Ever since I was hired by Chaz Ebert in early 2014, I have accompanied my anniversary retrospectives at Indie Outlook with an annual compilation of my writing for RogerEbert.com. This past year has been the most amazing of my career in terms of the sheer number of people I’ve gotten to interview. Each conversation was a tremendous honor and privilege.
I also had an out-of-body experience when I saw myself quoted for the very first time on a major Blu-ray release. It was “The Blackcoat’s Daughter,” the astonishing directorial debut of Osgood Perkins (son of Anthony), and when I first saw my name on the box, I immediately flashed back to the Alfred Hitchcock retrospective I held for friends in junior high school. I accompanied each screening with trivia contests, prizes and handwritten programs in which I quoted myself among other critics such as Roger Ebert. If I told myself at age 13 what I’d be up to at age 31, I’d have told myself I was dreaming.
As I did in 2015 and 2016, I have compiled excerpts from the interviews I conducted at RogerEbert.com over the past twelve months. Click on each name and you will be directed to the full interview…
“We live in such a materialistic world, and because of that, we think that the important part of our lives is the material world. But in reality, we experience life to a stronger extent in our imaginations, even though we can hardly verbalize or represent what it is that we envision. Movies can help capture that experience.”—Olivier Assayas, director of “Personal Shopper”
“A movie can be a poem, so I tend to utilize repetitions and refrains, while reprising visuals or sounds or feelings or even scenes. It feels more like a song to me than it does a story.”—Oz Perkins, director of “The Blackcoat’s Daughter”
“[The narrator is] using a cool, clinical voice to describe these vast horrors of policy that have had the most horrific effects on society. It almost forces you to adapt the logic of the oppressor. I wanted to juxtapose it with the subjective faces of people like Harold, so that the audience would feel an estrangement that amplifies empathy.”—Theo Anthony, director of “Rat Film”
“I truly believe that we go to the movies to see ourselves. Regardless of whether it’s a character like Seretse, who is an African prince who married a white woman 70 years ago and whose life experience may be the complete opposite of one’s own, if you can see yourself in him, then my job is done.”—David Oyelowo, star of “A United Kingdom”
“The key in all of the films I’ve done—in terms of gaining access to communities that are either difficult or very different from who I am—is always the subjects, the people that you’re following. They provide the passport, if you will, to these communities.”—Steve James, director of “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail”
“I think a healthy spiritual life has to include an openness to all others and a tolerance of others’ way of life—their beliefs, their appearance, their thinking. If you are open to others, you will be happier because you will see the good in them. That’s what a spiritual life is.”—Cathy Rock, subject of “Inquiring Nuns”
“Helping people to gain compassion and understanding of each other is our greatest mission as artists and I know Maddie [Deutch] is really proud of our movie for doing just that. It’s really about loving all the foibles and problems and pettiness and ugly little bits that make up every human being.”—Lea Thompson, director/co-star of “The Year of Spectacular Men”
“When I look at the brand name on the Trump Tower across from my hotel, it reminds me that while those of us who are media savvy can see all of his hypocrisies, the average person who walks by that building and gazes up at that brand name on that building will see it as invincible. It seems larger than life.”—James Redford, director of “Resilience”
“I found it very interesting when Clive [Oppenheimer] interviewed the Ethiopian scientists and asked them, ‘Do we have another 100,000 years?’ In their calculation, mankind will be entering a very critical phrase a thousand years from now. It’s not because nature is angry, it’s rather that we are stupid. We’re not doing the right thing with our planet.”—Werner Herzog, director of “Into the Inferno”
“There are writings from Exxon, back when it was known as Standard Oil, in which they state how they won’t be able to sustain their fossil fuel use if they continue with business as usual. This was written in 1947. We knew that smoking killed too, but we kept on doing it.”—Fisher Stevens, director of “Before the Flood”
“The standard line in response to the evangelical agenda is, ‘You’re entitled to your beliefs but not your facts.’ Slow cinema isn’t really religious, it is more meditative and contemplative. […] There was a quote in my book from a Dutch theologian who said that art and religion are parallel lines which meet in infinity and resolve in God.”—Paul Schrader, director of “Dog Eat Dog”
“We may be headed for oblivion, but what is the point of using or abusing people? No one can justify that, and certainly a god cannot.”—Terence Davies, director of “A Quiet Passion”
“I met with a lot of lawyers, and some of them were working with people who were institutionalized for mental illness, even though they weren’t ill at all. The lawyers told me that an alarming percentage of the people at mental hospitals in China are actually dissidents.”—Nanfu Wang, director of “I Am Another You”
“If I say to you it is my opinion that 9/11 never happened, or that slavery never happened or that Elvis is alive—that’s not an opinion, that’s a lie, even if I insist upon it. What we see today are people taking lies, insisting on them as their opinion and hoping to shape the facts.”—Deborah Lipstadt, the Holocaust historian played by Rachel Weisz in “Denial”
“With the threat of the world becoming so misogynistic, I think it’s important to show women like this who avoid man’s weaknesses as much as possible. The men that Michèle encounters are mediocre or fragile or failures. In a way, the film takes place in a post-male era where men have faded into something that is very difficult for women to connect with.”—Isabelle Huppert, star of “Elle”
“I really think that movie theaters have served as a synagogue or temple for me in terms of developing my moral compass. My naiveté perhaps stems from seeing so many happy endings where people work through tough relationships.”—Logan Lerman, star of “Indignation”
“That sort of myth-making is what Hollywood is best at, and we are so immersed in it that we forget that it’s not an accurate portrayal of the way the world is. It’s not the real narrative, it’s just the dominant narrative.”—Raoul Peck, director of “I Am Not Your Negro”
“They were made by people who wanted there to be a universal cinema, a cinema that is not just ‘whites only’ and ‘blacks only.’ These films are crossing over that line.”—Bret Wood, producer of Kino Lorber’s “Pioneers of African-American Cinema” set
“Richard has a frustrated defiance that is caused, in part, by his inability to articulate that frustration, as well as what was viewed, during that period, as his inadequacies as a man. […] These are people for whom words don’t come first.”—Jeff Nichols, director of “Loving”
“These characters are a reflection of how I am in my life. I’m the weirdo who doesn’t connect to many people and goes around riding a skateboard before heading home and listening to my records. I might have some powers, and I might use them to f—k you up.”—Ana Lily Amirpour, director of “The Bad Batch”
“I think that there has been quite a jump from ‘Love Myself’ to ‘Starving’—lyrically there’s a big difference between them. The idea that when you figure out who you are and how to love yourself, you can then love someone else, is sort of the trajectory reflected by those songs.”—Hailee Steinfeld, singer and star of “The Edge of Seventeen”
“When you say ‘home,’ the word is very resonant to me. It’s the theme of all my films—the struggle to be comfortable in your own body and in your own space, and I think drama is founded when those things get uncomfortable.”—Ira Sachs, director of “Little Men”
“I didn’t know Owen [Suskind] very well, and in the beginning, I was uncomfortable. But as I started to understand him, I realized that he was much freer than many of us are. He doesn’t have social barriers, he just is who he is, and he created such a rich world for himself.”—Roger Ross Williams, director of “Life, Animated”
“Perception is really all that these films are about. I love getting to play these aliens that are sort of plopped into the action and must grab the bull by the horns, despite having no ability or no awareness of how they’re coming across.”—Simon Helberg, star of “Florence Foster Jenkins”
“When I do a joke, it’s always too soon, because it will be about what’s happening at that exact moment. People will tell me, ‘You should’ve waited,’ but in my mind, I feel like I’m being more sensitive than someone who waits to tell a joke about a tragedy.”—Gilbert Gottfried, subject of “Gilbert”
“We can talk all day about whether Hitchcock was misogynistic or not, but he had very strong women in his films. […] Was Hitchcock lustful? Probably. Was he voyeuristic? Yes. Did he have respect for women? I think absolutely.”—Alexandre O. Philippe, director of “78/52”
“To take the same theme that had conveyed how Justine was crushed by fatality and destiny, and to transform it into a pagan expression of her empowerment and acceptance of her needs and desires, demonstrates just how deeply [composer] Jim [Williams] was in touch with the character.”—Julia Ducournau, director of “Raw”
“We knew that we were in good hands when we started to engage [Kate McKinnon] on her character’s notion that the rules can be fun. She talked about how her staunch, strict policies are ultimately fueled by her desire to keep her job, which ultimately helps maintain her hobby of collecting birds.”—Will Speck, co-director of “Office Christmas Party”
“Debra Winger is someone who is going to go all the way in a performance. She’s not going to shy away from anything, and the same is true of Tyler [Ross]. From the minute that he walked in for the audition to his every day onset, it was clear that he was going to go all the way.”—Azazel Jacobs, director of “The Lovers”
“I don’t like the word ‘organic,’ but I cannot find a better word to describe that scene. It belongs to the body of the movie. I think of a movie as a human body. You can feel the pump of the heart and the blood going through the veins when you watch that scene.”—Sônia Braga, star of “Aquarius”
“We were so connected from doing the show together, and since it had been six years between the stage production and the film, it was like getting the band back together. We had some hits in the past, so we tuned up the instruments, brought in a new hotshot, and were on the road again.”—Stephen McKinley Henderson, star of “Fences”
“Everything that you see within the frame helps you to envision what exists outside of it. Most of the film takes place inside an apartment, but once the film has ended, you feel like you have seen the whole city.”—Asghar Farhadi, director of “The Salesman”
“The film originated from me wanting to make this portrait of how different life looks at 50 from what you had imagined it would look like at 20. It’s like visiting a dream you once had about your future.”—Cristian Mungiu, director “Graduation”
In addition to these interviews, I also penned several reviews for RogerEbert.com, most of which were for documentaries. With the exception of the last two titles, I whole-heartedly recommend all of them, especially the first two, which both earned four stars from your’s truly. Click on each title and you will be directed to the full review…
It’s miraculous that the film exists at all, since the footage was constantly in danger of being detained during production, requiring it to eventually be smuggled out of the country. […] The film plays like a gripping thriller, fueled by an ever-present threat. [Nanfu] Wang never resorts to cheap gimmickry in order to heighten the tension.
This Is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous
It is in observant, delicately nuanced moments like these where [Barbara] Kopple’s genius shines the brightest. She has crafted so many unforgettable films about inspirational life forces, from the courageous wives of coal miners in ‘Harlan County, U.S.A.’ to the politically outspoken Dixie Chicks in ‘Shut Up & Sing,’ and this is one of her best.
If the film is a touch more emotionally muted than one would expect, that is because Jones spends the vast majority of the film holding it together. Her life has been such a hard-fought triumph that she has chosen to view her cancer diagnosis as yet another obstacle in her path, as opposed to a death sentence.
There’s a considerable amount of catharsis in “They Call Us Monsters,” but it is bittersweet at best. If there were more programs like InsideOUT Writers existing outside of prisons, less kids would likely be susceptible to the seduction of gangs.
The subject matter itself is so compelling that it practically guarantees that the film will never be dull, though regardless of its material, a documentary is only as good as its editing. In this case, editor Ori Derdikman does a remarkable job of maintaining a brisk pace without ever diminishing the vividly textured humanity observed by [Andrew] Young’s lens.
What the filmmakers are especially adept at is replicating the visceral sensations experienced by the animals, such as the swaying of a tree inhabited by critters as it creaks and quivers in the wind.
I wasn’t overcome with emotion until the very end of the play, as the lights fade out on the image of a bright light soaring from the hands of a little girl and into the heavens. The applause elicited from the parents and teachers in attendance reminded me of just how powerful that sound can be to a kid. It’s an affirmation that their work matters and that their lives matter too.
Powell should be commended for his efforts to do good later in life, but his refusal to clean up the mess from his youth is puzzling and maddening in the extreme. His decision to leave the U.S. is sort of like Shane’s decision to leave the farmhouse in George Stevens’ classic western, had Shane chosen to leave all his guns in the valley.
Rather than deliver snappy one-liners with the verbal dexterity of sitcom veterans, these kids often talk in a flat affect while fumbling for the right words. This approach could threaten to become bland in the hands of a less skilled filmmaker, but [Emily] Hagins—now twice the age she was when she made her debut—keeps her audience engaged by making each scene ring true.
Though it remains ambiguous about whether Ali played any role in the Fountain Valley Massacre (the film offers no other suspects), it’s clear that Kastner sides with his subject, structuring the film as less of a real-life tragedy and more of a crowd-pleaser.
Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower
If China continues to censor the voices of activists like Joshua Wong, Ye Haiyan and Ai Weiwei, they shouldn’t expect America to play ball—that is, if America is still indeed a democracy.
The implication is clear: disenfranchised people must channel their frustration one way or another, so why not apply it to a “sport” in which your systematic self-destruction is wildly celebrated by adoring fans? To me, there’s simply nothing here worth cheering about.
Since we have no investment in any of the allegedly talking heads onscreen, the dialogue comes off purely as pretentious musings from its writer/director. Lines like, “The normal sound of the future will be a crowded food court” or, “I dreamt that the sky was covered in advertisements” are interesting in and of themselves, but they are delivered here like flowers thrust into the void of a freshly dug grave.
What distinguished this year the most for me in contrast to the previous two was the exciting new opportunities for festival coverage. The week that I spent covering last year’s Toronto International Film Festival was one of the happiest experiences of my life. My dispatches included reviews of films such as Mijke de Jong’s “Layla M.”, Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester by the Sea,” Hugh Gibson’s “The Stairs,” Christopher Guest’s “Mascots” and Maren Ade’s masterpiece, “Toni Erdmann.” The following month, I penned several dispatches for the Chicago International Film Festival, reviewing films like Fisher Stevens and Alexis Bloom’s “Bright Lights,” Nathan Adloff’s “Miles,” Anne Zohra Berrached’s “24 Weeks” and Kirill Serebrennikov’s “The Student” (I also got to chat with “12 Years a Slave” director Steve McQueen on the red carpet). This past spring, I returned to Toronto to cover Hot Docs 2017, where I saw an overwhelming number of great films including Sofia Bohdanowicz’s “Maison du bonheur,” Karin Jurschick’s “Playing God,” Charles Officer’s “Unarmed Verses,” Angelos Rallis’ “Shingal, Where Are You?” and Anna Zamecka’s “Communion.”
At Ebertfest this past April, I had the pleasure of joining Chaz Ebert in conducting an onstage Q&A with filmmaker Ben Lear (son of Norman Lear) and producer Sasha Alpert, following a screening of their excellent documentary, “They Call Us Monsters” (you can check out our full conversation embedded above). Several months prior to that, I interviewed Brenda Chapman (co-director of “The Lion King”) and her husband Kevin Lima (director of “Enchanted”) on the same stage during the 2016 Pens to Lens Gala. My passion for documentaries inspired me to write an enormous preview for the 2017 DOC10 Film Festival, superbly programmed by Anthony Kaufman. And I was pleased to champion Corinne Anderson’s “Ship Dreams” after I caught it at the Midwest Independent Film Festival. It is, quite simply, one of the best short films I’ve seen.
On the TV front, I covered Amazon’s “Z: The Beginning of Everything” and the Smithsonian Channel’s “The Obama Years: The Power of Words,” though the most impressive program that I covered, by far, was the first season of Julie Andrews’ new Netflix series, “Julie’s Greenroom.” Not only does it rekindle the magic of Jim Henson’s Muppets, it serves as the best possible defense for saving the National Endowment for the Arts. One of the greatest honors of my entire life occurred on March 25th when Julie Andrews and her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton, shared my review on their Facebook page and wrote, “Thank you Matt Fagerholm and RogerEbert.com. We are deeply grateful for this stunning review!” In closing, here is their post along with the final paragraph from my review…
What “Julie’s Greenroom” teaches us, above all, is that the arts are the voice of the people. Ending the NEA would be akin to suppressing the voice of the people, and there is, quite frankly, nothing more un-American than that. In a career that has nurtured children for over half a century, this show may very well be Andrews’ crowning achievement. Enormous props must also be given to co-writer/director Joey Mazzarino, a “Sesame Street” vet who has effectively channeled Henson’s spirit in every episode. At the play’s end, we learn that the ogre isn’t such a bad creature after all—just a lonely soul who was feeling left out. The moral of the story is that the arts are “for everyone,” and there’s no question Henson would’ve agreed with this empathetic perspective. “At some point in my life, I decided, rightly or wrongly, that there are many situations in this life that I can’t do much about—acts of terrorism, feelings of nationalistic prejudice, cold war, etc.—so what I should do is concentrate on the situations that my energy can effect,” Henson once wrote. “I believe that we can use television and film to be an influence for good; that we can help to shape the thoughts of children and adults in a positive way. […] When I was young, my ambition was to be one of the people who made a difference in this world. My hope still is to leave the world a little bit better for my having been here.” With “Julie’s Greenroom” streaming into homes around the globe, it’s safe to say that Henson’s goal is continuing to be realized, and we are all the luckier for it.