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SBIFF reveals the <i>guts and glory</i> of directing

2004 Santa Barbara International Film Festival
Reveals the Guts and Glory of Directing

From Peter Biskind’s documentary, Don’t Bank on Amerika to Denys Arcand’s, The Barbarian Invasions Santa Barbara never ceases to amaze us. On Saturday, January 31st a panel of eight prominent directors answered Biskind’s Q’s at the 2004 Santa Barbara International Film Festival. It is an event like this Directors on Directing panel that inspires and intrigues us as filmmakers, film enthusiasts, and film critics. The panelists included Peter Weber, Girl With a Pearl Earring; Patty Jenkins, Monster; Anthony Minghella, Cold Mountain; Gary Ross, Seabiscuit; Denys Arcand, The Barbarian Invasions; Tom McCarthy, The Station Agent; Ed Zwick, The Last Samuari; and Vadim Perelman, House of Sand and Fog.

One out of eight directors on the panel was a woman. Her subject matter is about a woman. This woman was an outcast; she was a Monster or was the world a monster to her? In a Hollywood world, where most of the directors are men, this woman director braves to make a film that is “anti-Hollywood.” Leading up to her career as a first time feature film director, Patty Jenkins worked in short films and was a camera person for several years. With Monster she could not afford to gamble with the $90,000,000 budget. According to Jenkins, amidst her initial stages of wanting to make this film there was a series of serial killer films being made, and a producer told her this was the idea she would be able to get financial backing for. People heeded attention to the film’s story because they thought it encompassed “hot lesbian actresses” and the buzz on the production end was “maybe we’ll make our money back there.”

All laughs aside, Monster is not about “hot lesbian actresses.” Jenkins wanted to interview Aileen Wuornos, the woman Monster recreates, only if Wurnos was in favor of it. Wuornos was a serial killer that was executed in 2002. An audience member asks if Aileen knew Jenkins was making this film. Jenkins said the relationship between Aileen and herself started with a letter. The two then talked on the phone. One minute Eileen would shed positive light on the film, and moments later she would exclaim Jenkins just wanted to make money off her story.

Jenkins pronounced that it wasn’t until the night before Aileen’s execution, did she give consent to make the film, opening up letters she had written in jail for Jenkins to rely on for the film’s truth. Jenkins explains it was Aileen’s best friend whom the story rights were bought from in order to help her subsidize her farm.

Tom McCarthy chimes in after Jenkin’s “hot lesbian actresses” comment that after flicks about these are the “dwarf movies,” as in The Station Agent. He continues, “I think the sections are together in the video store.” Tom is also a first time director (and writer) and it took him 2.5 to 3 years to raise the money with a lot of convincing. His background is as a theater actor.
Minghella’s and Ross’s films are adaptations. Referring to Cold Mountain as a book Minghella claims, “I think it’s a novel that people have bought, but not necessarily read.” According to Gary Ross a film cannot be emotional without making it personal, so even though Seabiscuit is a historically based film, Ross must change parts of the story in order to justify making it.

Continuing with the Q & A, Biskind asks, “What is the worst thing about your job?” Jenkins answers, “There’s no one for me to blame because it’s my film.” Minghella jokes most directors don’t know much at all. The constant questions crew members heed towards the director can become an issue. Gary Ross comments, “The most important thing to do is just say something.” Rather than say “I don’t know,” for example, when given a choice between painting a wall red or blue, just say red!

With a smile on his face, Vadim Perelman exclaims, “I hated shooting the film” and Ed Zwick details the practicalities to filmmaking. He says, “You want Japanese soldiers in New Zealand [where they filmed The Last Samurai], well you need visas.” Ross quotes Stanley Kubrick: “The worst part of directing is getting out of the car in the morning.”
Denys Arcand differs with his idea about the worst part of the job. He exclaims, “Being a director is ego-mania. This is the best ego trip in the universe.”

Cons of directing all aside, these eight talented and highly regarded directors are placed on a pedestal. We ask for autographs and we submit to their authority in their craft. Sometimes it’s nice to know that famous filmmakers are just like everybody else with their ability to error as humans. Perelman exerts, “Jennifer [Connelly] won for a Simple Mind. An audience member corrects him: A Beautiful Mind.

The programmers and directors at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival know how to combine practicality, feasibility, and amaze us with the talent they are able to suck in to this beautiful, historic city. The Directors on Directing was only a taste of what the festival has to offer. It continues until closing night on February 8th.

Patty Jenkins director of Monster

Anthony Minghella director of Cold Mountain

Gary Ross for Seabiscuit

And Denys Arcand for the The Invasions of the Barbarians

By Michelle Paster

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