Preview Scene from Downton Abbey: Episode Two

January 14th, 2011

Downton Abbey, the epic drama by writer Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park) returns to Masterpiece with Episode Two.

As Matthew and Isobel settle in to life in the village, a series of events threaten to put the fate of Downton Abbey on even less stable ground.

Downton Abbey stars Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith, and Elizabeth McGovern.

Episode Two airs Sunday, January 16 at 9 p.m on THIRTEEN.

Watch a preview:

Jeff Bridges: The Dude Abides – A Q&A with Director Gail Levin

January 12th, 2011

Gail Levin

Inside Thirteen recently sat down with Gail Levin, director of American Mastersupcoming film, Jeff Bridges: The Dude Abides.

Here, Levin discusses what it was like working with the legendary actor, whose appeal, she points out, spans the generations. An Academy Award winner, Bridges is also an accomplished musician, painter, and photographer. Learn more about his work on his official Web site.

American MastersJeff Bridges: The Dude Abides premieres January 12 at 8 p.m. on THIRTEEN.

Enter for a chance to win a Jeff Bridges gift pack, including The Big Lebowski 10th Anniversary Edition DVD.

Inside Thirteen: What was Jeff Bridges’ reaction to American Masters’ decision to make a film about him?

Gail Levin: One of the main points in the film is his reticence to take on projects all the time. So, I don’t think this one is really different for him. But, the twofold of it is that he’s always a little hesitant and he’s always a little bit halting, but once he’s in, he’s in. I think that can be said about this. I think that he was not sure what this meant – when you put this kind of a magnifying glass on somebody, it makes them feel a little awkward. But, having said that, I think he also just decided to get out of the way of it and let it be. So, I would say that’s how he approached it and that’s how I approached it as well – to not be in his way about it, but let him realize that this is his story.

IT: Was there anything that you were surprised to learn about him during the making of the film?

GL: I was surprised to learn that what seems to be an easygoing guy is kind of a guy who frets a bit. He appears to be so easy and “dude-ish” in a way, but he’s not that laid back. He’s not uptight, be he’s intense and he thinks about things…it’s not an easy task for him to just give over to it. In the film, Mercedes Ruehl made this statement about how she felt that there was a sort of melancholy about him – then in the next part of the statement she said, she felt he was not a stranger to sadness. And I think there’s something about that that’s true – there’s another side to him. There is a joyfulness and a kidding around, but I think there is also a part of him that is very thoughtful, very pensive, and a bit darker – a bit more complex than you might expect. He’s not a guy you can take at face value at all.

IT: What was the most challenging part of making this film?

GL: Exactly the same things! I didn’t know him at all, and we had a very short window to make the film in. That was both good and bad. I think it would be very hard to take on a film with somebody that you know well. That’s never a good idea. But also, you have to have time to build some sort of trust with someone and have the feeling that they know you’re going to be okay with them and that you feel that they’re going to be okay with you. We had very little time to establish that. The producers on this film – Neil Koenigsberg, Nikki Silver, Orly Wiseman – they’d worked with him for some time trying to do a feature film on a young adult book called The Giver. They know him very well, but I didn’t know him at all. But I think based on him knowing them, he was willing to assume that I was okay for this. Hopefully, that all worked out. Still, he and I didn’t have a relationship. Luckily enough on my end, I’ve watched his films all my life, so I knew his body of work, which was a big plus. But I was not an intimate of his at all, so there was a little bit of that – he had to sort of decide if I was okay, I had to hope he thought I was okay. It’s nervous making to do these things! What’s also good is that I didn’t develop a crush on him. (Laughs)

IT: Bridges not only acts, but also is a musician, artist and accomplished photographer. How much of this is this reflected in the film?

GL: It is. He’s extremely talented, and not just as an actor. I think he himself had hoped that he would be a musician – music is not something that just came with Crazy Heart. He’s played guitar since he was a kid, and loves it. So that was something to learn, because I always just thought – he’s a great actor, and he was able to learn enough guitar to really pull it off in Crazy Heart. I didn’t realize the extent of his love for music and how much he played and how much a part of his life that had always been. So, it’s really his double muse, music and acting. I think what he loves now and what is extremely wonderful about having won an Oscar for Crazy Heart is, he wins the Oscar playing a part of something he always wanted to be, which is a musician. He’s also got a little band now and does some public appearances, and I think that bridging (pardon the pun) of the loves in his life is nice.

In his paintings, he’s really rather Picasso-esque – he’s very free and fluid. It’s beautiful stuff. We devised to do this plexiglass idea in the film, which is from Picasso. I’ve always wanted to duplicate it, and he was the perfect person to do it with; he really got into it, which was fun.

IT: You have directed and produced a number of shows for THIRTEEN, including previous American Masters films on Marilyn Monroe and James Dean. What first drew you to documentary film making and public television?

GL: For me, the arts are just an endless source of intelligence, brilliance, imagination, and originality. How people do what they do is so fascinating to me. I think it’s mysterious; it’s not something people can explain to you. So, if there’s some way to hang around, get some access, and get some ability to watch some of what happens, I think that’s very compelling stuff and we’re lucky if we can see some of that. I think the beauty of documentary work is that it’s a mystery too – you never know where it’s going to lead you. You start out with some notion of it, but it’s very different from a script. A script you write, you shoot against, and you know what the story is going to be. There’s always the element of surprise, but the surprise comes from performance, from something that’s improvised, it comes from someone who sees it inside an already determined framework. In documentary, it’s never determined. It’s never the same, and affords enormous possibility.

IT: Is there anything else about the film you would like viewers to know?

GL: I would love people to know about John Goodman’s interview. In The Big Lebowski, John Goodman was hilarious, but he was a little bit hard to interview – he came in a little guarded. We started talking and all of a sudden, he started to laugh about Lebowski, about the character and about Jeff’s performance – he started to laugh in that way you laugh as a little kid, you start giggling and then you can’t stop. So we started laughing, but we didn’t want it to get picked up on the track…but I also wanted to keep him laughing. It was great!

Another thing I’m sorry didn’t happen was that we missed getting in one of Jeff’s friends since the 4th grade. Jeff has very long friendships. And these are not with movie stars – I’m sure he has those as well, but these are friends that he’s very loyal to, they’re very loyal to him, they still hang out…it’s very cool, and I’m sorry that that didn’t get enough real play in the film. He also has a strong family life, which we didn’t get to show enough of.

One other thing we didn’t get to do enough with is Jeff’s charitable and humanitarian work. He’s been working now with a group called No Kid Hungry, and I know he’s very strongly advocating to be sure that children eat in this country – there are hungry children on a level that we would not believe here.

What is your favorite Jeff Bridges film?

GL: My favorite Jeff Bridges film, aside from Lebowski – which is just a masterpiece – is Cutter’s Way… it is a small, noir-ish film, from the early ’80’s, and it is superb. Aside from that, my next favorite is The Fisher King, also because I adore Terry Gilliam, the director.

PBS Launches Video App for iPhone and iPod touch

January 11th, 2011

Yesterday, PBS announced the release of the PBS App for iPhone and iPod touch, which features over 300 hours of free video, including full-length programming from FRONTLINE, Nature, Need to Know, and others.

The app also includes scheduling information, previews, and a new tune-in reminder calendar that can be synced with iCal.

The PBS Antiques Roadshow game app (available for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch) also launched yesterday, and lets players virtually collect, appraise, and bid on real antiques and collectibles from different cities added regularly.

The PBS App was developed by PBS and Bottle Rocket Apps and follows the already successful PBS App for iPad.

The app is available for free from the App Store on iPad, iPhone and iPod touch, or at www.itunes.com/appstore, and the Antiques Roadshow App is available for $2.99 from the App Store on iPad, iPhone and iPod touch, or at www.itunes.com/appstore.

Check out more details and features of the apps.

One Year Later: The Making of Children of Haiti

January 10th, 2011

Children of Haiti premieres on Independent Lens on Tuesday, January 11 — a day before the one-year anniversary of the deadly Haiti earthquake.

Although her film wrapped before the quake, filmmaker Alex Hammond has returned to Haiti several times since and joined Independent Lens to talk about making the film, what has become of her subjects, and why she fell in love with the country.

Watch Children of Haiti tomorrow at 10 p.m. on THIRTEEN.

Interview courtesy of Independent Lens. For more interviews and other Independent Lens film content, visit their blog.

What impact do you hope this film will have?

Enlightening more people about Haiti, giving voice to the children who don’t have a place in society.

What led you to make this film?

I first traveled to Haiti in 2002 to shoot a short documentary about the impact of the largest private hospital in the north, called Hopital Sacre Couer. I spent a month documenting the need for medical attention, while also learning about Haiti’s remarkable history and rich culture. But an unavoidable fact in Haiti is the epidemic of homeless children, who I saw everywhere. During my time in the city of Cap-Haitien, I visited a small center for street kids, and was introduced to a few boys who shared their personal stories of survival. I was moved immensely by the challenges and obstacles these children were up against, and determined to capture all the contrasts in their world that were so surreal to me.

What were some of the challenges you faced in making this film?

Of the many challenges in such a project, the greatest is making a film about children. Children are typically complicated and difficult subject matter. Depending on their level of maturity, many only want to show off for the camera. The work becomes finding those who can articulate their situation honestly. On a personal level, gaining the trust of the people in the city was never easy. The film was shot before the earthquake, and though they were used to missionaries, rarely were “blans” (foreigners) seen hanging around with cameras. Safety was certainly an issue, especially when shooting at night. Street boys are constantly being abused by older boys, gangs and police. Their sleeping spot is considered the most sacred place, and we generally had to be very sensitive about filming them in public spaces. The final challenge was the edit. Translating and building a film in a foreign language, while working freelance film and television jobs to support the project, was no less a task than shooting it.

How did you gain the trust of the subjects in your film?

We gained trust because we had a wonderful guide, Alfred “Jah” Castel. He was our translator and friend, well known in town for his years playing soccer. He also knew where the street boys hung around, because he divided his time coaching soccer at a private school and working in a small school for street children. Having Jah explain our intentions to the children, that we would be unobtrusive and respect anyone who didn’t want to be on camera, helped lay the foundations of trust. We committed 10 hours or more each day to seeing what these children had to face, and many of them were very responsive and respectful of what we were doing.

What would you have liked to include in your film that didn’t make the cut?

There are several boys we followed that just couldn’t make the cut because their stories weren’t developed enough. It was painful to do way with these small portraits because I wanted so many of them to have a chance to be heard.

Tell us about a scene in the film that especially moved or resonated with you.

We were with the boys at sunset. Though many of them were high on thinner, fooling around and acting like little kids, our main character Denick began preaching about his dreams for Haiti. It was a shinning moment for him. His words connected with the children, with us, even with passing strangers. This 14-year-old street boy’s incredible understanding of his country, people and history moved every one of us.

What has the audience response been so far? Have the people featured in the film seen it, and if so, what did they think?

We shared the film with Denick in July 2010. He loved it, but had a very hard time watching the scenes with his stepfather, who died in 2008. Nickenson saw many of the scenes cut in 2009, but we were saddened we couldn’t find him on the last trip to share more.

The independent film business is a difficult one. What keeps you motivated?

Discovering new stories and subjects that I want to explore. There are so many beautiful and fascinating things happening all the time, and I just can’t wait to immerse myself in these new worlds and listen to stories and watch interesting people tell me their dreams. I like subjects that are not common, and places most people might not know much about. Haiti is enigmatic, but has a bad rap amongst people that don’t know any better. I wanted to prove them wrong. I wanted to share the beauty of the land, the people, the remarkable history and what I fell in love with. There’s always a lot of rejection in the making of such a film, and many times I felt like it was going to kill me, but the boys kept me strong to finish.

Why did you choose to present your film on public television?

I felt that this film could inspire, bringing people together to share compassion for these children. TV reaches a huge audience in towns across the US and the world that might never get a chance to see such a place in their lifetime. I wanted to transport them to Haiti. I wanted others to see what I fell in love with, to show them that Haiti is complex, grand, and an important part of world history.

Why are there no girls in your film?

Many people ask why there are no girls in the film. The truth is simple: Getting access is virtually impossible. Many of the girls in Haiti are restaveks, which means domestic servants. They are essentially slaves, taken in by families who don’t necessarily have much, but they clean the house and cook in exchange for food and shelter. Most of these girls never go to school, and many are exploited. My focus ultimately had to remain on the street boys, as each issue really requires a film of its own.

My feelings about the earthquake and how it affected the children in my film?

While Haiti is a relatively small country (the size of Rhode Island), it’s rough geography and landscape keeps everyone isolated. The film takes place in the northern city of Cap-Haitien, a ten hour bus ride through treacherous mountainsides from the capital city of Port-Au-Prince. The earthquake only impacted the southern part of the country, so thankfully the boys I know were fine. Cap-Haitien is relatively safe and unharmed, but these children are still facing the same problems. In fact, nothing has changed for them. I hope the film can bring awareness to this issue which should not remain unaddressed.

What didn’t you get done when you were making your film?

There are always things you miss, which might be one of the hardest things to accept about making documentaries, but I don’t think about it. You return from each trip thinking you missed something, and in the editing room it feels even worse, but you have to accept that it’s impossible to predict reality..

What are your three favorite films?

Empire of the Sun, Lawrence of Arabia, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Aguirre, the Wrath of God. Sorry, that’s four. I have so many favorites, but these films I watch again and again. They are uniquely powerful films by true masters, and every time I watch them I see something new.

What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?

Don’t get into film if you want to make money. Trust your instinct and observe your subjects, let them guide you. If you believe in something whole-heartedly, don’t give up. It will just take one person to believe in you. Be aggressive about pushing your films and networking, but also know when to back off.

What do you think is the most inspirational food for making independent film? (This question is meant literally.)

A ham and cheese sandwich.

Thirteen.org Partners with Big Screen Project for Outdoor Broadcast of The City Concealed

January 7th, 2011

THIRTEEN has partnered with The Big Screen Project (BSP1) to bring Thirteen.org online original content to public spaces.

Starting today at noon, episodes of The City Concealed will be broadcast on The Big Screen Project‘s 30-foot LED outdoor screen.

The screenings will take place through February 27 at the Eventi Hotel public plaza on Sixth Avenue between 29th and 30th Streets in Chelsea.

The City Concealed, a 2010 Webby Award Nominee for Best Documentary Series, explores little known or inaccessible places throughout the five boroughs. Past locations featured on the show include Kehila Kedosha Janina, the only Greek synagogue in the Western hemisphere, located in the Lower East Side, and Ridgewood Reservoir (once the source of Brookyln’s drinking water).

The Big Screen Project will broadcast the episodes on the following dates and times in January and February:

JAN 7, 12:05-1:05 p.m.
JAN 12, 12:00-1:00 p.m.
JAN 13, 9:00-10:00 a.m.
JAN 15, 2:00-3:00 p.m.
JAN 21, 12:05-1:35 p.m.
JAN 25, 4:00-5:00 p.m.
JAN 26, 12:00-1:00 p.m.
JAN 27, 9:00-10:00 a.m.
JAN 29, 2:00-3:00 p.m.

FEB 7, 12:05-1:05 p.m.
FEB 12, 12:00-1:00 p.m.
FEB 13, 9:00-10:00 a.m.
FEB 15, 2:00-3:00 p.m.
FEB 21, 12:05-1:35 p.m.
FEB 25, 4:00-5:00 p.m.
FEB 26, 12:00-1:00 p.m.
FEB 27, 9:00-10:00 a.m.

Check out the full schedule for more information.

Learn more about The City Concealed and watch full episodes online.

Elsa's Legacy: The Born Free Story: A Q&A with actress Virginia McKenna

January 5th, 2011

Inside Thirteen recently had the opportunity to speak with veteran actress, author, and wildlife activist Virginia McKenna.

McKenna is best known for her role as Joy Adamson in the 1966 film, Born Free, for which she received a Golden Globe nomination.  The film (based on the book by the same title) tells the story of George and Joy Adamson, who raised an orphaned lion cub, Elsa, to adulthood, and released her into the wilds of Kenya.

Virginia McKenna and her son, Will Travers, the CEO of Born Free USA

Following the film, McKenna and her husband (Bill Travers, who co-starred in Born Free as George Adamson) became active supporters of animal rights and founded the Born Free Foundation in 1984 (the U.S. companion organization, Born Free USA, was established in 2002).

Learn more about the Born Free story on Nature’s Elsa’s Legacy: The Born Free Story, which premieres Sunday, January 9 at 8 p.m. on THIRTEEN.

Ms. McKenna answered our questions via email.

Inside Thirteen: Are there any memories of making Born Free that stand out to you that you can share with us?

Virginia McKenna: There are so many memories! Sharing dawn walks with lions on the African plains. Swimming with a lioness in the ocean. Remembering the start of our friendship with George Adamson, which continued until his murder in 1989. It was through him we learned about lions – why and how they respond to different circumstances. How to gain their trust, how to look at things from their point of view. Living in an old settler’s house in the bush, within roaring distance of the lions. The kindness of the Kenyan people we met and with whom we worked. And, of course, the vast Kenya skies with their extraordinary cloud formations which, miraculously, never seemed to obscure the sun.

Perhaps one of my most treasured memories is walking out with Girl (one of the lionesses “playing” Elsa) and her brother Boy and seeing a small group of Thomson’s gazelles some distance away. Suddenly Girl took off, stalked them, brought one down, killed it and then, in proper lion fashion, dragged it to us and laid it at my feet. She let us pick it up and put it in the back of the Land Rover to take back to camp. It really made us believe we were part of her pride.

IT: You and your husband started a production company in 1968 to make wildlife documentaries. Do you have a favorite of these films?

VM: My husband, Bill Travers, was the documentary filmmaker. Over the years, from 1966, he formed various independent film companies – Morning Star, Limelight Productions, and Swan Productions. His first film was the story of what happened to some of the lions that were in Born Free. Only three out of over 20 were given to George Adamson to rehabilitate back to the wild. It was the start of the work George was to continue until his death and Bill filmed this unique footage in “The Lions are Free.”

He made many amazing films – “Bloody Ivory,” about elephants being poached for the ivory trade, (tragically still happening today) and the orphans who are left behind when their mothers are killed. David Sheldrick, the then Senior Game Warden of Tsavo National Park was striving to catch the poachers and his wife, Daphne, cared for the orphans – amazing work she continues to this day. “The Queen’s Garden,” the life of the garden at Buckingham Palace, filmed over the period of a year, with an appearance by her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and with a wonderful music score by John Scott. “Christian, The Lion at World’s End” – a clip from which has been viewed on YouTube millions of times. Bill’s chance encounter with this young lion and his owners in a shop in London enabled Christian, through Bill’s unfailing endeavours, to be returned to the wild in Kenya by George Adamson, after spending 4 months in a compound in our garden in the country, cared for by his owners Ace Bourke and John Rendall. Apart from the first scene where we met Christian, the whole documentary was filmed as it happened.

A feature film which he co-wrote and produced with James Hill (who directed Born Free and “Christian, the Lion at World’s End”) was “An Elephant Called Slowly,” in 1968. This film means a lot to me, as it was then that we met a little two-year-old elephant who had been captured from the wild by the then Kenyan Government as a gift to London Zoo. We made the film in Tsavo with the Sheldrick’s orphaned elephants as well. When filming ended, our request to buy the little one, Pole Pole, was granted but we were told another would have to be captured for the zoo. An intolerable thought. She came to the zoo. It was her death there, as a teenager, that propelled us into forming a charity to look at the situations wild animals face in captivity. Pole Pole’s death could not be in vain. Originally called Zoo Check, it was renamed The Born Free Foundation in 1991.

IT: During pre-production on Born Free, you broke your ankle when a lion jumped on you. Were you nervous at all about something like this happening during the making of the film, or were you and the cast comfortable with the animals on set?

VM: No, I wasn’t nervous about having an accident during the making of the film. The incident you mention was just chance. It only happened because the lion, Boy, was very excited. We had, with Girl, been stalking some gazelles out on an old airstrip. The gazelles were a long way off and our two were getting a bit frustrated. I think he decided I would be a bit easier to knock over! But apart from that he did not hurt me at all and we were very comfortable together when I eventually returned to work. The crew was protected in wire “cages” as it was important the focus of the relationship was between the lions, Bill, George and myself.

IT: What was your experience working with Nature like?

VM: I was very fortunate that, through taking part in the documentary, I was able to return to Kenya, to travel up to Meru, and revisit the places where Elsa lived, brought her cubs to the Adamson’s camp and where she died. I also went to the site of George’s first little camp where Bill made “The Lions are Free.” It is always a nostalgic experience for me when I return to these quiet, unassuming places where a kind of history was made. The Director, Sacha Mirzoeff, and the crew on the documentary were particularly sensitive and nice people and I felt very fortunate.

IT: Was there anything you were surprised to learn about the Adamsons during the making of the film?

VM: No, there wasn’t really anything that surprised me. I had only just read the book, so that is all I knew! Later I learned much more and I am aware that Joy often came in for strong criticism. I have to say that during the filming she was totally helpful and approachable. Following filming I spent an extraordinary three days with her in Meru. She was a passionate, sometimes unreasonable and volatile person but through her financial generosity three game parks were saved and look at the story she has left us. Of course, that story could not have happened without George, our lion man, loved and respected by us all. It was the two of them that made it happen – so different, yet bound together by their commitment to wild animals being able to live as nature intended – in the wild.

IT: What do you feel is the biggest threat to animals in the wild today? Has it changed since Born Free was made?

VM: Well, there is more threat to wild animals today than ever. Poaching, hunting, over fishing, poisoning, trapping, reduction of habitat (increased human population and therefore human/animal conflict), traditional Chinese medicine, climate change, capturing for zoos and circuses – the list is endless. Man’s insatiable need to own, to possess, to manipulate, to have everything his own way is wrecking the balance of nature. Some may say I see nature through “rose tinted glasses.” I refute that. I am a realist, and I believe that what we are doing to wild places and wild animals is one of the greatest tragedies of our time. Some say nature is “red in tooth and claw.” That is one way of putting it. I call it survival. Sadly humans, without the survival element, have the reddest and sharpest teeth and claws of all.

A Portrait of the Director as Middle-Aged Synchronized Swimmer

January 4th, 2011

Dylan Williams, the director and one of the Swim Gents in the film Men Who Swim, joined Independent Lens to discuss how directing and appearing in his own documentary sometimes meant that life imitated art, and vice versa.

Men Who Swim airs tonight at 10 p.m. on THIRTEEN.

Interview courtesy of Independent Lens. For more interviews and other Independent Lens film content, visit their blog.

What made you start filming the Stockholm Arts Gents?

As soon as I became a member of the team I knew there was a film to be made — I mean who wouldn’t? However, it took a number of years to actually generate some interest in the project, which I believe in retrospect was a good thing since it gave me more time to settle in to the team.

I refused to accept the many rejections from funders who believed it to be too frivolous a subject for a documentary, and I just continued to film. The team merely laughed at my constant filming and became very relaxed in front of the ever-present camera. I started by filming the training sessions and then our regular parties. When I realized that we would all be turning 40 around the same time, I just knew that I had to make the film. I decided to really come up with a strategy and start production — single-handedly if need be. Fortunately the hook of the championships in Milan arrived and helped me get the amazing support that helped make the film a reality.

The characters on the team were also a huge motivation. With a good character one can rarely go wrong, and in this case I could have chosen almost any of the team to feature as characters, although Rickard was a clear choice because he wore his heart on his sleeve and put in so much energy into the team.

What do you think the film is about?

Apart from being a sport documentary, I guess it’s a film about change and how we come to terms with it. Personally, those changes involved moving to another country and all the related adjustments, becoming a father, and last but not least, becoming middle-aged.

At the beginning of the Men Who Swim, Rickard beautifully sums up a state of mind that lies at the core of the film. He says he feels that in middle age life has slowed to the practicalities. Deep within us we still have our 25-year-old selves or even our 15-year-old selves, who still seek change and action, but outwardly we are responsible middle-aged people with duties to fulfill and routines to follow. While we are blessed to be living in a part of the world that allows us to live in luxury, there is nonetheless a small part of us — or at least of me — that feels a bit sorry that youth has passed by and that life has become a long list of things to do. Turning 40 is a symbolic milestone, which often makes one realize that life really is passing one by, and a time to wonder whether it is too late to change. I am loathe to use the expression mid-life crisis because it is altogether a more low-level variant.

Thereafter the film is a reflection on this state of mind and a slow dawning that life really isn’t so bad after all, and that the new stage is not worse, just different. Personally, it was a journey to start looking at life from another perspective and to be grateful for the things that I have in my life rather than focusing on all the things that I haven’t done or don’t have anymore.

It’s also a comedy about men — how they hide themselves behind superficialities like graphs and charts. It didn’t matter how silly synchronized swimming was; there was an enjoyment of ourselves as a company of men, smoking cigarettes and wearing suits that gave us a release from our normal lives.

What’s it like being both the protagonist and director of the film?

It’s very strange to be the protagonist and the director; it seemed to build in me a double identity. I was always wondering whether I should film myself, and thinking weird thoughts such as, “Maybe if my wife Anna became pregnant it could make for a good ending?” Suddenly my whole life was an opportunity for a scene. After I was sacked from work as a care assistant, the project had no financial support at all, so it had dire circumstances for my family in the short term. Simultaneously, I was delighted that I’d managed to set up the camera and record the conversation as I lost the job.

But however much I tried to construct things, the best scenes were the most spontaneous moments. I was sitting in our small ateljé when Anna called me and said she had bad news. I had no idea what to expect. Fortunately Erik (our producer and the director of photography) shouted at me to hang up and call her back, which I did five minutes later. The subsequent conversation about the need for an operation on the cat to extract a rubber monster from its stomach at a cost of 14,000 kroner was great. Working closely with Erik has been the lifeline. Without him I would have found it very difficult to have any space to myself.

How did making the film affect your relationship with the team?

It was more problematic than one can imagine for such a feel-good film — although everyone was very relaxed when we were filming, it was when I began to edit the film that they all started to get nervous. Of course I had filmed about 80 hours of material in all manner of situations, and I had interviews recorded which they preferred not be shown. I could easily have made a film that was much edgier in tone, but I really didn’t have the heart to start ripping into people and their relationships and use my deeper knowledge of them to their disadvantage. My relationship with these people is way too important for me to betray that trust.

What was the biggest challenge for you as a director making the film?

I have never made a film about a team before, so it was a real learning curve for how to develop identities for differing members of a group so that the audience has a sense of them without giving any one too much attention and taking the focus away from the central characters. It was a really difficult balancing act.

What do the team think about seeing themselves on camera?

I think they were surprised to see how good it looked — thanks Erik! For years they’ve just been teasing me about my failed film career and so when I eventually made the film they were really surprised. They really like it and have laughed at a lot of the situations. Memories that would otherwise have dimmed with time, now exists on a DVD on the shelf.

What do you hope the audience will take away from seeing the film?

Hopefully I have conveyed the importance of appreciating the witnesses of one’s life. These are the people who surround you in your everyday life and share the ups and downs that can’t avoid. I try to appreciate them in as many different ways as I can.

What’s next for the team and for you?

The team, as ever, has lots of projects in the pipeline. Of course, the main priority is preparing a whole new program for the next world championships that will take place in Amsterdam next year. The arguments are more intense than ever now that we feel that we really have something to live up to. Perhaps we will have perfected the the flying lift by then.

We perform quite regularly on the synchronized swimming circuit in Sweden, and we recently swam to the accompaniment of a 40-piece orchestra. We dream of one day performing in the Mermaid Parade Celebrations in Coney Island, New York.

I am personally developing a fun project back in Wales entitled The Laughing Welshman. In the short term I am also making a children’s series for 3-to-5-year-olds, which is a real challenge!

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould Preview

December 22nd, 2010

American Masters’ upcoming film, Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould takes a look a the life of  Glenn Gould, one of the most celebrated classical pianists of the 20th century.

The program explores the various misconceptions about the eccentric musician, and features never-before seen footage of Gould, as well as personal memories shared by those who were closest to him.

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould airs Monday, December 27 at 9 p.m. on THIRTEEN.

Watch a preview:

Behind the Scenes with Danny Alpert, Director of The Calling

December 21st, 2010

Independent Lens sat down with director Danny Alpert to talk about the intense and long process of creating Daniel AlpertThe Calling, and what made him tackle such a nuanced and sometimes touchy subject. The Calling is a two-part film airing December 20 and 21 at 9 p.m. on THIRTEEN.

Join Independent Lens on Tuesday, December 21 at 2 p.m. for a live chat with Danny on the Independent Lens blog.

Interview courtesy of Independent Lens. For more interviews and other Independent Lens film content, visit their blog.

What impact do you hope this film will have?

I hope that this film will compel viewers to take a fresh look at the relationship between modernity and faith. I hope that the film will break stereotypes — for both secular and religious viewers — about the reality of what it means to be a religious leader and who is filling these roles today. It also makes more “common” the language of faith. By doing both of these things I hope that the series will build bridges between secular and religious viewers.

What led you to make this film?

I was brought up in a nurturing and positive community of faith and, as a teenager, I went through a period when I considered becoming a rabbi. Obviously I didn’t, but I was always left with that “what if?” question. As I continued to grow, I became a student of all faiths and began to question the balance between modernity and faith. When I produced a film called A History of God (based on the best seller by Karen Armstrong) I had the opportunity to meet some amazing religious leaders and their assistants — who were really interesting and mostly clergy-in-training. Their stories led me to discover The Calling as a way of exploring faith and modernity through personal, verité stories.

What were some of the challenges you faced in making The Calling?

One big challenge was the politics around the choices we made about who to include in the series. There are many denominations and schools in the faiths we profiled and, no matter what we did, there were going to be those who felt excluded. Another challenge was that a film that explores faith, which really is an internal process, is forced to test the definition of cinematic language around conflict and change. The nature of film also challenged us to balance our need for “story” with respect for the faiths and their communities. Another big challenge was in interweaving the stories of so many characters into a cohesive narrative, within the allotted PBS run time, while making sure that we gave each story its due — particularly when we were working with more than 1,400 hours of footage.

How did you gain the trust of the subjects in your film?

I had the privilege to work with a team of directors — Alicia Dwyer, Yoni Brook, Maggie Bowman, and Musa Syeed– who are all great at this. Overall, I do not think that trust with subjects is any different than trust with anyone in your life. It’s about honesty, transparency, and a willingness to trust them and be vulnerable to them.

What would you have liked to include in your film that didn’t make the cut?

The editing process led to us cutting a story from the series, which was one of the most difficult decisions I have had to make as a filmmaker. I would have given a LOT to be able to have more time and include this story.

Tell us about a scene in the film that especially moved or resonated with you.

I think that the scene where Yerachmiel prepares for and hosts his first Shabbat dinner for his congregation speaks to me personally, as I can see myself and the rabbi I might have been, in this scene.

What has the audience response been so far? Have the people featured in the film seen it, and if so, what did they think?

The response thus far has been very positive. The subjects have all seen the film and are, by and large, enthusiastic.

The independent film business is a difficult one. What keeps you motivated?

I love to collaborate.

Why did you choose to present your film on public television?

PBS is the only place for this film — in terms of its style, length, and subject matter. And it is the only place that really gives the filmmaker creative control over the vision of the film.

What are your three favorite films?

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown , Sink the Bismarck. and The Godfather

What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?

Woody Allen says 99 percent of success is showing up. In documentary filmmaking, 99 percent of success is showing up and then bugging “them” until they give you what you need. Perseverance!

What do you think is the most inspirational food for making independent film?

Hummus is the most inspirational food for anything.

Tavis Smiley Partners with WNET

December 20th, 2010

Tavis Smiley

Host Tavis Smiley has entered into a new co-production partnership with WNET to continue production on his popular national talk show, Tavis Smiley.

The program will continue to film in Los Angeles, with occasional tapings at the Tisch WNET Studios at Lincoln Center.  The partnership was announced at the Tisch WNET Studios by WNET President and CEO Neal Shapiro and Tavis Smiley.

Tavis Smiley features interviews with a unique mix of newsmakers, including  politicians, entertainers, athletes, and authors.  The show debuted in 2004, and is about to embark on its 8th season with PBS.

Tavis Smiley airs weeknights  at midnight on THIRTEEN.

Watch Smiley’s recent interview on At the Paley Center:

Watch Tavis Smiley‘s special report on New Orleans five years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans: Been in the Storm Too Long:

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