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Friday, October 3, 2014

From the Mouths of Filmmakers: Tony Gerber

PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 17: Producer Tony Gerber attends the premiere of 'The Notorious Mr. Bout' at Prospector Square on January 17, 2014 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images for Sundance)
By Tony Gerber 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 Tony Gerber, a two-time Emmy award-winning filmmaker, best known for The Notorious Mr. Bout (co-directed with Maxim Pozdorovkin) and Full Battle Rattle (co-directed with Jesse Moss).  Full Battle Rattle won a Special Jury Prize at SXSW 2008.

Do you feel that it is important for aspiring filmmakers and filmgoers to view independent and world cinema and why (if you don't feel it is important, please tell me why)?
As filmmakers we have a responsibility to not allow the vagaries of the marketplace to dictate what we see and don’t see.  We must seek out new and different voices. This is why film festivals are so critical.  Personally, I love to feel inspired by the choices of other filmmakers, but I am also grateful for “bad choices” (as hard as they are to sit though) because as an artist you then know what choices to avoid in the future.  
Do you believe that it is important for aspiring filmmakers and filmgoers to view films of the past and why (if you don't feel that it is important, please tell why)? 
Filmmaking is inherently collaborative.  A collective knowledge of the films of the past provides a common frame of reference, a shared vocabulary for collaborators in the present. This is critical shorthand in writing, in production, and in the edit room. It is important for filmmakers to be in conversation with other filmmakers, even if this communication extends beyond the grave. We are all part of a cultural continuum and should take responsibility for it. 
How did viewing indies and films from around the world help/influence you when directing THE NOTORIOUS MR. BOUT, FULL BATTLE RATTLE, or any of your other films?
The Notorious Mr. Bout was, for me, heavily influenced by Carol Reed’s The Third Man and Coppola’s The Conversation - both films are about perception and personal culpability.  I am deeply compelled by questions of morality and in Victor Bout found a modern day Harry Lime.  (The interrogation room art direction for our interviews is a nod to the period set design of Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.)  I came to documentaries first as a shooter (to support myself through film school), but my formal training was in fiction filmmaking so I love drawing on a cinematic tradition in my docs. Personally, I feel that not enough docs have deep enough stylistic concerns.  (This is perhaps the fault of TV journalism, which too often is mistaken for doc-making.)  Full Battle Rattle was deeply influenced by Altman’s dark ensemble comedy M*A*S*H.  My first feature, a fiction film, Side Streets (produced by Merchant Ivory and written with Lynn Nottage), was heavily influenced by the films of DeSica and by Kiesowski’s The Decalogue. 
What's one American indie (doc or narrative) and one non-English-language film (doc or narrative) that you would recommend that film-lovers or young/aspiring filmmakers see?
The documentary work that I am most excited about I would call “exuberant documentary.”  For me, it’s the work that goes beyond merely observing or reporting but brings a kind of painterly style and poetry.  An example is Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell.  A fiction indie that I saw recently and was inspired by was Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank.  It’s a beautiful film about madness and creativity.  Simply put, it shouldn’t have worked (for a whole host of reasons) but it did and marvelously well.  As for non-English-language films, there was a Fassbinder retrospective at the Film Forum years ago where I first saw Ali: Fear Eats the Soul.  What a beautiful, simple film.  It made a strong impression on me and in some ways inspired me to pursue a career in filmmaking.
 From the Mouths of Filmmakers continues on Monday.

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