“Loving Vincent” — Interview With Directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman

Posted on September 26, 2017 at 1:32 am

Copyright 2017 Altitude

On Huffington Post, I interviewed the directors of a remarkable new animated film, “Loving Vincent,” a story about Vincent van Gogh and inspired by his paintings. Each frame is an oil painting. Directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman described the process:

HW:We painted on canvas, seriously; I mean Vincent painted on canvas and we painted on canvas. When they were painting they were looking at the Vincent paintings and they were trying to get the same brush stroke. Piotr Dominiak, our head of painting animation, has been to all the museums taking photographs and we interviewed the experts at the Van Gogh Museum about which Vincent put the paint on, what type of equipment he was using, what exact color he was using so all of that research then went into us replicating and reimagining that on to our canvases.

DK: Our biggest problem that with animation was you have to obviously light the canvas and you need to light it evenly, while in a museum the lighting is directional, so you can see the shadows of the actual paint in them. It was a challenge to make sure the texture is visible on the screen and they were all sculptural.

HW: And once you’re committed to a big thick impasto stroke then they have to animate that. They have to scrub it out and leave it a little bit to the right, a little bit to the right, a little bit to the right. So for those big impasto shots they’re actually animating every brush stroke.

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Stephen Frears and Ali Fazal on “Victoria and Abdul”

Posted on September 25, 2017 at 11:09 pm

I spoke to the director and co-star of the new film, “Victoria and Abul,” based on the real-life story of Queen Victoria’s last friendship, with the Indian man she called her “munshi” (teacher).

At rogerebert.com, Stephen Frears said there was one aspect of Victorian times he’d like to have now:

Confidence. In Britain we were very, very wealthy. We were very secure and very confident. Nowadays everyone is so neurotic; the country is so neurotic. We were robbers and thieves, though, so the confidence would have been nice but unfortunately it was all based on imperialism. Very, very tricky; never have an empire.

And he explained why he had to have a native of India to play the part of Abdul.

There are a lot of Indian actors in England, Asian actors in England but you couldn’t get that sort of wide-eyed quality. We hired an Indian casting director and I went to Bombay and a bunch of Indians came in to see me. When Ali came in, by the time he left the room I said, “Well, I can see why she’ll like him.” It was really as simple as that.

For the Motion Picture Association of America website Where to Watch, Ali Fazal talked to me about the magnificent costumes.

Oh God, I loved all of them. Every time I got into something, it was almost like what do we have on the menu today? That would be the sort of marvelous majestic-looking wardrobe and costume that I had. Consolata Boyle is truly a genius when it came to the authenticity of costumes that I wore, of course my particular favorite was the one he wears in Florence the scene where we’re dancing together. I give her a lot of credit for how I was able to flesh out the scenes. It’s the costumes that really tell the passage of time and the progression. So it was a really, really intimate journey that Consolata and I had over the costumes in this film. So yeah I’m very, very deeply attached to my costumes, every single thread and the buttons and the hooks and the Angrakhas and everything.

And what he hopes people will see in the film:

I think as clichéd as it sounds, it talks of love and hope and they’re the most abused words on the planet right now. We’ve tried war and politics and diplomacy and none of it really works. I really hope people see that, that in the middle of all that chaos there was something like that, this relationship that existed. It can happen today.

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Interview: Writer/Director Danny Strong of “Rebel in the Rye”

Posted on September 19, 2017 at 2:48 pm

Danny Strong has appeared in “The Gilmore Girls” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” wrote the “Mockingjay” films that finished the “Hunger Games” series, co-created “Empire.” He wrote and directed “Rebel in the Rye,” with Nicholas Hoult as J.D. Salinger, now in theaters. It is a touching, thoughtful story of a young man who is passionate about being a writer but only after the searing trauma of military service in WWII is he able to fully find his voice to write one of the most influential novels of all time, Catcher in the Rye. Salinger also wrote some acclaimed short stories and novellas, and then moved to New Hampshire, and made almost no other appearances in print. In an interview, Strong talked about why Catcher is his favorite of Salinger’s works and about telling the story of a man almost as famous for his decision to stop publishing as he is for what he wrote.

Do you have a favorite Salinger book?

Catcher in the Rye. I think it’s the best work but there’s sort of an intellectual bias against it. I reread it when I wrote the script and it was terrific. I loved it. It was so funny and insightful and Holden was just a terrific character. Certainly a scholarly point of view is that the later works are better, Seymour: An Introduction and Franny and Zooey. But for me Catcher is the richest as a story as opposed to just a philosophy. There are long religious passages on Franny and Zooey where we’re out of the story range and into the philosophizing range which some people enjoy in their literature. I read this letter of his that he said “sometimes I wonder if I’m propagandizing for the religious point of view” although he says it in a different phrasing, and then he says “but I just can’t help it when I just sit down and what’s inside of me comes out.”

Salinger was supported by and influenced by his professor Whit Burnett, who tells him that the story is everything. Is that right?

Yes, and there is something in the swami’s line about “Do you write to show off to your talent or to express what’s in your heart?” For me it’s the story and what happens and when I see a film that’s what I value most. The characters’ arc is the story. That’s the difference between plot and story. The plot is what happens and story is what this is all about, what you’re trying to say, what you take away from it. So the character journey is to me what’s ultimately the story. And then what makes a story good is when you have terrific characters in it that are dynamic and they’re entertaining, insightful or interesting; all of those things.

Salinger famously prohibited a film version of Catcher in the Rye, even though some of Hollywood’s top directors were interested. Could it be a movie?

People have asked me if I could make that would I? No. I don’t think it would be very good. What happens is he wanders around New York City and he encounters people and he’s antsy. I mean literally it’s the internal monologue and it’s the way he phrases things that makes it so engaging and entertaining and what happens is fine but it’s not cinematic to me.

For a man who was cynical and sarcastic, he was almost obsessed with innocence.

You can be sarcastic and still have “innocence,” right? I mean for me it was more of a loss of youth that was ripped away from him because of the war, because of trauma, because of seeing dead bodies in the Holocaust and nearly freezing to death, as he said, the smell of burning flesh that you can never get out of your nose. But you look at his writing before the war which wasn’t nearly as sophisticated, but nonetheless was very witty and had that sarcasm and was an exploration of Upper East Side life in a way that is quite fun to read. It just doesn’t have the depth that he hit after he experienced what he experienced.

It’s just a small body of work and it’s fascinating to me how obsessed people are with him over this the small body of work and how meaningful it is, people’s attachment to him and protectiveness of him over such a small body of work.

Why did he isolate himself?

He was part of the community in Cornish and he’d come back to New York from time to time and go to the same bookstore and vacation in Florida so he wasn’t a hermit, but he seemed to have an inability to really function socially and needed to be isolated. I view that as just another symptom of untreated PTSD and untreated trauma. I think when you look at someone who writes for forty to fifty years in a room by himself and never shows that work to anyone I view that as therapy, as someone who it’s therapeutic for them and it’s healing for them. In the case of the film and the story in the film t’s a triumph for him to a certain extent, that he’s become the ultimate writer, that he can just right for the sake of writing and he needs “nothing in return” and that’s the journey.

It is a Zen type journey which I believe is completely accurate for him. I think that that was him and that’s who he became. His writing became this meditation that was some sort of relationship with a higher being. I think maybe that’s intellectually how he talked about it, but for me I just see it as therapeutic; as someone who has a racing mind, a troubled soul who’s trying.

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Dolores Huerta and Peter Bratt on the New Documentary “Dolores”

Posted on September 12, 2017 at 8:00 am

Dolores” is a new documentary that tells the story of activist icon Dolores C. Huerta, president and founder of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America. If Ginger Rogers is known for matching Fred Astaire’s steps backwards and in high heels, Huerta was as responsible as the better-recognized Cesar Chavez for bringing the attention of the world to the rights of immigrants, women, and farm workers while raising eleven children as a single mother and constantly being marginalized and underrated because of her race and gender. I spoke to Huerta, who was awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor by President Barack Obama, along with the director of the documentary, Peter Bratt.

In the film, we see you begin by sitting down in living rooms or talking to farm workers in the fields to encourage them to insist on fair treatment. What did you say to them?

Dolores Huerta: When you are organizing a group of people, the first thing that we do is we talk about the history of what other people have been able to accomplish; people that look like them, workers like them, ordinary people, working people, and we give them the list. These are people like yourself, this is what they were able to do in their community. And then we talked about the issues that they’re facing in their own community and then we would say to them, “Well, just like these other people did, they were able to accomplish all these great things. You can do the same thing. But the thing is that you got to do it because if you don’t nobody else is going to do it for you; nobody else is going to come into your community and solve your problems. So you have to take on the issues yourself. You’re the ones who have to volunteer to make the work happen.”

So we do a whole series of these little house meetings and you probably get a hundred and fifty people together and out of that group then you have a cadre of them that will come up and they’ll volunteer to do the work that needs to be done and that’s how the leaders are developed. When you go into a community you’ll never know ahead of time who the leaders are going to be. The leaders come up from the volunteers that do the work and it’s amazing because then they do these incredible things in their community that they never thought they had the power to make that happen. Basically, the message is: you have power, the power is in your person and you can make this happen but you can’t do it alone; you’ve got to work with other people to make it happen, you have to make a plan and you have to volunteer. And it works; it’s like magic.

You go out there and you find those people that have this burning passion that they want to change things and you basically are just giving them the tools. This is the way that you do it: you come together with a group of people, you pass petitions, you go to the city council, you go to the board of supervisors and you can make it happen.

Peter Bratt: She actually was telling me a story that she hopped on a Greyhound to northern central California, throughout the bus ride was expecting sixty to seventy people at a house meeting which had only one person, and she said she gave it her all because one person can be the most incredible leader that can change thousands of lives. That was a great lesson.

Why was it important to you to tell this story?

Peter Bratt: Dolores in my view challenges the three pillars of society. She’s challenging patriarchy and yes, that’s part of gender discrimination but it’s also racial. She’s also a Chicana; she’s a woman of color. The third one is as a labor activist she’s challenging the institution of capitalism, and I think those are the three great threats and that made her dangerous. I think those complexities combined to keep her in the margins.

The people who appear in the film are very candid and sometimes very emotional. How do you as a filmmaker develop a sense of trust so that they will share those memories and feelings?

Peter Bratt: I have some history with Dolores. I’ve known her for a little while and I think there was initially a great amount of trust between her and myself and Carlos Santana whose idea this was, and I also knew a few of her daughters from years back. So I think initially there was trust but you still have to prove yourself and earn even more trust. The most important thing as a director is you have to create a safe environment where you make the person feel safe enough to open their heart and reveal the soul; that’s ultimately where you’re trying to get. We interviewed probably about fifty people and the ones that we selected for the film were the ones who we felt truly opened their hearts and spoke their truth.

What has surprised you in terms of how far we’ve come and what has been the most persistently frustrating?

Dolores Huerta: Women are now 50 percent of the law schools and medical schools, so we can look at all the progress that we’ve made, but we can see all the progress that we still need to make and now with the voter suppression going on and with the racism rearing its ugly head we know that we’ve got to really step up our game on the progressive side and get people to vote because a lot of people aren’t voting. They’ve taken civics out of our high schools. People were asleep but I think they’re waking up now. Trump has given everybody a good kick and people are waking up and realizing they’ve got to get involved. That’s the message that we want to send with the film; for people to get involved at the local level, at the community level, at the state level and international level because we can’t afford to let the right wing take over our country. My son Emilio is running for Congress to continue the fight for social justice.

Peter Bratt: Sometimes I just want to put the covers over my head and stay in bed and I feel like no matter what I do it’s ineffectual and I get depressed. So for me having spent these last few years with Dolores, to see her not just doing the work but impassioned about doing the work and getting out there at the grassroots level and she still goes out into the fields in 100 degrees to organize this farm operation, she’s still doing it in the school boards, on water boards, she’s been getting people involved and to see her so engaged and relentless. The fortitude is awe inspiring and yet there is this joy and this passion while continuing to do the work, It encourages me to like quit feeling sorry for myself and get back out there. To me as a filmmaker that’s the biggest reward, to see people lift themselves up and recommit themselves.

A briefer version of this interview originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

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Interview: “Glass Castle” Writer/Director Destin Daniel Cretton

Posted on August 11, 2017 at 8:00 am

For WheretoWatch, I interviewed Destin Daniel Cretton, writer/director of “Short Term 12” and now “The Glass Castle.”

It’s not necessarily experiences that we have all gone through but I do think that there is something about The Glass Castle that still resonates and feels very familiar. We may not have gone through something to that degree but I think everybody has a Rex Walls in their life. Everybody knows what it feels like to want to love somebody so badly and have the struggle of how difficult that can be with someone who is either an alcoholic or has ups and downs in their life or who can’t be what we need from them. And it’s incredible to watch somebody like Jeannette go through something like that and come out the other end, not just learning how to accept that part of it but to take it and make it something that makes her so much of a better person. That’s really inspiring to me.

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