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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

From the Mouths of Filmmakers: Judi Levine

Judi Levine
Photo by Vivian Zink
By Judi Levine 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 exciting and original voices in modern 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 responses below are from Judi Levine, best known for producing Sundance Audience Award-winner and Oscar-nominee, The Sessions.  She is married to Ben Lewin, writer/director of The Sessions and Monday's From the Mouths of Filmmakers contributor.

Do you feel that it is important for aspiring filmmakers and filmgoers to view independent and world cinema and why?
There is enormous value to be gained from having broad exposure to cinema that challenges a filmmaker’s notions of storytelling.  The commercial cinema of our own culture is limited, regardless of where we live, so opening themselves up to a rich variety of both content and style can help an aspiring filmmaker to explore their own creative tastes and expand their viewpoint.
Do you feel that it is important for aspiring filmmakers and filmgoers to view films of the past and why?
Although it is important to look forward and seek innovation in filmmaking, everything we do is informed by what has come before.  There is a bounty of material in the films of the past from which today’s filmmakers have benefitted and will continue to benefit, especially in terms of storytelling.  We have made unimaginable progress when it comes to new technology in the world of cinema, but the art of storytelling is centuries old and aspiring filmmakers can learn a great deal about the importance of story even when the materials we have to work with are very limited.
How did viewing indies and films from around the world help you when producing THE SESSIONS and any of the other films you've produced?
My education in film began with watching some of the oldest films ever made and discovering what genres of film interested or entertained me.  I still love watching the films of Ernst Lubitch or Frank Capra and deciphering what it is about them that makes them successful.  I am inspired by films that entertain me, move me, or at least leave me thinking, and I am also interested in films that have stood the test of time.  In those cases, it is often the story above all that is compelling.  Certainly the pacing of editing has changed but a good story and strong performances can overcome a “slow” filmmaking style.
What's one American indie and one non-English-language film that you would recommend that film-lovers or young/aspiring filmmakers see?
I could list numerous indie films both American and global from just the past couple of years that I have loved and would recommend, but the two that first come to mind are (i) Fruitvale Station and (ii) the Iranian film A Separation.  Both films tackle difficult and important subjects and have a depth, intensity and efficiency of storytelling that I regard as flawless.
From the Mouths of Filmmakers continues on Friday.

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