Tag Archives: Cameron Bailey

The AFI FEST Interview: I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO Director Raoul Peck

Raoul Peck joins us in person for the inaugural World Cinema Masters in Conversation section at AFI FEST. He will sit down for an in-depth discussion with Toronto International Film Festival Artistic Director Cameron Bailey at the festival’s screening of I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO.

James Baldwin’s unfinished final book “Remember This House” was entrusted to Peck by the writer’s estate. Drawing on this precious inheritance, Peck has crafted an incisive, elegant lm essay that examines what it means to be black in America. Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, the film links racial violence in the 1960s (the assassinations of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., specifically) to current events surrounding the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police, and is edited so that disturbing images spanning almost half a century find even more heightened power together. As a Haitian filmmaker, Peck is able to add an outsider’s viewpoint to the proceedings, while also furthering the idea that the black experience transcends borders and national identities.

AFI: James Baldwin’s unfinished final book “Remember This House” was entrusted to you by the writer’s estate. Did you feel pressure to do it justice?

Raoul Peck: Because it is rare for any estate to give such access to an author’s body ofscreen-shot-2016-10-24-at-8-36-54-am work, and even more unusual when it is one of the most important authors in modern America, it was less the pressure than the responsibility that laid heavy on my shoulders.

If there was any pressure, it was the self-inflicted pressure to do right by Baldwin — to figure how to be faithful to his words, in a world that asked, at every moment, for simple answers to complicated issues. The film industry being what it is, I knew that I only had one shot

I wanted to have Baldwin center-stage, without any talking heads interpreting or second-guessing him. It seems politically urgent to put Baldwin’s word “in the streets,” as he would have personally done, and make sure that these words were uncensored, unapologetic, direct and raw. He was to be the message; I just wanted to be the messenger.

AFI: How did Samuel L. Jackson become involved as the film’s narrator?

RP: As we were approaching the final phase of editing, we started thinking about who would carry this heavy responsibility of Baldwin’s words. For these words, I needed more than an accomplished actor. We knew this person should be renowned, but also someone with the political maturity, credibility and confidence to be self-effacing and convey Baldwin’s forthright language. And finally, we needed a familiar voice and presence that would not distract from what was essential.

I came up with a list of major black actors, and [there were] three who really fit the criteria. But when you do these things you cannot approach everybody at the same time, you need to prioritize. And Samuel L. Jackson was on the top of my personal list. Through my lawyer Nina Shaw, we asked if he could watch the edit and come on board. We got a yes within a few days.

A month later, as Samuel was shooting in Sofia, Bulgaria, we went there in a studio to record the voice. I am very grateful to him that he embraced the film and its approach. 

AFI: Can you talk about the process of editing the film, selecting the final images that made it into the film and the emotional toil of working with these images that span almost half a century?

RP: The process was an unusual one for making a documentary. It started with the text. I went through all my James Baldwin books. Most were already heavily underlined from many rereads over the years and with the help of “Remember This House” as the main storyline, I assembled a coherent, dramatically impactful first “manuscript.” And somehow the film was there.

In the meantime, my team had already started working on the archival research and acquisition process and we basically went through everything that existed about, with and around James Baldwin in film, radio and television. I was already familiar with a lot of it and some of it was part of my own emotional iconography. When we identified enough archival material (photos, films and all sort of footage), I put everything on the floor in a very large room and started to formally build a first possible editing structure from start to finish.

The rest is a perpetual back-and-forth between images and text, one affecting the other, with the additional difficulty of rights availability, quality of material and budget requirements.

Except for the footage from Ferguson, where we had someone shooting images for us, all the shooting came last. By then, we knew exactly what we needed.

At the end of the day, a film is also the result of a whole life, not just the actual making of it. This film has been bubbling inside me for the last 35 years, probably since the very first time I read Baldwin.

AFI: Does your experience as a Haitian filmmaker inform this film about being black in America? 

RP: I come from a country where we knew from day one who we were and where we came from — most importantly from a country which made history by freeing itself, on the battlefield, from its masters, and got its independence in 1804.

Contrary to the legend, the first totally free Republic of the Americas is not the United States, but Haiti. The slaves had liberated themselves. And we paid a heavy price for it. So, I know where I come from.

Then again, like most children around the world, I also grew up with the mythology of American cinema and its images. At that time it was called cultural imperialism. Today it is called soft power. Like many children in the third world, I learned very early on how to decipher and deconstruct these images.

As Baldwin put it, “I discovered that Gary Cooper killing off the Indians, that the Indians were me.”

This is probably the ideological part of my answer. The other part is just the lessons you learn daily.

As James Baldwin wrote quite eloquently in his very direct and figurative language: “When a nigger quotes the Gospel, he is not quoting. He is telling you what happened to him today.”

Haitian or not, being black is the first identifier people acknowledge. It is part of your daily life. It is life itself, an ongoing experience that never stops, and it will be until there are real, fundamental and structural changes in this country and elsewhere.

 Free tickets for the Masters in Conversation screening of I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO will be available on AFI.com beginning November 1.

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(Source: blog.afi.com)

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Highlights From Tom Ford’s TIFF Interview About His New Film, “Nocturnal Animals”

Posted by Larry Gleeson

By Anjli Patel

Nocturnal Animals, the second feature length film directed by Tom Ford, centers on a man’s cathartic, vengeful healing process in the aftermath of a great love lost. Taking the form of a story-within-a-story, Ford employs precise visuals — a skill mastered in his day job as a fashion designer — to segue from one story to the other.

Set simultaneously in the upper echelons of Los Angeles and barren West Texas, these distinct backdrops symbolize the great divide that Susan, Amy Adams’ art dealer character, perceives between her and Edward, her novelist ex-husband played by Jake Gyllenhaal. Susan’s inability to reconcile her needs and desires is the cause of her unhappiness and the couple’s demise. However, nearly two decades later when she has long since moved on with her life, Susan is forced to come to terms with that relationship when she unexpectedly receives a novel written by Edward and dedicated to her.

The film is emotionally gripping and at times difficult to watch, a departure from the melancholy A Single Man, Ford’s directorial debut, which seven years ago also premiered in North America at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Last week following the second screening of Nocturnal Animals, Ford sat down with Cameron Bailey, the artistic director of TIFF, to discuss the film at length. Below are highlights from their conversation.

Ford on the role of style in his films:

“I think because of my other life [as a fashion designer] people usually gravitate to style. In filmmaking unless [style] serves a purpose and helps tell the story, it’s not important. Substance is for me what’s important.”

Ford on the take home message of the film:

“When you find someone in your life, someone that’s important to you, someone who you connect to, don’t let them go. Hold on.”

Ford on fueling consumption:

“Style really has to serve a character, and so there is a real purpose for Susan’s very pristine, cold life. I think it’s something that our society and our culture constantly tells you, ‘this is going to make you happy; you’ll be happy if you have this, you’ll be happy if you have that’ and in my other life I am one of those people responsible for doing that, but I’m very divided about it. I grew up in New Mexico in a much simpler way. Whenever I can, I escape to my house there, to the desert, to the sky, and I feel much more in touch with the earth, and the planet, and why we’re here. And so it is something that I struggle with.”

Ford on the West Texas narrative in the film:

“I have a couple of lives. I grew up in Texas. I know West Texas very well. I have so many cousins there. I lead a life in Los Angeles, in London, but I also have a ranch in New Mexico. I ride horses, I have cattle, I know that world very well, and what I wanted to do was contrast those two worlds — Susan’s slick, cold world is colored in a way that is very blue-toned, it’s very cold. Yet when we have color in her world, it’s quite sharp and quite garish, whereas the inner novel is green, the colors are different, they’re deeper, they’re richer, and then of course her flashback. I think often when many of us remember the past, it’s very vivid and warm because we have a tendency, at least I do, to remember the past in a nostalgic way.”

Ford on Amy Adams:

“Editing Amy, there is not a bad take, a bad moment. She does so much with her face, she is a spectacular actress. … I would say [Amy is] one of the best actresses working today who can tell — she telegraphs with her face what she’s feeling. And I find Amy’s eyes incredibly soulful. … If you know Amy and look into her eyes, you can’t help but feel something, and I wanted that to really come through in the part of Susan.”

Ford on the art in the opening scene:

“All of the art in the film is real. The original artists let us use their work. I usually don’t like a film about the art world where the art is fake because somehow it doesn’t have the same emotion that real art does. [The art in the opening scene] is the one and only piece of art that I created because I had to imagine myself, ‘okay, I’m an artist, and what is it that I want to say.’ I’ve lived in Europe for the last 27 years, so I decided, ‘alright, I’ll tell a European perspective of where America is today.’

I think America used to be thought of as kind of a country of beautiful, tanned, tits and ass, Farah Fawcett in a little red swimsuit, all teeth and hair, and I think a lot of the world today thinks of America as gluttonous, overfed, aging, decaying in a sense. And that was my original intention, which is why these women are wearing little bits and pieces of Americana. So I wanted to create a sort of absurd, conceptual art because Amy then later says everything is junk, our culture is junk.

However, that completely changed. I shot these women — they were the most beautiful people. They were so free, they were so excited, they were so happy, they were so joyful, and I fell in love with them. I fell in love with everything about them. And I realized after I shot them that in a sense they were a microcosm of what I was trying to say about the world. … They’re so glad to be here, and it’s because they have let go of our perception of what they’re supposed to be, and that is what is trapping Amy’s character Susan — she’s trying so hard to be what she thinks she is supposed to be, and she’s miserable. And these women were so joyful because they’ve let go of that. They’ve let go of this idea of what we’re supposed to be. And so [the art] became something quite different in the film.”

(Source: http://www.papermag.com)

Photo by Joe Schildhorn/BFA.com