There are so many reasons why Indie Outlook has proven to be the gift that keeps on giving. Ever since I founded the site eight years ago, it has enabled to shine a light on films and artists I believe in, while connecting me with heroes in ways I would’ve never expected. For example, back in 2014, I wrote an essay for the site about how Hitchcock’s “The Birds” serves as a timely metaphor for our current environmental crisis, illustrating how we must evolve or suffer the consequences. Last September, I shared this interpretation with the film’s star, Veronica Cartwright, during our phone interview about her new film, Tate Bunker’s “The Field,” and she liked it so much that she vowed to steal it.
A month later, I attended the Milwaukee premiere of “The Field,” which was followed by a special screening of “The Birds.” Cartwright was in attendance for both, and prior to the Hitchcock film, I was amazed to see her sharing this interpretation with the audience. When we spoke afterward, and she found out that I was the one who had interviewed her, she said, “Told you I’d steal it!” We ended up chatting for hours at the post-screening reception, and when we took a photo together, her fellow Hitchcock alum Anthony Perkins just happened to materialize on a nearby television screen. It was truly one of the most magical nights of my life.
Cartwright is one of the many amazing people I had the honor of interviewing over the past twelve months. I shall forever be grateful for the opportunities and technology that has enabled me to chat with visionaries residing in such places as the Netherlands, Serbia, Sweden, New Zealand, the Philippines, Mexico, Germany and Russia. Three of the following excerpts were published at Cinema Femme Magazine, Rebecca Martin’s invaluable site dedicated to female filmmakers, while one turned out to be my third article featured on KillerAndASweetThang.com, Eileen Kelly’s stigma-busting site aiming to normalize sexuality. Click on the bolded names of each interview subject, and you will be directed to the full conversation…
“I respect and value process—all these little moments that make something up—especially now after having done a feature and seeing how it can be such a tumultuous, tortured experience at times. You have the most beautiful high of highs and lowest of lows. The end result is nothing like what you think it will be at the beginning, and keeping focused on the end as you originally pictured it is entirely misguided.”—Haroula Rose, director of “Once Upon a River”
“It was a strange choice that went against my own code, which is that even if you are designing a strange shape, if it is supposed to be made of stone, then it has to look like stone. So it was very unusual for me to have this red, organic texture used for the walls, because it was not related to any materials that I could build with in terms of reality. But Guillermo encouraged me to think of the space as an internal part of Ofelia’s mother—perhaps her uterus—that the girl desires to return to, and that completely changed the whole thing.”—Eugenio Caballero, production designer of “Pan’s Labyrinth”
“Although there was a lot of freedom for experimentation on set—the freedom was in the delivery of the lines, not in the lines themselves. For my part, I wasn’t changing my lines, but there were a lot of differences in how I delivered them. A great piece of improv that actually changed the film itself was delivered by Rebel Wilson. In the scene where they’re at the Hitler Youth offices, she says, ‘I’ll go take the clones for a walk.’ From that one piece of information, Taika created that whole cutaway shot of the clones.”—Thomasin McKenzie, star of “Jojo Rabbit”
“You could say that the [character] Hans is an information processor, since people with autism process information in a different way. They’re wired differently. What do you do with all the information coming in at all times, not just sensory stimulation, but also the things that other people do and say? Hans needs to categorize everything and some things happen to go automatically, like daily routines. It’s the things that you cannot predict, like social situations, that prove more difficult to control.”—Floor Adams, director of “Mind My Mind”
“China has been developing a Social Credit System where 600 million cameras record everything that you do outside, even inside stores. You are given a certain number of points in accordance with who you are, and you lose and win points based on how you act in public. ‘Rated’ has become more of a social platform to talk about what is considered good behavior. What is empathy and compassion, and why are they important? If they are, how do we use them in the world?”—John Fortson, director of “Rated”
“Frank Oz has the spiritual essence of what so much of ‘Star Wars’ is, and it’s tied into everything that Jim Henson was doing. There is an essential goodness to Frank and to his philosophy. I look up to that guy in every conceivable way.”—Rian Johnson, director of “Knives Out”
“What shocked me about him is how humble he was and how nervous [Frank] got. He was so hungry to get it right, and the man obviously has a phenomenal intellect. It was amazing to see somebody I admired literally since I was a child still have that instinct or impulse to struggle through a scene in order to perfect it.”—Michael Shannon, star of “Knives Out”
“We are not born with hate, we are born with love and compassion. We learn to hate, as Nelson Mandela said, and anything we learn, we can unlearn. I always take the opportunity, in any situation like that, to spread this sort of awareness. People aren’t ignorant, they are not aware, and it is our job to change that. It doesn’t help to get offended. What I did at the airport was not for the sake of a Sikh turban. I was standing for everybody who believes in religious liberty and freedom of faith, and that is the message I want to give the world.”—Gurinder Singh Khalsa, star of “Singh”
“I was here during the November 2016 elections in Washington as an observer, and to be honest, on the morning of the elections, we went around to Virginia and Maryland, and people were saying, ‘Hillary Clinton is going to win.’ All of a sudden, the results came in and it was a shock, but not to those who had studied the system. The Republicans knew which states they were going to target in order to win the Electoral College, and I think that is a lesson for the next elections. You’ve gotta do your math. Make America Think Again!”—Andy Bautista, subject of “The Kingmaker”
“If you speak about nationalism or fascism in an attempt to change the world, you have to understand that all of these forces are inside of you as well. Making this film was a way for me to fight it inside of myself, and through that, I became a better person. For me, that’s enough. If my film helps anyone else have a clearer understanding of the world, that is good, but my work is always personal. It is very important that I kill this fascist inside of myself. Fascism is not ‘the other,’ and it can infect anyone.”—Ognjen Glavonić, director of “The Load”
“I was never ever satisfied with what was going on back in Russia, and my family went through a lot. We lost everything and became super-poor. It triggered in me this need to escape, and that is why this movie is so close to me and my spirit. I know what it feels like to be locked in a prison and eventually acquire freedom.”—Ksenia Ivanova, director of “Jack and Anna”
“The world needs to heal and we need to be kind to each other. [tears flow] Sorry, I was not expecting to cry, but it’s so overwhelming to see my kids having to grow up in this and wear a mask at the grocery store and not go to school. When are we going to hug each other again? Abby’s birthday party got cancelled, which is such a minute little thing, but it meant the world to me. Once we are able to gather again in groups, we are going to have to show that kindness.”—Christie Lynn Smith, star/co-writer of “Rated”
“A lot of people were wondering, especially during preproduction, whether I was the right person to direct this film, considering that I am a white female who has never lived with a turban and a beard. I am really lucky that my best friend since I was in sixth grade is a Sikh, so I grew up finding people with turbans and beards to be nothing out of the ordinary. I’ve been right there next to him when bullies have called him names like ‘towelhead’ and ‘terrorist.’ […] I wanted to be that person who could speak from an outside perspective on Gurinder’s behalf to help get this message out there and make people like me more aware.”—Jenna Ruiz, director of “Singh”
“I came to filmmaking through photography, and there is a tradition of what Arnold Newman coined ‘the environmental portrait,’ in which what you see around the subject tells you as much about the subject as their face does. I’ve tried to bring that into my filmmaking, where what you see in the background of the interview tells us as much about the subject as what they said. Their nonverbal communication also speaks volumes, whether it’s through a look or the movement of their hands.”—Lauren Greenfield, director of “The Kingmaker”
“Playing a woman who is pretending to be a man is really interesting because you have to factor in how they view gender and how they view men. There’s comedy that spawns from the fact that she has no idea what she’s doing, or she’s delivering an exaggerated performance of masculinity, but once she gets more vulnerable and lets her guard down, it becomes kind of a mind f—k. You’re seeing a woman be more vulnerable and we’re more used to that in society, but you’re also seeing a man be vulnerable, so you’re kind of tricked into being more accepting of it.”—Chloe Baldwin, creator of “Like What You Like”
“The strap-on is a symbol of power, which Alice first tries on as a funny thing, but then she decides to keep wearing it. This ends up challenging her boyfriend and their friends, who don’t know how to respond. Later when she takes it off, she still feels the power within herself. The image of a girl with a strap-on is challenging and for some people even frightening, even though it’s just a toy made of plastic or silicone material.”—Anette Sidor, director of “F—k You”
“I asked Barry if he would e-mail David Lynch personally with my movie and ask him to watch it. Barry did, true to his word, and in a matter of less than two weeks, Lynch wrote back to him in an e-mail that was in ALL CAPS, just like Gordon Cole. [laughs] He loved the movie, and I was very humbled by his response. I had gotten to meet Sabrina S. Sutherland, who was an executive producer on ‘Twin Peaks: The Return,’ at the Festival of Disruption, so through her and Barry, I asked if Lynch would be willing to contribute a quote for the movie poster, and he was, so that was a dream come true.”—Rob Christopher, director of “Roy’s World: Barry Gifford’s Chicago”
“Just because someone can go out and travel the world, it doesn’t make that person open-minded. You’re not cosmopolitan because you’re traveling. You’re cosmopolitan if you have an open mind. I always like the story of Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher. He lived his whole life in Königsberg [now known as Kaliningrad], except for one week, when he traveled 100 kilometers away from it before returning. He basically spent his whole life sitting at one point, but where did he go in his mind? He had thoughts that affirmed just how far he traveled, and I think we have to keep that in mind. There’s an inner freedom we can achieve, and though it requires a little bit of work, it’s possible.”—Halina Dyrschka, director of “Beyond the Visible – Hilma af Klint”
“My parents have taught me everything about acting and improvising, about becoming your character, about practicing hard. Practice is the one way to become amazing at anything. When we all work together, we are all learning from each other because we each get a piece of the project. When you’re working with other people, you always have to meet them and get comfortable with them. When you’re with your family, you are already comfortable. You are already home.”—Abby Ryder Fortson, star of “Rated”
“Since the movie was about lesbianism, a lot of the parents pulled their children out of it. As kids, Angela and I had acting coaches for little plays and musical stuff that we were involved in. The coaches’ names were Frank Wyca and Bill Lockwood, and they were wonderful. We became friends and we’d go over and have lunch with them. While explaining the story of ‘The Children’s Hour’ to me, my mother said, ‘It is just like Frank and Bill, only it’s two women.’ That seemed perfectly plausible in my mind, so the fact that these women were like my friends made the scene where I lie about them so much more meaningful to me. We did three or four takes of it, and William Wyler just kept pushing and pushing until I had an ultimate breakdown. That was the first time I realized that you have to live in the moment. You can’t be thinking about things apart from what’s happening right in front of you.”—Veronica Cartwright, star of “The Children’s Hour”
In addition to these interviews, I also published reviews of Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” and Flavio Alves’ “The Garden Left Behind.” My essays covered last year’s Oscar frontrunners in the lead acting categories (“Joker” and “Judy”) as well as ten highlights offered on the Disney+ streaming service. In allegiance with the Black Lives Matter movement, I put together a compilation of interviews I had conducted over the years with vital artists whose words are no less timely today. My dispatches from the Chicago International Film Festival spotlighted such cinematic treasures as François Ozon’s “By the Grace of God” and Céline Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire.” It was the latter title that went on to top my list ranking the best films of 2019 (click here for Part I and here for Part II), while dominating my annual list of films that I felt were deserving of Oscar nominations (it ended up being snubbed in all categories, naturally).
Four conversations I chose to republish as Indie Flashbacks were with actor Gaby Hoffmann (star of the John Candy classic “Uncle Buck,” which recently delighted audiences at the McHenry Drive-In) and filmmakers Sophia Takal (who made her leap into the mainstream with the “Black Christmas” remake), Benh Zeitlin (who was joined by Dwight Henry and Quvenzhané Wallis, the stars of his debut feature, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”) and most poignant of all, Lynn Shelton. She died of a blood disorder at the mere age of 54 this past May, leaving behind an enormously enriching legacy. During our 2012 interview, she encouraged me to continue breaking down the stereotypes associated with micro budget filmmaking, and the following year, I included her 2009 breakthrough triumph, “Humpday,” in my Facets class entitled, “Beyond Mumblecore: The DIY Generation.” A month prior to her passing, she liked a post of mine on Instagram in which I hailed her direction of the Hulu series, “Little Fires Everywhere,” an explosive portrait of white privilege that proved to be eerily prophetic. Thank you, Lynn, for your radiant spirit and endless inspiration.
Stay tuned for Part II of this anniversary retrospective, which will compile my interviews, reviews and essays published over the past twelve months at RogerEbert.com.