I’m a veteran of several film festivals including the Newport Beach Film Festival, the Berlin International Film Festival, the American Film Institute's AFIFest Hollywood and AFI DOCS, the famed Venice International Film Festival, the San Luis Obispo SLO Film Fest, and the Santa Barbara International Film Festival's family of festivals including the SBIFF, the SBIFF Wave Festivals and the SBIFF Showcase Film Series. To date I’ve written and published over 100 film reviews and have work posted on four sites including sbccfilmreviews.org, imdb.com. I have also been published in Classic Film Images magazine.
In addition to writing reviews and covering film festivals, I am currently seeking distribution for new films. I have contacts in several major markets including Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, and Cannes, France.
So when you’re looking for your film to get noticed, remember HollywoodGlee can help. We have professional marketers, respected critics and the most knowledgeable contacts on what film festival and/or distribution channel is right for you and your film.
See you at the movies!
Screening tonight at 6 p.m., AUTONOMY explores the history of automated cars and the impact this technology will have on our society. As the value of our time has changed, it is unavoidable that automation affects the economics of our everyday life.
Executive-produced by Malcolm Gladwell, AUTONOMY asks questions about who will benefit most from this technology, and about the liability and safety concerns of self-driving cars. Futurist thinkers, engineers and researchers share stories of innovation and how new design will shape our experience of traveling by car. By reflecting on the automotive industry’s past, AUTONOMY prompts an important discussion of how Silicon Valley approaches this issue and the policies we should consider during this mobility revolution. –Sarah Harris
SPECIAL SCREENING – National Geographic Grosvenor Auditorium
SEA OF SHADOWS – Screened today at 2 p.m. Followed by a National Geographic reception. This environmental thriller was every bit as gripping and nail-biting as any pulp novel but with real world consequences for the Sea of Cortez. Trapped in nets used to catch the totoaba — a large fish whose bladders are highly prized in China for their supposed anti-aging properties — the vaquita gets tossed aside as collateral damage. While Mexican drug cartels seek to capitalize on this lucrative, illegal market, the Mexican government, conservationists and a famous TV reporter fight to save the vaquita. But with fewer than 10 vaquita left in the world, time is running out. Winner of the Audience Award in the Sundance World Cinema Documentary Competition. –Ken Jacobson
Director: Richard Ladkani
Producers: Walter Köhler, Wolfgang Knöpfler
Executive Producers: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Davisson, Phillip Watson, Scott Z. Burns
Each year, the AFI DOCS Charles Guggenheim Symposium honors a master of documentary film. This year AFI recognizes the exceptional career of filmmaker Freida Lee Mock as the 2019 Guggenheim honoree.
Demonstrating a remarkable range of subject matter, Freida Lee Mock has, for more than three decades, been one of America’s greatest cinematic biographers. From MAYA LIN: A STRONG CLEAR VISION (1994) and NEVER GIVE UP: THE 20TH CENTURY ODYSSEY OF HERBERT ZIPPER (1995) to WRESTLING WITH ANGELS: PLAYWRIGHT TONY KUSHNER (2006) and ANITA: SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER (2013), Mock has shown the uncanny ability to take intimate biographical detail and build larger-than-life narratives that reflect and illuminate the broader societal picture. For her extraordinary work, Mock received the 1995 Academy Award® for Best Documentary Feature and five total nominations; and a primetime Emmy® Award win from two nominations.
In her new film RUTH – JUSTICE GINSBURG IN HER OWN WORDS, Mock illuminates an intimate profile of Ginsburg with carefully culled archival footage and interviews, covering the full breadth of Ginsburg’s life, views and career.
The 2019 Guggenheim Symposium will pay tribute to this outstanding filmmaker with an onstage interview discussion of her career, film clips and a sneak preview of her fascinating new portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, on Saturday, June 22.
AFI spoke with her about her career and new film, below.
AFI: Throughout your films, you take on these historical figures. What draws you to them and to Ruth Bader Ginsburg specifically?
FLM: In general, all have been living but they are steeped in history and have a major place in the historical-political aspect in the community, country and the world. They have a historical significance, whether it’s Anita Hill or Maya Lin, somehow the work that they’re drawn to lends itself to a major impact on sociopolitical aspects of our country and our life, and that’s what draws me to these characters and these people.
Anita Hill reluctantly talking about sexual harassment and putting that issue on the national consciousness; or Maya Lin dealing with issues of public art or censorship, a public sculpture honoring the dead. In the case of Justice Ginsburg, some executive producers asked if I would do a film about her. I knew little about the details, such as decades of the pioneering work on gender discrimination, advanced issues of equality for women and men.
AFI: How much research and preparation did you do before going into crafting a portrait of the Justice?
FLM: Every step along the way is very important. I hear the phrase, you “save the film in the editing room.” For me, I can’t do that. If you do the proper research and development in the first phase, I do a lot of research in terms of primary sources and secondary sources. We try to look at all the visuals, before planning what I call “production phase,” which is what needs to be filmed vs. what already existed. If the visual material doesn’t exist already, then I will film it or express it differently. For this film, we decided to use animation and illustration to deal with how to dramatize the court cases.
AFI: Was this your first time working in animation?
FLM: I had a psychology project years ago and I used animation. This was a great way to save myself visually — if I can’t figure it out visually, I thought, I’ll just illustrate it.
AFI: How much archival footage were you dealing with and how did you organize the material?
FLM: We had hundreds of hours of stock footage. The film SENNA [by Asif Kapadia], just by comparison, had 5,000 hours. [For my Ginsburg film], we had to sit days and weeks and months and look at all this footage. When she was nominated for Supreme Court, that’s most of the footage you begin to find. The challenge was finding material earlier than 1993, or anything when she’s not a Justice. How do you fill in the visuals when she’s a professor? Teaching was a critical stepping stone, as was volunteering for the ACLU in the ’70s and taking on these gender discrimination cases. Those stepping stones are really important. Is there any visual material? No, of course. That’s when we decided to take an animation approach.
AFI: What most surprised you about Ruth Bader Ginsburg?
FLM: I had no idea she had such a singular vision about gender. I had no idea that she was really the pioneer in the contemporary way we approach gender discrimination, equality and justice. A lot of it comes from her childhood, her jewish upbringing, being raised during WWII [and encountering] overt discrimination and violence toward Jews. So that was really fascinating to understand why she took this path.
The paths she took were a reaction to the outside world. She rose to the occasion, not being an outright feminist, but seeing that these issues were core to her own experience. The cases all deal with issues of injustice.
Highlights of this Saturday at AFIDOCS include tonight’s Charles Guggenheim Symposium with Oscar®-winning filmmaker Freida Lee Mock, presenting her new film RUTH – JUSTICE GINSBURG IN HER OWN WORDS. Also catch the world premiere of the Apollo landing documentary CHASING THE MOON; the music doc DAVID CROSBY: REMEMBER MY NAME; moving Australia-set portrait IN MY BLOOD IT RUNS; eco-thriller SEA OF SHADOWS; and more!
Putting a smile on the film going community in Santa Barbara and surrounding areas, The Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) announces ticketing and programming for its exquisite Wave Film Festival: France! With eleven films and twenty-two screenings from July 12th-18th, 2019, at the acoustically pleasing and recently renovated Linda and Bruce’s Riviera Theatre, The SBIFF Wave Film Festival: France is a must-see exhibition of French cinema nestled in the American Riviera of Santa Barbara, California!
According to the festival office passes are selling out fast. Multiple options are offered to attend including Cinephile and Sponsor passes (both include access to the Passholder Reception at the Belmond El Encanto – Friday July 12: 5:30pm – 7:30pm). Check out the links and see below for a sneak peek at the French films screening this year. See you at the movies!
Misleading her husband about her travel plans, Faustine leaves Paris with their five-year-old son for Raqqa, an ISIS-controlled city. Finding herself in a desperate situation, Faustine sends an urgent plea to get them out. With French authorities powerless to help, her husband arranges a high-risk exfiltration operation to save his wife and son. Tense and timely, this gripping drama is based on a true story.
Directed by Emmanuel Hamon
Written by Benjamin Dupas
Starring Swann Arlaud, Finnegan Oldfield, Jisca Kalvanda, Charles Berling
In this oh-so-French romantic comedy about three impossibly attractive Parisians, Abel is a dashing journalist whose pregnant girlfriend, Marianne, leaves him to marry Paul, the father of her baby (who happens to be Abel’s best friend). So begins a tale that stretches over years until Marianne reappears, as does Eva, Paul’s impetuous younger sister. Winner, Jury Prize for Best Screenplay, San Sebastián International Film Festival.
Directed by Louis Garrel
Written by Jean-Claude Carrière and Louis Garrel
Starring Laetitia Casta, Lily-Rose Depp, Louis Garrel
Joseph and his sons form a close-knit family but fail to see that each is losing control of his life. One son spends most of his time daydreaming about his ex-girlfriend. The other is a misfit at school despite being smart. Joseph has secretly left medicine to become a writer. While there is plenty of affection at home, all three are also, clumsily, searching for love.
Directed by Félix Moati
Written by Félix Moati, Florence Seyvos
Starring Vincent Lacoste, Benoît Poelvoorde, Anaïs Demoustier, Mathieu Capella
Antoine starts his first year of medical school—for the third time. Benjamin, fresh out of high school, will have his first stab at it. He soon realizes that it’s more difficult than he thought. With nights dedicated to hard studying, rather than hard partying, the two will have to adapt and find a middle ground between despair for the present and hope for the future. From the Writer/Director of HIPPOCRATES: DIARY OF A FRENCH DOCTOR and THE COUNTRY DOCTOR.
Written & Directed by Thomas Lilti
Starring Vincent Lacoste, William Lebghil, Michel Lerousseau, Darina Al Joundi
Rachel, a young office clerk in a provincial town, meets Philippe, a well-educated man from a wealthy family. They share an intense but short-lived romance, leaving Rachel a single mother. Over the next 50 years, their lives are shaped by love—between a mother and daughter, by a woman for a man who rejects her, and by a daughter for an absent and abusive father.
Directed by Catherine Corsini
Written by Catherine Corsini and Laurette Polmanss
Starring Virginie Efira, Niels Schneider, Jehnny Beth, Estelle Lescure
When baby Theo’s birth mother surrenders him to adoption, the officers of child protection services are called into action. The baby is entrusted to Jean—no stranger to the foster system—who takes the newborn until a suitable home can be found. Alice, who has wanted to be a mother for a long time, faces the prospect that her dream could finally come true.
Written & Directed by Jeanne Herry
Starring Sandrine Kiberlain, Gilles Lellouche, Élodie Bouchez, Miou-Miou, Stéfi Celma
In this suspenseful psychological thriller, Alice and Céline live in adjoining houses, leading parallel bourgeois lives in 1960s Belgium. They are best friends, as are their boys, who have grown up like brothers. This perfect harmony is broken when tragedy strikes Céline’s son, with Alice as the only witness. As Céline’s behavior becomes more and more suspicious, Alice fears her friend is seeking revenge.
Directed by Olivier Masset-Depasse
Written by Olivier Masset-Depasse, Giordano Gederlini
Starring Veerle Baetens, Anne Coesens, Mehdi Nebbou
Thomas is a drug addict who joins a community of former addicts living in the mountains who use prayer as a way to cure themselves. Thomas gradually accepts a life of discipline, abstinence, hard work, and frequent prayer. He discovers faith, but also love—and a new kind of torment. Winner, Silver Bear for Best Actor, 2018 Berlin International Film Festival
Directed by Cédric Kahn
Written by Cédric Kahn, Samuel Doux, Fanny Burdino
Starring Anthony Bajon, Damien Chapelle, Alex Brendemühl, Hanna Schygulla
Mario is back to square one after his wife leaves home, and he now must raise his two adolescent daughters on his own. Niki, at seventeen, is about to leave the nest. Fourteen-year-old Frida blames her dad for her parents’ separation—and begins to explore her sexuality. Through it all, Mario must find ways to redefine himself as the women in his life create lives of their own.
Written & Directed by Claire Burger
Starring Bouli Lanners, Justine Lacroix, Sarah Henochsberg
When she meets Abel, Ella’s life is turned upside down. Irresistibly drawn to this elusive lover, the young woman discovers the cosmopolitan, underground world of the gaming circles of Paris, where adrenaline and money reign supreme. Their love story, begun as a mere bet, turns into a devouring passion. Filled with plot twists and lots of action, this film was a Directors’ Fortnight selection at the Cannes Film Festival.
Directed by Marie Monge
Written by Marie Monge and Julien Guetta
Starring Tahar Rahim, Stacy Martin
Yvonne is a police detective and the widow of police chief Santi, a local hero. When she learns that her husband was a crooked cop, she sets out to right the wrongs he committed. Crossing paths with a man who was unjustly imprisoned leads to a sequence of wild mishaps—and a mixture of action, romance, and screwball comedy. Winner, SACD Prize, Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes Film Festival.
Directed by Pierre Salvadori
Written by Benjamin Charbit, Benoît Graffin, Pierre Salvadori
Starring Adèle Haenel, Pio Marmaï, Damien Bonnard, Audrey Tautou, Vincent Elbaz
Screening tonight at 8:30 at the Landmark E Street, the film chronicles two unconventional police officers who are part of the San Antonio PD’s Mental Health Unit, founded to confront the fact that one in four people killed by police is mentally ill.
Ernie Stevens and Joe Smarro are not typical police officers. Dressed in polo shirts and slacks, guns out of view, the two approach each emergency call with the intent of defusing situations without force and helping those in need. They are part of the San Antonio Police Department’s Mental Health Unit, founded to confront the fact that one in four people killed by police is mentally ill. A rare 360-degree portrait of police officers, ERNIE & JOE gives no easy answers but reveals a path forward that could lead to transformative change nationwide. AFI spoke with director Jenifer McShane about her new work.
ERNIE & JOE plays as part of the Truth & Justice Program at AFI DOCS at the Landmark E Street Cinema in Washington DC on Friday, June 21 and at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, MD on Saturday, June 22. Buy tickets to the screening here.
AFI: What led you to pursue documentary filmmaking?
I love telling stories that might make a difference.
AFI: How did you become involved and what led you to start telling this story?
While researching and making my last documentary, MOTHERS OF BEDFORD, I became acutely aware of the number of mentally ill people sitting behind bars in this country. The work being done by Ernie, Joe and their peers addressed issues I care about and dovetails with my work making MOTHERS OF BEDFORD.
AFI: How did you find and connect with Ernie and Joe to be the subjects of your film?
An article written by a friend about the mental health work being done in San Antonio sparked my initial interest. This prompted me to go out and spend time with the mental health unit without a camera. I realized fairly quickly that Ernie and Joe would be excellent characters to help tell this complicated story.
AFI: What was a particular struggle you faced while making your film?
Much of the film takes place inside a police car. My fear was that so much time in the car would be claustrophobic for the viewer, but it actually presented an opportunity to look at the bond that develops when you spend countless hours together in stressful situations.
AFI: What do you want audiences to take away from seeing your film?
On the face of it, this film is about mental health and policing, but I also believe that at its core it is about human connection. I would like the film to inspire people to look at their own communities and see how they can strengthen the bonds of human connection and improve our response to those in crisis.
AFI: Why is Washington, DC a crucial location to screen ERNIE & JOE?
DC is the policy capital of the world. I hope to catch the attention of those who might affect change.
AFI: Why are documentary films so important today?
Documentary films are vital. They provide a unique lens for learning and broadening our experience. I particularly appreciate when we can do this in unexpected ways. We are becoming a more and more polarized society, and documentaries can take an audience on meaningful journeys that can illuminate topics and expand our thinking and sometimes our hearts.
Day Three at AFI DOCS features more than 20 can’t-miss screenings, including SEARCHING EVA, a powerful profile of a 21st-century young woman; moving LGBTQ doc GAY CHORUS DEEP SOUTH; the provocative A WOMAN’S WORK: THE NFL’S CHEERLEADER PROBLEM; the stirring police portrait ERNIE & JOE; and much more. See you at the movies!
In 2017, the National Football League earned over $14 billion in revenue. NFL cheerleaders, however, earn less than minimum wage–some paid as low as $1.50 an hour. A WOMAN’S WORK highlights this astounding wage discrepancy through the stories of three women fighting back for what they deserve.
After dedicating years to training and paying out-of-pocket for expenses, the women risk their careers by leading a historic class-action lawsuit against the NFL, alleging gendered wage theft and egregious labor practices. As the women share their personal and professional struggles, A WOMAN’S WORK illustrates the everyday challenges and exploitation working women continue to face today.
Yu Gu is an LA-based filmmaker born in China and raised in Canada. She works in narrative and documentary film. Her first feature WHO IS ARTHUR CHU? premiered at Slamdance and was broadcast on America Reframed. Her work is supported by the Sundance Institute, ITVS, TFI, Firelight Media and Film Independent.
A WOMAN’S WORK: THE NFL’S CHEERLEADER PROBLEM plays as part of the Truth and Justice program at AFI DOCS at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, MD on Thursday, June 20 and at the Landmark E Street Cinema in Washington DC on Friday, June 21. Buy tickets to the screening here.
AFI spoke with her about the film before its AFI DOCS premiere.
AFI: What led you to pursue documentary filmmaking?
My biggest inspiration is my family. Since I was a child, my parents and my grandparents always told stories about their experiences living through the Communist revolution, the Cultural Revolution, surviving labor camps and standing up for freedom of expression. They never sugarcoated anything. My family’s emotional honesty taught me that our stories, our dreams, our fears, our memories matter. They’re beautiful and worthy, even if there are those who seek to erase them. As a teenager and young adult, I filmed my family in China every chance I got. Since then, filmmaking has become my way to understand the world around me, to connect with people and myself. Because I am a foreigner both in my birthplace and in my chosen home, I need to make my own truths, and filmmaking helps me to envision a place where I belong. What inspires me to keep on being a filmmaker is seeing my dad who is a visual artist. He’s sacrificed a lot for his art and always describes his work as a practice. I see my filmmaking too as a lifelong practice.
AFI: How did you become interested in this story? What inspired you to tell it?
All my life I’ve felt like an outsider, as a girl and only child in China, as an Asian woman in the west. When I came to the United States as a graduate student, I fell in love with American football. It was marvelous to me that every Sunday, millions of people from all ethnic and economic backgrounds come together to watch this game that champions hard work, resilience and competition — all principles of the American dream. The cheerleaders on the field are the most visible, most celebrated and glamorized women in this man’s world. When Lacy first filed her lawsuit alleging that she was paid less than minimum wage in 2014, I suddenly saw so many parallels with my own experience of being devalued. Asian Americans in the United States have been trapped by the model minority myth. You will be accepted and rewarded only if you agree to blindly toe the line. The cheerleaders were told that this is not a job; it’s a privilege to dance on the field, to be seen as this cultural and sexual icon. I was fascinated that Lacy and the other women rebelled and became outsiders for the first time in their lives, something I knew a lot about. How will they rebuild themselves? How will they change and grow through this fight?
AFI: How did you find and connect with the subjects in your film?
I first contacted Lacy’s attorneys, Leslie, Sharon and Darci of LVBH, an all-female law firm based in Oakland, CA, who specialized in employment law and only represented workers. I drove up from LA to Oakland and met with the attorneys and Lacy. We connected immediately. I explained to Lacy that I wanted to make a long-term film, to document her journey in the lawsuit as well as her personal life. She said yes, and I began to film with her.
After bringing on producing partner and writer Elizabeth Ai, we contacted the attorneys for all the other four lawsuits that popped up across the country after Lacy, including Sean Cooney, who represents Maria in Buffalo, NY. We flew over there and met with them, explained our goal and also began the four-year journey of filming with Maria and her lawsuit.
AFI: What was a particular obstacle you faced while making the film?
This film has been extremely difficult. It’s so personal to me, and yet on the surface so foreign in the sense that I’m the one who’s foreign. I was shocked by the amount of stereotypes and prejudices I encountered both against my characters who are former cheerleaders, and against myself – an Asian American woman filmmaker. During one of the first interviews we conducted with a six-year veteran cheerleader, her husband sat down my producer Elizabeth and I and told us point blank, “If these women want money to dance half-naked on the field then they’re whores.” As we continued to apply for funding, we found it difficult to reach funders who were primarily liberal middle to upper class. Ironically, some also dismissed the women in our film because to them, these women chose to objectify themselves and in a way “asked for it”. Though it wasn’t necessarily spoken out loud, funders questioned my ability and perspective as a filmmaker to tackle such a mainstream subject – how dare you conflate women’s rights, labor rights, with America’s favorite pastime? The holy altar of sports shouldn’t be tainted, especially not by you.
Because of all this noise around me, it was hard for me to focus on my vision, on how I wanted to tell this story, and to believe that my perspective matters. For women of color, we already carry so much generational trauma in our bodies, as well as the brunt of everyday micro-aggressions. Over the five years of making this film, with the help of mentors, my team and great filmmaker organizations, I learned the discipline of focus. I focused on the affirmations, on digging deeper within myself, on my relationship with the women I was following, to channel my anger and doubt into my passion for making this film. I’m proud of myself and my team.
AFI: What do you want audiences to walk away with after screening your film?
I want to audiences to reflect on themselves. Do you value women’s work? Why or why not? If you think of yourself as a feminist, are there still biases within yourself that separate you from other women? Women, are you perpetuating the same toxic power dynamics and cultural norms of the patriarchy that hurt you? Irrespective of political allegiances, what are your values when it comes to gender equality and how can you better live those values? Collective identity is important, but does that collective serve to uplift all its members? I want people to understand that in order to change a system that hurts us all, we have to act collectively.
AFI: Why is Washington, DC a valuable location to screen your film?
Washington, DC, is the seat of political power in the United States and it’s also a symbol of America’s power to the world. Documentary films like ours and others that screen at the festival pose as a force that questions, subverts, engages in critical dialogue with this established, white male power, in order to create different ways of thinking and relating to each other. As our main character Lacy said in an interview, this is not just a cheerleader problem, it’s a woman problem. It’s important for national lawmakers and decision makers to understand this.
AFI: Why are documentary films important today?
Documentaries not only witness reality unfolding in our everyday life, they also are able to reimagine reality. The era of feigned objectivity is long gone. We as documentary filmmakers today are able to filter, fragment and reconstruct the world around us in order to tell a larger truth that embodies both the worlds of the people we document as well as our own internal world of unique perspective and experience. This enriched filmmaking is why we’re experiencing a golden age of documentary today. In a time of polarization, extremism and the echo chamber of the internet, documentary film is more important than ever to pull us out of our enclosures and into new worlds we all share.
Buy tickets to A WOMAN’S WORK: THE NFL’S CHEERLEADER PROBLEM here.
Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman discuss making their film, in which they chronicle Ronstadt’s trailblazing success.
LINDA RONSTADT: THE SOUND OF MY VOICE plays as part of the Anthem program at AFI DOCS at the Landmark E Street Cinema in Washington DC on Thursday, June 20 and at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, MD on Sunday, June 23. Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman will be in attendance.Buy tickets to the screening here.
With her dynamic voice, Linda Ronstadt became a superstar pop artist during the male-dominated music industry of the 1970s. Esteemed filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman chronicle Ronstadt’s trailblazing success, from her early days on the folk music scene to her sold-out stadium concerts and the sisterhood she created through music.
Ronstadt began performing solo after breaking into music with the Stone Poneys. Through rocking archival footage and rare photos, Ronstadt shares the challenges of showbusiness and her creative interests in exploring other music genres including opera, country and Mexican folk. Featuring interviews with Dolly Parton, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris and Don Henley, LINDA RONSTADT: THE SOUND OF MY VOICE is a portrait of a strong and talented woman that gave voice to a generation.
Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s work as directors, writers, producers and editors has been honored with two Academy Awards®, five Emmy® Awards and three Peabody Awards. They have had retrospectives at London Institute of Contemporary Art, Taipei International Film Festival, Cinémathéque Québécoise and Zurich Pink Apple Film Festival. We spoke with Epstein and Friedman about their latest work.
AFI: What led you to pursue documentary filmmaking?
JF: I began my film career as an assistant film editor on both nonfiction and fiction feature films. They both interested me in different ways. Fiction was magical, creating the illusion of real life from whole cloth. Documentaries had a different magic, distilling bits of real life into a coherent dramatic narrative — most of which happened in the editing room. Creatively, this felt challenging and satisfying. The subjects of the documentaries I worked on felt more urgent, more relevant to my experience and more engaged with real-world issues.
RE: While I was in college, I had little notion of what I wanted to study or why. I took a leave of absence to explore alternative creative pathways. This led me to take a filmmaking class at San Francisco State University, while simultaneously snagging a gig as a production assistant on a documentary in its early stages of production. This project would eventually become the landmark documentary WORD IS OUT, the first documentary about being LGBT in America, made by a collective of LGBT filmmakers (of which I was a part). Finding my way into nonfiction filmmaking opened up something within my own creative self, and it gave me the opportunity to speak to the world about matters of importance.
AFI: How did you become interested in making a documentary about Linda Ronstadt? What inspired you to tell it?
RE: I’ve long been a fan of Linda Ronstadt. My first record was a 45 single of her hit “Different Drum.” Decades later, while driving in my car, I heard Linda on the NPR show Fresh Air being interviewed by Terry Gross, after the publication of her memoir Simple Dreams. I was taken by her intelligence, and her down-to-earthness, and the way in which she spoke of her own musical career as a self-taught singer and musician. I read the book and immediately thought “this should be a film” — and it should be in her voice, like her direct and honest first-person literary voice.
JF: Reading Linda’s memoir Simple Dreams, I was impressed and inspired by her devotion to her craft and by her artistic restlessness. It’s the story of a phenomenally successful artist whose success seemed to grow organically out of her love of music — rather than out of a yearning for fame or fortune that seems to motivate people today.
AFI: How did you find and connect with Linda for the film?
RE: My computer guy was making a house call to tend to my computer and noticed Linda’s book Simple Dreams on my desk in my home office. “Linda Ronstadt is a client of mine too,” he said. And that’s how we made the first approach. Jeffrey and I invited Linda to lunch — we all live in San Francisco — and presented her with our ideas and approach. At first, she was reluctant to even entertain the idea of a film. She said, “No one is going to want to see this. No one is going to want to fund it.” But eventually she came around. And then we got an out-of-the-blue call from producer James Keach, who said CNN Films was interested in doing a Linda Ronstadt project, and he heard we had the rights to her book. Once James came on board, the project took off.
AFI: What was a particular hurdle you faced while making the documentary?
JF: Linda didn’t write her own songs, so each of the songs had to be cleared with different rights-holders. This ended up being less onerous than it might have, thanks to the love and respect Linda engenders in artists she’s worked with and songwriters whose music she sang.
RE: Unfortunately, Linda has Parkinson’s Disease now, so her participation had to be extremely limited. But we were able to accomplish what we set out to do, which is to have her tell her own story, in her own voice, by threading together interviews she did over the course of five decades to create a first-person perspective.
AFI: What do you want audiences to walk away with after screening your film?
JF: I’d like for viewers to take away an appreciation of Linda Ronstadt as an artist with astonishing talent and range.
RE: And also realize how much of a pioneer she was, coming through the gauntlet of superstardom undamaged as a human being, with her humanity intact.
AFI: Why is Washington, DC an important place to screen your film?
RE: Linda Ronstadt is an American pop icon, so where better to celebrate than the nation’s capital?
AFI: Why are documentary films still crucial in today’s world?
RE: This is a golden age for documentary for a whole complex of reasons —means of production are more accessible to a wider cross-section of artists, audiences are hungry for authenticity and streaming services have created new funding opportunities and distribution platforms. All of this is good news.
JF: As the very notion of truth is daily battered and bruised, documentaries can offer a way of understanding the world in a deeper, more nuanced way. They can also mislead and manipulate. A lot depends on the intellectual honesty of the filmmakers, as well as the capacity for critical thinking on the part of media consumers.
Buy tickets to LINDA RONSTADT: THE SOUND OF MY VOICE here.
Oscar® nominee Liz Garbus takes us inside her gripping true crime story, which deftly analyzes the emotional and difficult issues surrounding a tragic death shrouded in mystery.
WHO KILLED GARRETT PHILLIPS? has its World Premiere as part of the Truth and Justice program at AFI DOCS at the Landmark E Street Cinema in Washington DC on Thursday, June 20. Director Liz Garbus will be in attendance. Buy tickets to the screening here.
On October 24, 2011, police officers found the lifeless body of 12-year-old Garrett Phillips alone in his apartment. Multiple police forces, as well as the District Attorney’s office, swing into action to try and find justice for this tragic case. As the investigation drags on and on, the lack of progress becomes a political playing card. The tiniest clues become crucial as a community in mourning and a fractured family cry out for justice. This gripping true crime story deftly analyzes the emotional and difficult issues surrounding this tragic death without ever losing sight of the real boy whose loss of life is at the center of it all.
Director Liz Garbus is a two-time Academy Award® nominee, an Emmy® winner, Peabody winner, Grammy nominee and a DGA nominee. She has directed numerous award-winning documentary films and series, including THE FARM: ANGOLA, USA; WHAT HAPPENED, MISS SIMONE?; NOTHING LEFT UNSAID; THE FOURTH ESTATE; and most recently, her scripted feature debut, LOST GIRLS, for Netflix. We spoke to director Liz Garbus about her new film.
AFI: What led you to pursue working in documentary?
I became a documentarian out of a love for storytelling, a passion for justice and a desire to always be engaged.
AFI: How did you become involved in this story? What was your inspiration?
I first read about the story in a New York Times article by Jesse McKinley back in March 2016 telling the story of the tragic death of Garrett Phillips, a 12-year-old in Potsdam, New York. Garrett was found murdered in the apartment he shared with his mother and brother. The case emerged at a time when questions of racial bias and its intersection with law enforcement were at a boiling point. Nick Oral Hillary, a black man was pegged for the crime, and it took more than 30 months for prosecutors to charge him. The complexities of this case, the unsolved murder and the grief of the family flagged that there is an important story here that demands a greater understanding from multiple perspectives.
AFI: How did you find and connect with the subjects you profiled in your film?
I reached out to lawyers and family members involved in the case, visited with them, showed them my earlier work and, little by little, almost everyone came on board.
AFI: What was a particular challenge you faced while making WHO KILLED GARRETT PHILLIPS?
My greatest struggle was getting access to the courtroom. We had to meet with and petition the judge who ultimately decided to let us in with some reasonable limitations. And, as in many cases like this, family members have often been burned by sensational, slash and burn media, and it takes time to build those relationships.
AFI: What would you like audiences to take from seeing your film?
It’s both a mystery and a tragedy. What happened that rainy afternoon? But because of prosecutorial overreach and a focus on one suspect above all others from the outset, the truth may never be known.
Why do you think Washington, DC is a vital location to screen this film?
The film addresses universal issues for our criminal justice system as well as racial inequity.
Why are documentary films so incredibly important in today’s world?
They are enlightening and can go deep in a world of hot takes and sound bites.