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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

From the Mouths of Filmmakers: Lana Wilson

Lana Wilson
Courtesy of Lana Wilson
By Lana Wilson 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 responses below are from Lana Wilson, co-director of the provocative 2013 documentary, After Tiller, a film that focuses on the last few doctors in the United States who perform third-trimester abortions as well as the patients who use their clinics.

Do you feel that it is important for aspiring filmmakers and filmgoers to view independent and world cinema and why?
For aspiring filmmakers, of course. Watching films is the best way to learn how to make a film, period. And no one is making movies in a vacuum. 
"From the moment you make up your mind not to live on a desert island you no longer pick everything for yourself." That's something Rainer Werner Fassbinder once said to a group of schoolchildren. And you know that guy had good advice for eight-year-olds.
Everyone is making work within a broader context, and we're all inevitably influenced by our own lives, so why not push to have the widest range of experience possible? It's not a chore--it's a luxury.  
If you think independent and foreign films are too boring, challenging, or arty to prioritize, then clearly you've never seen DRUNKEN MASTER 2. Watch that film and then tell me you regretted the experience for a single second--I defy you!
Do you feel that it is important for aspiring filmmakers and filmgoers to view films of the past and why?
Yes. If you don't know history, you don't really know anything. And why would you want to shut yourself off from all the beauty and pleasure of watching movies from the past?
How did viewing indies and films from around the world help you when making AFTER TILLER?

I used to be a film curator, so I always had a lot of other movies on my mind while making AFTER TILLER. 
Like everyone who loves "fly on the wall"-style shooting, I learned so much from watching Frederick Wiseman. His style is observational, but with a clear point of view--he's chosen to put the camera somewhere, after all. He isn't uncovering one simple "truth," but rather revealing a complex and ambiguous reality. And that's what I think the best documentaries do. 
My co-director Martha Shane and I also looked at the Chinese documentary LAST TRAIN HOME for specific help with our visual style. We figured out how many different angles we would try to shoot during each conversation scene, as well as a few filming tricks that would be a big help to us later in editing, by analyzing the shot structure of LAST TRAIN HOME's vérité scenes.  
Oddly enough, the '70s thriller DELIVERANCE became a bit of a reference point for us, too. Our director of photography, Hillary Spera, said that she was trying to film AFTER TILLER like it was a nature documentary, and once muttered something about feeling like she was shooting DELIVERANCE. I first I couldn't see what she was talking about, but when I re-watched DELIVERANCE I realized what she meant, because it's a film that's shot very beautifully, but in a way that never draws attention to itself. The camera is always just in the right place at the right time. It's a muted and unobtrusive visual style that works brilliantly with such sensational material. I got a lot out of looking back at that. 
Finally, we wanted AFTER TILLER to feel very different from reality television, which is what I think dominates most people's perceptions of "documentary"-style content now. We tried to avoid the feeling of "following" people everywhere, we didn't want the content to feel maudlin or exploitative, and if I was ever really confused about what the best thing to do would be, I would think, "What would William Wyler do?" The answer to that was often, "Probably, he would just wait here, and let the people move around inside the frame." Ultimately, I don't kid myself that AFTER TILLER is anything like a William Wyler film, but I still like to think that he was a secret consultant on the project.
What's one American film and one film not in English that you would recommend that film-lovers or young/aspiring filmmakers see?
DOG STAR MAN (Stan Brakhage)
PLAYTIME (Jacques Tati)
From the Mouths of Filmmakers continues on Friday. 

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