Saturday, December 09, 2006

2006—List of My 10 Favorite Evening Class Interviews

Lists season is upon us. The Christmas shopping list. The invite list to the annual Christmas party. The list of New Year's resolutions. But the most important, of course, is the 10 Favorite list. I've probably seen more movies this year than all years past combined and it's precisely because I've seen so many that I've yet to rank them into submission. In the interim, and perhaps to satisfy the homework requirement, I'm opting instead to choose my ten favorite interviews this year here on The Evening Class. If you would have told me at the beginning of the year that I would have enough interviews to select 10, I would have thought you addled; but, here it is December, and it's been a wonderful learning curve.

Guillermo Arriaga—This was one of my favorite interviews because it was when I began to realize that some of the most interesting interviews were those off the press junket trail. I have nothing against publicists setting me up with talent for a movie that's about to be released, am always appreciative of those opportunities, but am keenly aware that I'm part of a pack, usually asking the same questions, and writing up something others are writing up at the same time. I guess I prefer being neither obligated to a publicist nor pressured by a timeline nor part of a group. I owe this one to Gary Meyer who had invited Arriaga to speak at the Balboa Theater and who helped facilitate the hook-up through Arriaga's Simon and Schuster publicist. Another reason I liked this interview was because it was about writing, novel writing, screen writing, and the prickly theme of collaborative auteurship. Further, for as famous as he is, Arriaga was gracefully egalitarian. He was intense but respectful. I was delighted when Dave Hudson asked to use the piece for Greencine.

Alice Braga—This was one of my favorite interviews because I felt like a roving festival reporter. I was learning that I still had to pay my dues at the San Francisco International Film Festival and that not every request I had submitted was going to be granted, or granted in time slots that didn't interfere with tickets I had already purchased for the festival. Back then I was a little less patient with the protocol. I wanted to learn how to approach talent directly, spontaneously. I thought Alice was so charming, energetic and beautiful that I felt comfortable approaching her right after the screening of Lower City and ducking away from the crowd to talk with her for a few minutes. She was more than willing and a complete delight. I realized also that I am much more interested in interviewing new talent, both actors and directors who have only one or two projects under their belt. They seem more willing to talk about their projects.

John Canemaker—John's humility in the face of winning an Academy Award was inspirational. He is a goodhearted, gentle man and I felt our conversation was intimate. We befriended each other and it has made me very happy to keep in touch with him afterwards. He sent me a signed poster he designed for Telluride, which made me feel like a million bucks.

Deepa Mehta—This interview is special to me because it was my first one-on-one face to face. I felt very much like a Stagedoor Johnny, even got her to sign my dvd covers, and I was just getting used to my digital recorder. It kept cutting in and out and I had to cobble the interview together from a fragmented discourse, but, I will never forget how kind Deepa was to me and how encouraging she was of my personal approach. She considered it "a breath of fresh air."

Tsai Ming-Liang—Again, this interview felt like a victory because the Toronto International Film Festival would not grant me press accreditation and I was about to give up the ghost regarding securing any interviews whatsoever. But then I realized that it would make my friend Michael Hawley so happy to have Tsai's autograph that it motivated me to hustle the publicist into an interview slot. I could hardly believe my request was granted. With Tsai I felt I turned a corner and that I would never again be afraid to interview anyone or to ask for what I wanted. I can weather no and I know how to query yes. But most importantly, my friend Michael was happy.

Amir Muhammad—This was my favorite email interview of the year. I think Amir Muhammad is one of the funniest individuals I have ever met and it was just plain fun to exchange emails with him to craft this interview together. Email interviews can lose touch with a conversational feel; but, it was easy to stay on track with Amir.

Jenni Olson—This was my favorite phone interview of the year and it was part of the wonderful Avant-Garde blogathon. It gave me great pleasure to present Jenni's film for consideration among the wonderful community of online commentarians and critics that I've developed in the last year. Let alone that I hope I never go into the closet when it comes to film writing. I'm proud of my queer sensibility and treasure the opportunities to dialogue with other bright souls within my subculture.

Sirak M. Sabahat—Sirak's life experience humbled me. I was so impressed with all he had gone through at such a young age and how he has turned adversity around into creative expression. Such a momentum remains close to my heart because fundamentally I believe creativity is how we change the world.

Steven Shainberg—I could have talked to Steven for hours. He was so charmingly accessible and intelligent and completely willing to venture into psychological terrain. I would love one day to act for him; I trust him that much as a director. He reminded me that the best interviews are a mutual participation and, at heart, a good conversation.

David Thomson—David's encyclopedic knowledge of film consistently contextualizes the moviegoing experience for me. I hope that within my lifetime I achieve as much as he has with writing. He told his publisher that I was a decent fellow and that he enjoyed talking with me and recommended they send their other writers to me to interview. You can't hope for a better endorsement than that! In January-February of next year he will be lecturing at the Pacific Film Archives on "A Thousand Decisions In the Dark" so he consented to a follow-up interview the other day, inviting me into his home where we shared some pastries I'd brought from the Boulangerie and thoughts about his upcoming film series.

So there you have it. My contribution to December's list mania. I look forward to more conversations with the individuals who make up film culture in the year to come and a follow-up post like this one next December.


Brian said...

Michael, what great evidence of a wonderful year (well, not quite a whole year) of reading this blog! I'm always excited to discover who you might be conversing with next!

David Lowery said...

I hate round-table or junket interviews too! All those questions about "what was it like to work with so-and-so" and such. My Richard Linklater interview was actually done with another journalist, but he actually only asked two questions, both of which were dealt with at such length in other interviews that I didn't feel bad about excising them.

peter martin said...

Lovely reminders as to why your interviews are so enjoyable to read -- you convey a true sense of an honest exchange of ideas, and are not afraid to 'put yourself out there' by opening yourself up with very personal questions. Bravo, and please continue.

Maya said...

Thank you, guys, I really appreciate your supportive feedback. I'm always excited to discover who I'll be conversing with next too! Either the publicists spring it on me or I make it up as I go along.

Upcoming so far this month: Alison Bailes (formerly of IFC), Peter Ketnath, Guillermo del Toro (keeping my fingers crossed; the publicist isn't returning my phone calls); Chris Noonan and Patrick Galloway.

HarryTuttle said...

I don't know how you do it but you're doing an amazing job Michael! I wish I had more time to read all your pieces but you write faster than I can read.
How celebrities take a blogger seriously to agree to an interview? (You obviously have other credits I'm not aware of)

I think it's great the way you work, developping all the liberty available outside of the "press establishment" system. You're leading the way to the online reform of junket complacency. ;)

I like your open conversational approach, as opposed to the boring stereotyped journalistic questions.

And I'm looking forward to your interview with Guillermo del Toro. Get him to confess all the sexual inuendo concealed in the fantasy. And also why the cross-genre between childish and adult imagery.

Maya said...

> the online reform of junket complacency

Heh. You make me chuckle, Harry. I don't know how I do it either. I think Acquarello's on to something when he mentions sleep deficiency and cloning.

Thanks especially for the leading queries for del Toro. I already had on my list why he has to make his villains so virile and erotic. Let's see how big he smiles with that one. How do you mean "cross-genre between childish and adult imagery"? Do you mean why does he favor dark fairy tales? Are you one of those who thinks fairy tales were meant for children in the first place? I don't. I think they were always meant for adults, with only a subsidiary tradeoff for children innocent to innuendo.

HarryTuttle said...

I agree that medieval fairytales were more violent, graphic and sexualized before Disney candy-coated them for a children niche last century.
But can we say the same for cinema? Could the rules of oral transmission for educating archetypes be transposed as is in the realm of visual ontology of cinema? Surely there are distinct codes in the visual/realist representation of physicial re-enactment. The violence is far more agressive in images than in words and its consequences on the psyche construction are different if not contradictory. A verbal interdiction is constructive, a visual confrontation with terror is destructive.
That's why I believe Del Toro's appropriation of the fairytale function is dangerous, and shocking.
But the cross-genre question is more trivial, regarding this new trend developped lately for the adulescent niche (comics superheroes, cartoons, Alice in Wonderland, fairytale remix and drugs, sex, war, gruesome humor) like in the recent films of Gilliam for instance. But that could be South Park (infantilizing form covering up very adult humor), Team America, Itchy & Scratchy, Sin City... it looks like it's made for children, but it's rated R. There is regression of the form and transgression of the content, which was typically children-oriented material in our contemporean culture. Something like that.

Ying said...

Hi Michael,

I'm a undergrad from Nanyang Technological University of Singapore and I see that you've interviewed Deepa Mehta before!

As I'm currently working on my final year project, a photojournalism piece that will focus on widows in Varanasi, I would like to see if I can gain some insights and learn about the planning process when Mehta was shooting in India before the riots started.

The subject will be different from the film and it will be really interesting to correspond with her.

Please would you mind providing me the email contact of Mehta?

It would be of great help! Thanks!

Maya said...

Ying, my interview with Deepa was arranged through a local publicist. I don't have her personal email address and wouldn't be at liberty to give it out even if I did. I'm sorry I can't help further; but, I wish you luck in your studies.