Friday, December 25, 2009

LISTS 2009—My 10 Favorite Interviews

I always count my blessings this time of year, especially because I consider intelligent conversation one of the greatest gifts life offers the discriminating adult. It still amazes me somewhat that I get the chance to talk to so many of the incredible luminaries behind and in front of the lens that create the films that affect me so much in the dark. Here are my 10 favorites for 2009.

Adam Sekuler and the folks at Northwest Film Forum walked their talk and helped distribute Lisandro Alonso's Liverpool throughout the U.S. this year. The highlight of that distribution strategy was a retrospective held in Seattle at Northwest Film Forum where each of Alonso's films were shown with the director in attendance to finesse each of his projects. Lisandro is a highly likeable and accessible individual and it was such a pleasure to spend days with him talking about his movies in an informal setting. The fact that he's going to take a hiatus before launching into his next film made this opportunity to ask him a few more questions all the more poignant.

Susan Oxtoby at the Pacific Film Archive has been a great friend to me this year, offering interviews that I might not have sought out myself. I was highly flattered when she asked me to speak with avant-garde filmmaker Robert Beavers on the occasion of Beavers' rarely-screened film cycle Winged Distance Sightless Measure. As someone who knows very little about avant-garde cinema, this was a great opportunity to take a look at one of the most accomplished and lyric filmmakers within that tradition. Not only did I learn more about avant-garde cinema but walked away feeling that I had befriended a great soul and a consummate artist. Over the space of two weeks, I asked several questions, and cobbled these together with a languorous dinner conversation, compiling parts one and two of our conversation.

Turner Classic Movies has likewise been most fair to me over the years. This year they offered me the opportunity to speak with one of Hollywood's elder statesmen, Ernie Borgnine, whose enthusiasm was boundless as we reminisced on the stars of Hollywood's yesteryear.

Kirby Dick has always been a hardhitting documentarian with an unflappable sense of integrity. I admire his work very much. Outrage—his fierce documentary on closeted public officials causing harm to their brethren—spoke to my personal experience and it was a great honor to thank him for his efforts and to be invited to contribute to the film's DVD release.

I've teased Aaron Hillis about his tongue-in-cheek lament that he has interviewed all his favorite auteurs, sometimes twice, if not three times. Who's left? Such a concern, eh? I'm happy to say that there are still so many auteurs left for me to talk to even on a first go-round, and Bruno Dumont was this year's auteurial privilege. Handsome, stern, and deliciously provocative, I'm grateful to Danny Kasman at The Auteurs for optioning my conversation with Dumont.

The Wind Journeys was predictably chosen as Colombia's Oscar® submission this year; but, the Oscar I would have preferred would have been Oscar "Papeto" Ruiz Navia, who along with his actors Rodrigo Vélez and Arnobio Salazar Rivas sat down at the Toronto International to speak with me about Crab Trap, one of those quiet movies that has stayed with me throughout the year. Oscar was about as adorable as a director can get; a big kid making small movies of large dimension.

In another life—had I only applied myself—I might have been like Chon Noriega. One of the minds I most respect in Chicano studies, along with Amalia Mesa-Bains, I was delighted when Turner Classic Movies invited Noriega to host their annual "Race and Hollywood" series, which this year focused on Latino images in Hollywood film. They made a dream come true in finally providing the opportunity for me to converse with one of my admitted mentors.

As mentioned previously, Susan Oxtoby at Pacific Film Archive has been one of my champions this year, offering not only the chance to speak with Robert Beavers, but also the immensely articulate James Quandt, programmer for Cinematheque Ontario, who was in the Bay Area celebrating Nagisa Oshima. With informed candor, our conversation was one of the richest and most influential this year, parts one and two.

Speaking of auteurs, I have long wanted to talk to Portuguese director João Pedro Rodrigues and—on the occasion of the North American premiere of To Die Like A Man at the Toronto International—I was given that opportunity, along with his actor Alexander David. His is queer artistry at its most visionary. He has a deep husky laugh that I could listen to for hours.

Finally, this was the year that Dina Iordanova invited me to contribute an essay to their ongoing Film Festival Yearbook series. With diasporic cinema and diasporic channels as a form of distribution serving as a guideline, I pursued conversations with several Bay Area programmers whose efforts have addressed their diasporic constituencies; but, my favorites were with Nancy Fishman for the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (timely, since she has since moved on), Ivan Jagirdar and Anuj Vaidya for 3rd I, and Chi-hui Yang for the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival. Not only did these conversations provide insight into the behind-the-scenes workings of their respective festivals, but emphasized a collaborative ethos in the Bay Area among our community-based film festivals. Along with the theme of diasporic cinema, they indulged my interest in the spectacular dimension of their festivals, as well as the problematic issue of press tiering in the Bay Area (which is for a later entry).

Here's to 2010 and the conversations to come!


Aaron Hillis said...

Well done, sir, but a brief correction: I wasn't lamenting, I was joking in a very specific occurence... Merry happies to you, too!

Unknown said...

Quite an impressive list! I suspect that 2010 will be very kind to you, too!

Adam Hartzell said...

Your interviews w/ Dick and Quandy were two of my faves too, Michael. Thanks for all this.

Michael Hawley said...

Conversely, I bet if you asked each of these interviewees who was their favorite interviewer of 2009, their response would be none other than yourself. Bravo, Michael, for another year's worth of truly fascinating and essential work.

Michael Guillen said...

Thanks for the kind words, guys. Much appreciated.