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Monday, July 21, 2014

From the Mouths of Filmmakers: Joseph Cedar

Joseph Cedar© 2011 Movie Plus
By Joseph Cedar and Joshua Handler 

Recently I've been disturbed by the amount of people who don't seek out independent films, non-English-language films, and classics.  So, I asked some of the most distinctive voices in independent and world cinema to submit responses to a few questions about why/if they think indies/non-English-language films/classics are important to view, and how those films have been influential on their careers.

The response below is from Joseph Cedar.  Joseph is best-known for his films BEAUFORT and FOOTNOTE, both of which were Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Language Film.  FOOTNOTE also won the Best Screenplay prize at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.  Additionally, Joseph directed the award-winning films TIME OF FAVOR and CAMPFIRE and will be contributing to the new anthology film JERUSALEM, I LOVE YOU.

Note: I asked Joseph the usual questions, but he responded in a slightly different manner, which I hope you find as fascinating as I do. He used my questions as a prompt to write a mini-essay.
At some point in preproduction, on every film I've made, someone around me, a DP, a designer, sometimes a producer or financier, or perhaps an elderly neighbor I meet by the mailbox, would suggest I see a certain film in the context of what I am working on. I make a point of at least writing down the title in those instances when I'm not familiar with the film so that I can check it out when I have time. In this way, films like PORK CHOP HILL, directed by Lewis Milestone in 1959, became a tremendous influence on me and our team while making BEAUFORT. Bergman's WILD STRAWBERRIES, a film I was obviously familiar with, but had never actually seen in its entirety, inspired some of our decisions in FOOTNOTE and became one of my favorite films. Currently, IKIRU, Kurosawa's film from 1952, has become a reference in our work on my next film after an actor suggested I see it again. 
It is obviously good to have a thorough knowledge of film history, but there are thousands and thousands of films and it is impossible to see them all, which is why I like the coincidence that brings certain films to my attention. As if there is some mysterious force that pushes certain films into my radar at a specific time in my life. 
For a while I was dealing with a Nazi propaganda film called JEW SUESS, which made me interested in its director, Viet Harlan, which introduced me to some of his less known films, one of them called PEDRO MUST HANG, produced in 1939, an obscure German film that almost no one had seen because it was banned by Goebbels. This film and its storyline helped me formulate an idea I was struggling with and became a significant reference for me. He also directed a film called THE TRIP TO TILSIT which is a talking remake, or rather a retelling of SUNRISE, Murnau's silent masterpiece from 1927, based on a short story by Hermann Sudermann. SUNRISE is probably the most beautiful film I've seen in my life, and if I had to recommend one classic film, this would be the one. 
Having so many old films available online now makes it much easier to be exposed to work created in different countries and different eras, and it has become a primary tool in my process to open myself to this kind of associative research before I begin shooting. Classics should be seen and studied, but there are many hidden treasures out there that should be found at the right time by the right person.
From the Mouths of Filmmakers will continue on Wednesday.

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