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Monday, July 7, 2014

From the Mouths of Filmmakers: Matthew Miller

A still from THE DIRTIES
Photo courtesy of Phase 4 Films
By Matthew Miller 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 the filmmakers or distributors who I believe to be the most original voices in the industry to submit responses to a few questions about why/if they think indies/non-English-language films/classics are important to view, and how they've been influential on their careers.

The response below is Matthew Miller, producer of Slamdance Grand Prize-winner The Dirties (my review).

Do you feel that it is important for aspiring filmmakers and filmgoers to view independent and world cinema and why?
Of course it’s important.  You need to know the history of what came before and what the current landscape is.  Most of what we do in our films is stolen/ borrowed from stuff that came before us, whether consciously or unconsciously.  That said, it takes time to watch movies and making movies is a full-time, round-the-clock profession.  I find that during development and production, watching other films is very hard, but that’s why festivals are so great.  You get to catch up on a whole whack of films, or better yet, preview the next wave of films, all at once.  We’re also spoiled because we live in Toronto and during TIFF get to see at least 30 new movies every Fall before they’re released, so that helps us to stay on top of things.
Do you feel that it is important for aspiring filmmakers and filmgoers to view classics and why?
It’s the same in every field and discipline, you have to know what came before you.  It’s one of the best things about film school, they just force you to watch all these old films.  But there’s definitely a stigma.  What I love doing when working on a new film is putting together a reference list of older films that are somehow relevant.  Maybe there’s a scene or a beat or a feel or look that you are chasing and you can go back and see what others did before you.  Plus - it gives you a great shorthand on set.  We work with people who know the same references
How has viewing indies and films from around the world helped you as a filmmaker?
American indie films of the '70s and later the '90s is what made me want to make movies and even now, those are the movies we want to make.  Big studio movies are rarely what we talk about around the office. 
What's one American indie and one film not in English that you would recommend that film-lovers or young/aspiring filmmakers see?
Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm was a film that really opened my eyes when it came out in 1997.

There’s a Russian film from 2003 called THE RETURN by Andrey Zvyaginstev that is one of the best first features ever made, and he’s gone on to become one of the top filmmakers in the world.  

But really, picking just 1 or 2 is impossible.  The more films you see, the more you want to see.  It’s like an addiction.  You see a new filmmaker or actor or cinematographer and suddenly want to go back and see what else they’ve done.  Where’d they come from and better yet - where are they going?
The next response will be from Edgar Barens, director of the Oscar-nominated "Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall".

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