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Monday, November 3, 2014

From the Mouths of Filmmakers: Robert Greene

Robert Greene
By Robert Greene and Joshua Handler

Due to a busy schedule, I haven't had much time to publish From the Mouths of Filmmakers. It should be back on the usual schedule now.

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 Robert Greene, director/producer/editor/cinematographer of the upcoming film, Actress (in theaters this Friday) and Fake it So Real.  Greene has also edited a number of films including Listen Up Philip and Approaching the Elephant.

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)?
I think knowing about cinema is crucial to making films and that having at least a working knowledge of cinema history enriches everyone’s experience of watching movies. For aspiring filmmakers, you have two choices: either watch so many movies that your inspirations and influences get so buried and convoluted and merge with your own distinct ideas that you create a unique way of seeing or obsessing over a certain filmmaker, or copy his/her style, assimilate, move on, repeat. Yes there is a chance that you can make a great film with no knowledge of cinema. There are probably young filmmakers all over the world doing things that would blow our minds. But I think that we really shouldn’t be making movies anymore unless we’re doing something different, pushing the form forward or telling stories in an interesting way, and to do that, you almost surely need to know what came before you.
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)? 
Yes - almost everything you think is being invented now was done better before. If you watch as much as possible, you’ll know this and you won’t think your ideas are as revolutionary, and you’ll have a shot at making something sing.
How did viewing indies, films from around the world, and classics help/influence you when directing ACTRESS, FAKE IT SO REAL, and the other films you've directed, and when editing LISTEN UP PHILIP, APPROACHING THE ELEPHANT, and the other films you've edited? 
At this point I’ve assimilated my influences enough that I’m working off of instinct mostly. But still, the films I make myself and with other people always have touchstones that we reference. For ACTRESS, it was Wiseman and Sirk and seeing how those masters' ways of seeing could influence how we depicted Brandy’s story. For APPROACHING THE ELEPHANT, the idea was to make an old school direct cinema portrait, so we thought about the Maysles and others in order to "do the style," so to speak, without mimicking. And Alex Ross Perry begins every film with a set of references - for LISTEN UP PHILIP, it was HUSBANDS AND WIVES, Philip Roth, and a few others - and those references become shorthand for how we discuss putting the thing together. With all these, the goal is to reference but never copy, letting our knowledge of the medium guide us, while always playing by feel and instinct.
What's one American indie (doc or narrative), one non-English-language film (doc or narrative), and one classic (define that one any way you wish) that you would recommend that film-lovers and/or young/aspiring filmmakers see?
Every aspiring filmmaker should see a Frederick Wiseman film. I’d start with WELFARE or maybe THE STORE or even LAW & ORDER or HIGH SCHOOL. I’d also send people to Kon Ichikawa’s TOKYO OLYMPIAD, which is a film that uses virtually every cinematic technique ever invented. And my very favorite film of all-time is Peter Watkins’ EDVARD MUNCH, which might be the most original film I’ve ever seen. Jump in deep. Also watch all Cassavetes, almost all Godard, a lot of Fassbinder, the best Herzog, at least five Ozu’s, and get a good mix of Welles/Dreyer/Allen/Akerman and then start really watching.
From the Mouths of Filmmakers continues on Wednesday. 

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