minds haven’t changed. It is suffocating to live in that kind of environment. Our youth has the potential to fight this corruption, but they are kept in the dark. As hopeless as this may sound, they are forced to believe and accept the old, corrupt mindset and ways of life and as unaware as they are conditioned to be, they do nothing to challenge or evolve out of the defunct system. I don’t see any revolution happening here. We have succumbed to degeneracy. When a society accepts dysfunction in this way, the whole humanity is in danger. It is a threatening and fatal circumstance.

Q. Will you continue to make these controversial projects?

A. I don’t know that I’ll be able to. That’s a two-fold question. I don’t believe that the things I am saying should be categorized as ‘controversial’ in the first place. Facts are facts. I am showing truth in my projects and truth alone is not controversial. It can be hard hitting. My projects raise questions that are necessary. Through good journalism and documentaries, questions can be raised to alter things politically, socially and judiciously. Indian society wears a thick veil of hypocrisy and it can’t seem to stomach the truth.
I make projects that shine a spotlight on how we perversely live as human beings – not because I want to indulge in slanderous accusations and ruffle feathers – but because I deeply care about my fundamental rights and the well-being of those that also occupy a place in this world. I want to see the conditions improved.
It’s difficult to find your unique, authentic voice in this culture. We as a society are recklessly going backward. Tell me, where is the morality here? It has become lost underneath the piles of meaningless cash and everything we work for goes to simply making a quick buck.

Q. Please tell us a bit about your future projects.

A. ‘Sudden Cry’ will come out in March 2016 and we are also in development for a feature length thriller, ‘The Rope in the Darkness’, about a woman’s self-discovery during a horrific cult experience.

 

You can follow Babita Modgil on Twitter here

Babita Modgil's Sudden Cry

An Interview with Linda Ainouche, Writer/Director – Dreadlocks Story

Linda Ainouche

“If you put enough creativity, successfully utilize your hard working capabilities, even with a low budget, and starting from scratch regarding the film industry, you can still produce a piece of art.” – Linda Ainouche

 

After reviewing the documentary ‘Dreadlocks Story’, I was able to ask Writer/Director, Linda Ainouche a few questions about the film.

Linda is an Anthropologist and Ethnographer and now a documentary film-maker. Born in France, but currently residing in New York, Linda has lived and studied all over the world. ‘Dreadlocks Story’, a documentary examining the links between India’s Sadhus and Jamaica’s Rastas, is her first film.

Documentary Dude You trained as an ethnographer, what made you decide to make a film?

Linda Ainouche As an Anthropologist and avid traveller, I’ve always been passionate about cross­-cultural exploration and the opportunity to engage myself into something new.
What most excited me about film making is that it’s an intimate medium that allows me to give audience members the feeling of being connected into cultures they may not have known much about. There are a lot of misconceptions about certain outcast and indigenous communities. Consequently, I am truly convinced that documentary is the best medium to convey the complexities of human behaviors in an intimate way because the ethnographer and subjects can be put on an equal footing. I can access a ‘free’ style mix of improvisation, reality, subjectivity and technique that no other medium provides me. In other words, because documentary allows me to ‘shoot’ the reality as it is, that provides the unique opportunity to break down barriers and allows for a direct connection with people in their environment, I have decided to become a filmmaker.

DD Have you had any prior experience as a filmmaker?

LA Nothing of this calibre. This is my first feature.

DD How long did the film take to make?

LA In terms of filming, it took around a year to complete. In terms of editing, it took another year. And before filming, I have done the research but I had a relevant background on the topic, so it was not a very long development process. And along these stages, I have produced the whole thing!

DD What was a major learning you got from making the film?

LA If you put enough creativity, successfully utilize your hard working capabilities, even with a low budget, and starting from scratch regarding the film industry, you can still produce a piece of art.

DD I find it interesting that the film was filmed in 4 countries with four different crews. When you started was that the plan or did it just happen organically?

LA First of all, making a documentary means to play with flexibility and spontaneity, but yes I did plan to shoot in these four countries.

DD I like the idea of not having a voice-over instead letting the interviewees tell the story. What made you decide to take that route?

LA A voice­-over would have made the film feel distant, creating an “us versus them” that is ultimately counter­productive of my idea of what ethnography and documentary can transmit, although it is really challenging to tell a story with several people speaking in different languages.
 ‘Dreadlocks Story’ aims to shed light on the diverse multi­cultural influences that together created something beautiful, and a voice­-over would assert the perceived distance between Rastas and Sadhus and other cultures.

DD How difficult was it to get in front of the interviewees and have them agree to be interviewed on camera?

LA No difficulty, it is what I do best in different languages. I have a natural ability to speak with people and above all listen to what they have to say to me.
 As I observed and listened to them carefully, I always found a way to make them talk on topics that they could not have necessary even think of. Each of them had a different approach: singing, smoking, responding straight forward, laughing … This gives ‘Dreadlocks Story’ a richer and more personal spin on a history from the insider’s point of view.

DD Has making the film changed your views on the Rastas in any way?

LA I don’t understand this question! Or rather, anything you pay attention to in your life provides you a new way to expand your view of something as long as you are open-­minded!

DD Is there anything you would do differently if you were to do it again?

LA I wouldn’t do anything differently. I always embrace the process because it creates the product. I am not a person who lives in the past with regrets and to worry about the future either. Things happen in the present, at least this is my perception of living.

DD What advice would you give to someone wanting to make a documentary of their own?

LA Go ahead and enjoy it!

DD How can people get to see the film?

LA For now, the film can only be watched during our upcoming screenings, the lists of which you can see  on our website at www.dreadlockstory.com

DD What next for Linda Ainouche?

LA Many things, some documentary projects in mind but this is too early to talk of them. I will focus on promoting ‘Dreadlocks Story.’

DD Where can people find/follow you online?

LA Oh about me! Find me at www.ainouche.com 
 More information on the film can be found at www.dreadlockstory.com as well as our social media profiles which are all on our website.
 Some other activities of the company can be followed at www.lookatmyproductions.com

An Interview with Burt Kearns, Producer – High There

Burt Kearns

Burt Kearns (left) with Wayne Darwen

 

“……..the content was shocking. It was beyond raw. It was Wayne Darwen acting out his own Apocalypse Now!” – Burt Kearns

 

As part of my follow up series to the review of the “Gonzo” style documentary ‘High There’ I was able to ask renowned Television Producer, Burt Kearns a few questions about his experiences while producing the film.

Burt has had a long and varied career in the film and television world, working on programs such as ‘Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura’, ‘Guinness World Records Unleashed’ and ‘Joe Rogan Questions Everything’. He has also worked on many documentary films including Basketball Man and The Seventh Python which won him the Golden Ace Award  at the Las Vegas Film Festival for “superior and standout filmmaking.”

In 1999 Burt published a memoir titled ‘Tabloid Baby‘ chronicling his years working in tabloid television. The book was described by CBS’ Mike Wallace as “sad, funny, undeniably authentic. …….tells the tale of what befell too much of mainstream television news over the past couple of decades as the bad drove out the good”

 

Documentary Dude Can you give us some background on your connection with Wayne Darwen? I understand he was mentioned in your book Tabloid Baby.

Burt Kearns I met Wayne Darwen more than twenty-five years ago in an edit bay for the television series, ‘A Current Affair.’ He was drinking vodka from a milk carton and putting together a story package in a way I’d never seen. I had more formal training in television news. Wayne came from print with the mandate to take his stories and present them visually. Without prejudices or bad habits, he was reinventing the form on the fly. We quickly became friends, collaborated on many segments, including one on our trip to the ‘World’s Second Largest Ball of Twine,’ and for a while ran the show together. In the time since, amid moves among various cities and continents, relationships and families, we’ve remained friends. We’ve hired each other on various shows, and collaborated on outside projects, most of which were reality television ideas that were ahead of their time, and watched the people we mentored get rich.

DD What was your first impression when you saw the footage Wayne and Henry (cameraman Henry Goren) brought back from Hawaii?

BK I first saw ‘High There‘ as a seven-minute trailer that Wayne and Henry produced in hopes of turning all their footage into a television series. They’d done it themselves and once again it wasn’t like anything I’d ever seen. First of all, the content was shocking. It was beyond raw. It was Wayne Darwen acting out his own Apocalypse Now. It was Fear and Loathing in Reality Television. And visually, it was like some stoned combination of Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie and Jonas Mekas, totally out there. It was gonzo. There was no way a television network beyond IFC or Sundance would even consider it. I told them it was a movie. An independent film. Then they posted the trailer on YouTube and it racked up something like a million hits. I asked them to let me be the producer. I wanted to be part of this. So when the TV options played out, Wayne and I were back in business. We took all the hours of footage and I helped Wayne and Henry turn it into a movie. Wayne wrote the script. Henry started to edit what he’d shot.

DD Some of the footage looks quite raw? What challenges did you face putting it together into a finished product?

BK Oh, it was raw all right. Henry Goren is a brilliant news cameraman, underwater photographer and cinematographer, but for this project, he deliberately left all his fancy equipment at home and dreamed up these little non-threatening personal cams because he knew that they couldn’t get the reactions or relationships on camera with a big intimidating rig. So most of this was shot on consumer grade equipment, natural light, low light, on the fly – but not hidden camera. Henry is proud that everyone knew they were filming – but didn’t care. The real challenge came in post production. After Henry edited the first cut of the film, we hired an editor we’d hope would take it to the end. He turned out to be a disaster. He attempted some Final Cut version and wound up corrupting files and causing all kinds of problems. We had to reach out to one of the gurus to save everything on the drives. Then I took over the editing and drove home on a very bumpy road.

DD Why release the film as an Indie and not seek the backing of a big studio?

BK Our entire careers, we’ve worked in and around the system. Some projects are for studios, some projects are definitely not. The studios wouldn’t know what to make of this – just as the television people found it incomprehensible. When it came time to get the film out there, we hit our first film festival (the Action on Film International Film Festival in Monrovia, California) and were lucky to find BRINKvision. We needed someone who “got” High There, and BRINKvision got it from the start. They are probably the coolest distribution company around. The last of the indies. True partners who do what they promise. They got ‘High There’ out there.

DD How do you feel about the response the movie has garnered since it’s release?

BK To be honest, I’m surprised at how many people get it! We’ve gotten rave reviews from places as far-flung as Sydney, Australia, Anchorage, Alaska and Slupsk, Poland. Yes, the film is raw. its rough, it’s deliberately outsider art, it’s’ not slick or polished. But it is real and people appreciate that and Wayne’s performance. And the reviews we’ve gotten from online critics have been crucial! It seems there’s been another shift when it comes to critical influence in cinema. Back in the day, it was Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris and the serious cinephiles and great writers, then the TV critics like Siskel and Ebert and bite-size consumer reviews in People Magazine. Now, after years of hype and cheerleading from the Entertainment Tonights, the critics who make a difference, from indies to superhero blockbusters are the independent reviewers online. The last movie lovers. And without obvious conflicts like having your newspaper or TV show owned by Time-Warner.

DD I’ve asked this question of Wayne too. Based on your experience what advice would you give someone wanting to start a career in TV journalism today?

BK The TV part is easy. It’s the journalism part you should learn before you get in. You can take a scruffy newspaper reporter and turn him into a TV news star, but you can’t take a squeaky TV talking head and turn him or her into a journo. Then again, it depends why you’d want to go into TV news. The money can be good, but don’t expect to be covering much news. Or reporting anything the competition isn’t. It’s not even showbiz.

DD I understand that you and Wayne have another film in pre-production titled ‘Area 420’. Can you tell us a little more about it and when we can expect it on our screens?

BK ‘Area 420’ is a sequel of sorts to ‘High There’. It will be starring Dave High and Roland Jointz. But it won’t be set in Hawaii and won’t necessarily remain on this planet. We’re in pre-production now, and plan to begin filming in late fall. We hope to premiere at the Cannabis Film Festival in Humboldt County. The best little film festival in America. Great people and a great time.

DD Now that you have released ‘High There‘ will the response and feedback you have received change anything about how you produce ‘Area 420’?

BK This film may actually have a budget, and sadly, elevated production value. And Wayne may have to start drinking again.

DD What are your favourite documentaries?

BK Well, I have to go back to the ones that stuck with me since I was a kid. There used to be documentaries on PBS, Frederick Wiseman’s Hospital. I remember Seven Up! about the British kids. Gimme Shelter. Best Boy. But the one that stuck with me was An American Family, the PBS series that followed the Louds, including Lance Loud, who wasn’t only gay but went across country to find Andy Warhol. That series started it all. Twenty years later, I got to set up a reunion of sorts for an ‘A Current Affair segment’. There have been some great ones recently, and they’re all more like dramatic films only better. The Seven Five, The Wolfpack, The Act of Killing — and Marwencol, directed by Jeff Malmberg, whom I worked with on Conspiracy Theory. He was editing Jesse Ventura’s adventures while creating that masterpiece. That one deserved an Oscar.

DD What next for you?

BK I directed a documentary film on the singer Chris Montez that I’d love to complete. A story of a Mexican American kid from Hawthorne California who went to high school with The Beach Boys, met his hero Richie Valens, toured England with The Beatles as his opening act and wound up singing standards. And he’s still out there. A wonderful guy. We interviewed everyone from Herb Albert to Brian Wilson, but ran out of money a few years ago. That, the story of a woman who was murdered a block from the Vegas Strip, and a documentary series on the history of stand-up comedy. And producing television. To pay for all the rest.

DD How can people follow/find you online?

BK You can reach me or Wayne at hightherethemovie.com or goodstoryproductions.net.

 

You can read my interview with ‘High There’ Director Wayne Darwen here

 

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An interview with Wayne Darwen, Writer/Director – High There

Wayne Darwen

 

 

“…I’m no Hunter S. Thompson. He was a master of his art. I am but a humble student.” – Wayne Darwen

 

Legendary television producer Wayne Darwen, was kind enough to spend some time answering my questions  about his documentary film ‘High There‘.

(You can read my review of ‘High There’ here) 

Wayne began his career as a newspaper journalist back in his native Australia before moving to the United States to work in American television. He became famous within the industry for producing shows such as, A Current Affair, Hard Copy and Inside Edition. Robert Downey Jr’s character Wayne Gale, in Oliver Stone’s  ‘Natural Born Killers‘ is said to have been based on Wayne.

I asked him some questions about his latest venture, ‘High There.’

Documentary Dude Why choose an alter ego?

Wayne Darwen I didn’t. The alter ego chose me. It was like spontaneous combustion. The name ‘Dave High’ just popped out of my mouth as I was trying to sell Henry (aka Roland) on a sketchy idea I had for ‘High There.’ I was just making it up as I went along, and ‘Dave High’ was what I called the host of my still imaginary comic TV travelogue for stoners.

DD It looks like you just went to Hawaii for a lark and somehow the film came out of it. How much of the film was planned?

WD We went there for the one purpose of making ‘High There’. We had the basic premise – a TV show that travels the world in search of the best places to get stoned – but in the course of experimenting with what worked and what didn’t we just started improvising as real-life bad stuff started happening and wouldn’t stop. And what was going to be a TV show evolved into a flick about the making of a TV show that never gets made.

DD I’m not privy to the intricacies of filmmaking but I would assume you need to get waivers from people to allow you to use footage of them. How do you get around making fun of them but still obtaining their permission to use footage?

WD I make fun of myself. And, in the case of ‘High There’, it got contagious. Most people we met laughed at the premise of the film and were actually very keen to be in it after they figured out we weren’t DEA agents.

DD How long did the film take to make?

WD About three months to shoot in Hawaii. Could have been done in three weeks though if I hadn’t assimilated into the community so well. Then I wrote it over about a month when we got back to LA. And we edited in about another six months I guess. So what’s that? Ten months on cruise control.

DD Were there any problems peculiar to this film that you faced during filming?

WD Well, certainly a problem I often have when on the road working, is getting pot. And I, at least, didn’t have that one this time. So every bad thing that happened didn’t seem quite that bad. And once we figured out that bad stuff was good for the film, we actually welcomed it.

DD Is there anything you would do differently if you were to do it again?

WD No. But that’s not to say we couldn’t have done it better. It’s to say I think if ‘High There’ was better it wouldn’t be ‘High There’.

DD I don’t want to give too much away to my readers but one of the things that confused me was that, at times when your faithful cameraman Roland Jointz wasn’t with you someone was still filming you. How?

WD  I got the people I was shooting to take the camera and shoot me for a bit, and I’d kind of direct them. And at one point in the film, I say I’ve given someone the camera to audition him for Roland’s job after the bastard walked out on me.

DD The style of this film has been compared to the work of Hunter S.Thompson and I can see the similarities. How do you feel about these comparisons?

WD I love the comparison, but I’m no Hunter S. Thompson. He was a master of his art. I am but a humble student. I didn’t try to be Hunter either. It only occurred to me it was kinda like a Hunter S. Thompson story as it began to unfold as we shot it. Then I began to see Dave High more as a character Hunter might have created than I saw myself as Hunter.

DD Was this a conscious decision on your part and how much of an influence has he been on your work? I’ve seen mentioned elsewhere that he was a colleague of yours?

WD When we saw what a Hunter S. Thompson kinda story it was, I felt obliged to try to write it with a touch of Hunter, as a kind of homage. I love the way he wrote, but trying to get to those lofty heights is one of them there impossible dream thangs.

DD Given the topic of the film and the many scenes of apparent drug use, have you had any trouble with the authorities during the production and subsequent distribution of the film?

WD Not apart from the apparent brush with the DEA that’s in the film, fortunately. I am actually friends with a few of those law enforcement types, and, surprisingly, they loved the film. I think the stuff in it is way too small time for the DEA to concern itself with.

DD How has the film been received by the movie going public?

WD We are still waiting on the first sales figures, but regardless of that, we are thrilled with the reception we have gotten from independent film reviewers like yourself. And others that have seen the film have written some very nice viewer reviews.

DD A question I ask a lot of my documentary directors/producers but this one is a little different because of your career. What advice would you give someone starting out now as a television journalist?

WD Get a job at the post office. It’s a tough business in which to survive, and even harder to thrive.

DD What are your favourite documentaries?

WD I love the stuff Louis Theroux does for the BBC.

DD What’s your favourite hangover remedy?

WD The only one that works. Another drink.

DD What next for Dave High and Roland Jointz?

WD We have a ‘High There‘ sequel ready to go, and we are looking to start shooting that towards the end of the year. It’s called ‘Area 420.’ And I can’t wait to get at it. I can’t really discuss what it’s about, but I think you get a rough idea from the title.

You can follow more of Wayne’s adventures at hightherethemovie.com

(read an interview with the film’s Producer, Burt Kearns here)

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An interview with Inda Reid, Director/Producer – Brotherhood of the Popcorn

Inda Reid

 

Inda Reid directed and produced the delightful documentary “Brotherhood of the Popcorn” which I reviewed here. I wanted to interview her and learn more about her experiences making the film. Unfortunately she was disappearing off into the woods on a camping trip and was out of contact for a while. However with the kind permission of a fellow film buff, Irv Slifkin, I am happy to share with you an interview he had conducted previously with Inda Reid. This interview originally appeared in Film International.

Can you tell us how you met “The Cliffhangers?”

Inda Reid There’s a donut shop in the (San Fernando) Valley, a tiny place that reminds me of a New York deli. It has three little tables and a few chairs. (Cliffhangers) Rocky and Bill would be there every time I went there and they talked really loud and boisterously about the movies they were seeing. I was really fascinated. I love all movies. Every night I will fall asleep to a classic. When I told Rocky I loved old movies, he said “You don’t know what you are talking about.” He made a list of movies for me to see and when I told him I had just made a documentary, he told me he was part of this group and he would ask Woody if I can sit in.

At what point did you know you had something that was a feature film?
IR I was going to do a five or ten minute piece for festivals. Woody said it was fine, so I went by and met all the guys at 8 in the morning. It was very interesting. I walked in and saw what they were doing and how very serious they were about these films. Woody thought I was making a documentary and I told him I was going to do a short little slice of life film . But it turned into a full-fledged documentary about the guys.

How did you decide what to focus on?

IR The more things I observed, the more the project grew. I started to build a story in the editing room. It took on a life of its own, and now four years later, we have a feature film. I am happy you feel the love of the guys in the film, the love for their Brotherhood and for each other. That was my goal.

You have acted, and worked as a photographer and at a casting agency, and directed an award winning documentary. How did you find the time to do this project?

IR Up until a year and a half ago I was working on it in my spare time. I saw it as a glorified memory album for them to remember. Then I decided to do the guys justice, so I put a lot more time and effort into it. When they saw the first cut, they said stuff like, “You have to move this and edit that.”

While working on the film, you hit a snag because of a tragic incident.

IR Another person working on it who was operating a camera had a seizure and ended up drowning. The members of the Cliffhangers felt they were the ones who should have died, not her. She was relatively young. She was sweet and intelligent. We shut down for several weeks, and the film is dedicated to her.

Did working on the project affect your thoughts on getting old?

IR For me, I look forward to it in a strange way. It kind of looks like fun. Look at the scenes set at The Jocelyn Centre (a senior facility). They are having the time of their lives. It’s good to know they are so full of life and they are energetic — it’s reassuring. These guys are vivacious. They’ve only slowed down a little bit. They get up at 6am each morning. They know they are coming to the end of their lives and they are trying to make the most of it. It gave me a great feeling to be around them. They have such a great sense of humour. I’ve changed my perspective.

We would imagine you shot a lot of footage during the years you worked o the film.

IR Hours and hours. Maybe 20 full days of film, maybe 500 hours. The deadline was supposed to be last year. I thought I was done. At some point you have to stop tweaking I realised.

Do people know what the term “Cliffhanger” means?

IR I need to go slow when I say it and explain to people.

Did the group’s attitude change at all as the film went on?

IR On the first day (of filming) they were dressed better and their hair was neater. They were a little self-conscious at first, but as I spent more time , they ignored me. They didn’t play to the camera very much. And that started to happen after the first month. I sort of became kind of a mascot. I listened to their comments and watched the films all the away through. Rocky was the worst. He would talk to me ….. “So how was your week?” But thats his character — he’s going to know you are there so you gotta know he’s there.

How did you decide on the form of the film, which seems observational and allows the characters to reveal themselves rather than relying on a narrator?

IR When I was editing, I didn’t have any narration in mind. You usually write the script first and predict things. To me, it feels you are being preached to. Thats not my style. I’d rather let the viewer take what they want and learn what they want.

Irv Slifkin is the author of “Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City’s Movies” and “Groovy Movies: Far-Out Films of the Psychedelic Era.”  He is a board member of the Reel East Film Festival and teaches journalism and film at Temple University.

Inda Reid’s production company can be found here 

Read my interview with Woody Wise, President of “The Cliffhangers” here

 

Brotherhood of the Popcorn

An Interview with Woody Wise – Brotherhood of the Popcorn

Woody Wise

Woody Wise with Inda Reid

I recently watched the delightful documentary “Brotherhood of the Popcorn” (review here).

It’s a wonderful story about good friends, companionship and a love of old movies, and, at the time of writing, is currently doing the rounds of the film festival circuit. If you get a chance, go and see it, you won’t be disappointed.

Woody Wise, President of “The Cliffhangers”, the film loving “brotherhood” of the film, was generous enough to take the time to answer some questions about the group and their experiences while making the film.

Over to Woody:

Documentary Dude What made you start the Cliffhangers?

Woody Wise In the early 1980’s I was collecting 16mm films. I don’t like to watch movies alone so would always ask some friends over. Soon it was a regular group of 4 or 5 guys and we decided to call ourselves “The Cliffhangers”. We all like to watch a serial chapter with each feature film. We talked about getting together on a regular basis and we agreed on Saturday mornings at 9am every other week. And so it has been for over 35 years.

DD What is your secret to keeping the group going for so long?

WW I don’t think there is any real secret to keeping the group together. We are all friends, we all love movies and we all love to talk about the films and stars we like. Probably my rule of no political or religious conversations has helped keep us together.

DD Has running the Cliffhangers taught you anything personally?

WW I don’t know if running the Cliffhangers has taught me anything except that friendships are important.

DD When Inda Reid approached you regarding making a film what was your reaction?

WW When Inda approached me with the idea I really did not know what she had in mind. I really don’t think she really knew either. She felt it was unique and wanted to try and tell a story. I think we both felt that it was maybe going to be maybe a 15 or 20 minutes short of old guys watching classic film that might get a spot on TCM or something. I think it was maybe a year into filming and after she got to know the different personalities of each of us that she decided to make it about the guys, not just the movies.

DD What was the reaction of the other Cliffhangers?

WW I don’t think any of the guys really knew what was going on and didn’t care. After all, we are all guys and now this young beautiful woman wants to come to our meetings and take pictures. I don’t think it was until she started to film our personal interviews that they started to take notice of what was happening

DD The film took almost 5 years to make. What was it like having a team of filmmakers in your home every other weekend and did it interfere with the pleasure you all got from meeting and watching movies?

WW Most of the time it was just Inda Reid. She did everything. She used a hand held camera; sometimes her husband would come and help with the sound boom. We got used to her being there joking and talking with us. After the first couple of months it just became routine. It never really interfered with our films. Hardly ever any filming took place during the showing of the films.

DD Has the film changed the Cliffhangers in any way?

WW I don’t believe the film has changed any of the Cliffhangers. I don’t think they really knew how good it was until we had the private screening at Warner Bros. Studio for the Retirees Club. The Cliffhangers got to invite their families and friends to the screening. We had a full house of 200 and the film was a big hit. It was the first time many of the families had seen it.

DD You have a passion for old movies but are there any modern filmmakers/ actors whose work that you like?

WW I really don’t keep up with today’s films. I very seldom go to the movies. Today’s movies seem to be about real things. If I want real I can turn on the news. I want fantasy, adventure, fun and love in the movies I watch. When “THE END” comes up on the screen I want to feel good about it. I do go out of the way to see a Ron Howard or Steven Spielberg film and I’ll go to see a Tom Hanks film any day, but that’s about it.

DD What are your top 3 classic movies of all time?

WW Tough question. I could name many favorites. Top three; ‘Casablanca’, ‘Adventures of Robin Hood’ and ‘It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World’. This even changes from time to time.

DD Can you suggest any good resources for someone else with a passion for old movies?

WW The top place to purchase DVD’s is Movies Unlimited in Philadelphia, PA

DD What next for the Cliffhangers?

WW No new plans for the Cliffhangers. We plan to meet twice a month, watch our double feature and cliff-hanger serials and talk about movies.

You can learn more about “Brotherhood of the Popcorn” here