CIFF Diary: Day 7, pt. 2 - Encounters with Film Makers, New and Old

10/13 - After the screening of Kinyarwanda I caught a cab over to the film department at Columbia University where a panel featuring directors who are presenting films within the New Directors category of the CIFF answered questions about taking your first films from the page to the shooting process.  The panel was called "New Directors: Cameras Ready?" and featured directors Daniel Mitelpunkt (Women and Children), Hagar Ben Asher (The Slut), Prashant Bhargava (Patang), and Steven Lloyd Jackson (David is Dying).  One of the most interesting components of the panel was the inclusion of Karen Loop, a current instructor at Columbia University who brought her 20 years of experience as a Los Angeles based film producer to the panel.  In contrast to Loop's contribution to the panel, the primary message from the directors was that the old business model was dead, making the stories of Hollywood development seem almost antiquated in comparison to the obvious motivations of art and passion that the film maker's exhibited.  To make a long story short--make sure your script is great and ready to go into shooting, have a great producer and cinematographer, and go shoot your movie.  In terms of financing and marketing, that realm is being seriously redefined as we speak, and with social media and communal fund raising sites the tools to make great films without corporate involvement are at hand.

Hagar Ben Asher's CIFF Favorite, The Slut 
The New Director's panel was insightful and informative, but my anticipation for the event to come was stealing my attention, as the CIFF honors one of my film heroes, Haskell Wexler.  Wexler's achievement as a cinematographer and director are wide ranging, from having shot cinema classics like Mike Nichols' Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?(1966) and Milos Foreman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), to his lesser known work as a film activist, having made shorts and features combating nuclear proliferation, and covering conflicts abroad from Chiapas to Northern Ireland.  One thing was apparent in talking with the 86-year old film maker, and that is that he loves to shoot.  As I reported in a previous post, Haskell was even spotted darting around John C. Reilly at one of the other honoree events, and the moderator of our evening with Haskell informed us that instead of taking advantage of the Festival perks, Haskell had been out shooting the Occupation of the financial district in Chicago, so lets keep our fingers crossed for a new Wexler film addressing the uprising that is happening in the city concurrent to the CIFF.  Actually, even if it's not Haskell who makes that film, this event couldn't help but spark thought about how the new age of documentary shooters will cover the story of this historic movement, as a number of young documentary students took in the words of one of the masters on Thursday night:  "Good shooters don't just go out to get what they want--they have to want everything they can get."

Me and Haskell at the CIFF
For me, Haskell Wexler made one of the greatest and under-rated pictures of the late 1960's, a film that I frequently screened in my film class as an example of the Hollywood Renaissance, Medium Cool.  A nearly unprecedented combination of documentary and fiction film making, a bridge between the budding style and activism of the French New Wave and American film making of the period, Medium Cool is a journey through the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the riots that took place in Chicago during that time.  The film is also one of the most important examinations of a country sitting on top of only a few decades of TV saturation, at the time of the seminal media analysis of Marshall McLuhan who defined mediums of communication as "hot" and "cool," television being a particularly "cool," mind-numbing mode of engagement with the world.  In Haskell's masterpiece, one of the only films he directed, we open with a pair of television reporters pointing their cameras and sound equipment down at a suffering, bloodied woman who has just been in a car accident.  We hear the moaning of the woman as the reporters walk back to their news-mobile, pack up their equipment, slam the trunk, and only then conclude that "they had better call a doctor."  Not just cool, but chilling.  The idea behind this scene is carried through to the last frames of Medium Cool, which plays more like a filmic essay of ideas than a traditional narrative, leaving us with the director himself turning the camera on us as we hear the sounds of the protesters chanting "The whole world is watching!   The whole world is watching!"  Haskell's achievement with this film alone is monumental, and a tremendously potent piece of Chicago history.  It was an honor to be able to meet and talk with he and his wife at the CIFF, and I wish them all the best--thanks for taking the time with a true fan.

Haskell Wexler in Medium Cool
Up Next:  Frederick Wiseman's new documentary, Crazy Horse


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