I Am Big Bird: Q&A with Co-director Dave LaMattina, Film Subject Caroll Spinney and Debra Spinney
By Ron Gordner, DC Film Society Member
I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story (United States, 2014) was shown at the 2014 AFI DOCS Film Festival on June 22, 2014 at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring. The director, Dave LaMattina; the producer, Clay Frost; and the subject of the documentary Caroll Spinney who has played Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street since 1979, and his wife Debra were in attendance.
AFI Moderator: How did you decide to do a documentary on Big Bird, since your last documentary Brownstones to Red Dirt was about kids from Brooklyn, NY housing projects trying to change the world when they were paired with Sierra Leonean pen pals orphaned by a civil war?
Dave LaMattina: Chad and I are lucky to make documentaries on interesting subjects like the Sierra Leone pen pals, and our next project is about the Egyptian National soccer team. I want to introduce Big Bird himself—Caroll Spinney. [applause and standing ovation]. I think Caroll also has a special guest who can join us and answer some questions.
Caroll Spinney (as Oscar the Grouch): Does it ever bother you I have problems breathing in this outfit with the air holes? I always have to travel in the overhead bin.
Audience Question: Mr. Spinney, the film really addressed how kids view Big Bird, Oscar and Sesame Street, but I wondered if you have gotten comments or thoughts from adults also like myself who grew up ingrained with watching and learning from Sesame Street?
Caroll Spinney: I find it amazing how the show has changed with society over the years, and for the last 45 years even how it has changed. We now all have telephones in our pockets that take pictures. Our first telephone needed cranking to use it. One of the clever things about Sesame Street when it started in 1969 was that there usually was only one television set in the home. So it was important to entertain adults also. Of course there were and are some adults that still go running from the room.
Debra Spinney: Grownups now are coming up to us with tears running down their cheeks telling us, “You don’t know what you meant to me when I was a little kid.” It’s amazing to see the emotions coming out now when they see Caroll and the man behind Big Bird and Oscar.
Audience Question: I was born in 1966 but it still seems recent to me. I distinctly remember Sept. 11, 2001 and my mom worked in DC and I had to be taken from home. One of our local stations played Sesame Street the entire day. Ever since then, it showed me that Sesame Street was really a force for moral good. Has it been more difficult for you to now eternalize the emotions and meaning of your work as before?
Caroll Spinney: I never get tired of hearing that or similar comments and that we have made a difference and that was important to Jim Henson. He would have loved that the world was a little better because of Sesame Street. I also need to thank the kick starter folks here who helped finance the film. Oscar doesn’t like hugging but today it’s ok. Oscar says: "Put me down!"
Audience Question: When I was small I wanted to go up on stage with the Sesame Street performers. What was the best advice or information that Jim Henson gave you about life?
Caroll Spinney: Someone once told me that he hated Jim Henson and he hated him and I asked Jim about it and Jim was a sweet guy, Jim said, “I don’t hate anybody, it’s a waste of energy. In school I was small. In high school I was only 5 ft. 6 in. and when I graduated I joined the Air Force. When I finished basic training at 19 I was 3 inches taller. Was I relieved. At the end of the training I was now towering over the Sergeant.
Audience Question: I met Oscar in the early 1980’s and you were harsh. I remember seeing children with Oscar, and I was sometimes afraid of Oscar but my children weren't. I wish Oscar could talk about how you maintain that balance of being a grouch but children still love you and are comfortable with him.
Caroll Spinney: I know many children’s shows are very sugary and very gentle and talk down to kids. But kids are people too, and don’t need to be talked to as silly gooses. I was also surprised at how kids responded to Oscar as a Grouch who wasn’t always happy and had some negativism. I had a woman come up to me once and tell me as a child that she grew up with 4 women aunts and they all had ideas how she should act and behave and what her future should be. When she was 12 years old, she turned on the TV herself and flipped to Sesame Street and heard and saw Oscar saying NO to someone. They got a shock when they came home. I didn’t know I was allowed to or had the right to say no, but Oscar taught me it was ok. She said she wasn’t a bad person, but needed to assert her own identity and told me she was a very successful business woman now.
Caroll Spinney (as Oscar): Don’t tell me I did something right! You ruined my day. Don’t try to make me beautiful. (laughter)
Audience Question: Caroll and Oscar, who were your favorite guests and celebrities on the show over the years and if you have any other good stories?
Caroll Spinney: I think we had over 250 celebrities guest on the show. Candace Bergen was one. I loved her father, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. They were among my favorite 3 characters when I was a child: Charlie McCarthy, Mickey Mouse, and well I don’t remember the last. (I feel like Rick Perry). I worked with several First Ladies at least 8 or 9: Mrs. Nixon, Mrs. Ford, Mrs. Carter, Mrs. Barbara Bush was a gas and lots of fun. Mrs. Clinton has a wonderful sense of humor. She got on the floor and played with the puppets. Michelle Obama came on the set and I was Big Bird with the big feet and she greeted me with, “Well cousin, at last we meet.” Apparently President Obama is a ninth cousin once removed. I actually never met him, but I did meet Bronx Obama. We became very close friends with Waylon Jennings. He sang a song with Oscar called Wrong, Wrong which was great.
I Am Big Bird: the Caroll Spinney Story opened June 26th at the AFI Silver theatre.
Infinitely Polar Bear: Q&A with Director Maya Forbes
By Annette Graham, DC Film Society Member
A preview screening of Infinitely Polar Bear (Maya Forbes, 2014) was shown at the AFI Silver Theater on June 11. The filmmaker was present for Q&A after the film which is based on her childhood with her bipolar father. Josh Gardner of the AFI was moderator.
Josh Gardner: You've written films before and worked on TV shows, but this is your directorial debut. Why did you feel this was the right movie to pick for your debut?
Maya Forbes: When I was a little girl I dreamed of being a director but over the years I got scared and thought that's too much to take on. But when I finished writing the script, I had gone into such a memory tunnel, I could envision everything but more than that I wanted to make sure the film had the warmth and the love in it and the humor. I was scared that if someone else were to take it on they would make it sad and heavy and not full of life and the celebration of misery that I wanted it to be. (everyone laughs).
Josh Gardner: It's a family production. It's based on your youth and your daughter plays the older daughter in the film. (audience claps). How did you draw on your own past and how did that manifest itself in the film?
Maya Forbes: I have two daughters and a little boy, but he's much younger so he doesn't figure into this part of the story. But when my daughters turned seven and five, suddenly I was catapulted back into this period of time, because I saw these two little girls and I was thinking of all the hard things I had gone through at this age and it was very intense. And I was feeling sad because they would never meet my father who had died in 1998. I was telling them bedtime stories about him and what I started to reflect upon was how much I had learned from this period of time. In the culture that my kids were growing up in, I was always being told to be afraid of everything and they could never walk anywhere and they had to be protected from all things. I was thinking about all the things I wasn't protected from and the freedoms I had and things that were very painful and very sad but hadn't destroyed me and had made me the person that I was. So I wrote the film in that spirit, reflecting on the gifts you can get out of these hard times and the lessons you can learn.
Josh Gardner: What was it like working with your daughter who is essentially playing a version of yourself?
Maya Forbes: I decided to make this as personal and emotional as possible. My older daughter was too old to play one of these girls and she wasn't really dying to be a performer. My sister is a performer--she sings that song at the end during the credits and I know the performer gene when I see it. My daughter Imogene approaches it as a talent, she understands it in a way that is way more mature than you would expect of a child: "I'm really going to dig in, I'm going to focus; I'm going to be in this moment in this scene." I don't know where she got that. Working with her was very emotional but really wonderful.
Josh Gardner: She gave a really complex performance. You talked about the warmth that you wanted to show. How did you create that warmth in the family with the actors?
Maya Forbes: It started with the casting of Mark Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana, both of whom are really warm wonderful people and who can be pretty silly; they like to have fun. We had some rehearsal time which was a real luxury. When you're dealing with stars like that their schedules are very complicated. But they were able to get the time for us all to get together a few days before we started shooting. And they were very playful with the girls. The second I saw them all together running around, playing and laughing--Zoe and Mark were also great acting teachers to both the girls--it felt very familial and it seemed that they would come together and feel like a family.
Josh Gardner: The re-created home video footage was incredible too.
Maya Forbes: It's not all re-created. A lot of that home video footage was shot by my father in the 60s and 70s. This is a story about embracing one's limitations. I desperately wanted to shoot the film on 16mm because that was the format of the day and I felt it would be very evocative. It didn't work out because of our budget. And I ended up shooting on the Alexa which looked great and I was happy with, but film was so important to me. Because of the loss of the super 16, I went into my father's super-8s. He rode around on buses shooting out of windows, shooting these scenes of Cambridge and Massachusetts out of car windows as if he knew what I would be doing 30 years later. So we integrated it. It was a way to give it more scope. I love that bus in Boston, I can't believe he shot that.
Audience Question: How did you know that Mark Ruffalo would be the perfect fit for your film?
Maya Forbes: He read the script and really responded to it. Which was a dream for me as a first time director to have someone that wonderful as an actor to respond to it. So I met with him. He was very funny and he completely understood all the difficult struggles of this character from a very authentic place. He authentically feels things when he's acting. It's a hard thing to pull off and make feel true. The most critical thing was that I could tell that he was a good father. He has three kids and I could tell that he was a good father, not a perfect father, but a good father and that is what I was looking for.
Audience Question: Has making the film been a corrective experience?
Maya Forbes: Yes. of course. It has been a very corrective experience because it taught me a couple of things. One is that you should tell the version of your story that makes you feel a lot of love and makes you feel happy. You can tell a million versions of any story but this one to me embraced the flaws and the hard times but it made me feel good. But the most corrective thing is my mother. When I was younger, she came on the weekends and it was hard and I never felt like she had abandoned me. But when I got older and had kids of my own I felt like we were having some conflict around career-motherhood issues. Then I wrote this script and I just felt so grateful to her for what she had done. When she read the script she saw my perspective and I had seen her perspective in writing it. It was a healing thing for us and it was really wonderful.
Audience Question: Can you fill in the details about your family after this period ended?
Maya Forbes: My mother stayed in New York working in the business world. My sister and I ended up going to boarding school. My father had a hard time after we went away to school because it was hard for him to stay stable without us to take care of. My parents ultimately got divorced when I was 17. So they had had a 10 year separation. During that time we always spent vacations and holidays together. When they got divorced my sister and I were not surprised. So it was bittersweet but not shocking. My parents stayed close for the rest of my father's life. They were the best of friends. My mother ended up giving the eulogy at his funeral. My mother sent us to very good schools. That was her goal.
Josh Gardner: I liked the balance between humor and the more serious elements of the story in your family life. How did you find that balance and how you wanted that to be portrayed on screen?
Maya Forbes: That was always important to me. I write comedies but I like movies that are more bittersweet and about humanity and the human condition. I tend to see things through a funny prism. Both my parents had a good sense of humor and I feel like I got that from them. It's a good way to go through life, to see the humor in things. You don't want it to be too funny. I wanted it to be alive and to be like life when you have sad things and funny things. In balancing that in the editing process, any time you have a funny moment you don't want to let it go. It's hard to give up a funny moment. But sometimes there was a scene that felt like you were trying to put a joke at the end and it wasn't really a joke moment. So it was a difficult balance.
Audience Question: It was set in the 1970s but it didn't overplay some of the 70s stereotypes. How did you find the right balance? How did you find the period touches without making it a 70s picture?
Maya Forbes: We consciously wanted to do something that felt evocative of the period but not hitting you over the head with it. The clothes--we didn't want to go too far. We wanted something timeless. I had a wonderful costume designer. We're shooting an independent film so we're not building sets. So you're looking for places in your environment that evoke memories of the past. You're looking for a textured background and you can't build something or even make signs in a film like this. So you're looking for brick and stone, things that are always around but bring back a feeling of the past.
Audience Question: The cars?
Maya Forbes: I had an amazing car wrangler on this movie (audience laughs). Because that's a very hard thing to get. In Rhode Island people hang onto their cars. Cars were a major thing in my youth. We had that one car with holes in the floor, but there were an endless series of broken-down cars (and animals) introduced into our world. So I really lucked out with this guy who was somehow dialed into the car world in Rhode Island.
Audience Question: This is a very personal story for you. Do you feel you are exposing yourself?
Maya Forbes: I didn't think about it too much before. I wrote something that felt true and real but I wasn't thinking about the exposure element. Every time an audience sees it, many people come up to me and tell me that they have bipolar parents or siblings. Mental illness and addiction is a family issue. It is not just about an individual. The more we talk about it in the culture the better. There's too much shame attached to it. You can't deal with things if you're hiding them. So I guess I'm comfortable with it. It was about connecting with people, not feeling alone; and sharing an experience and having other people share their experience with me.
Audience Question: There is a lot of great music in movie. Is there a soundtrack?
Maya Forbes: Yes, the soundtrack is coming out on Lakeshore Entertainment. It's coming out quite soon. We were really happy to get those songs. I had a wonderful composer and his wife and kids were singing on the score.
Audience Question: What plans do you have for the future?
Maya Forbes: I hope I can direct more films. I like writing and directing. My husband produced this film and we often work together. We are finishing a script right now. It's a movie that will star Jack Black. He plays a Polish immigrant who came to this country. It's a true story. This guy became a polka sensation in Pennsylvania, kind of like the Elvis of polka. But he also ran a ponzi scheme and defrauded all of his fans. So it's a dark American dream story. (everyone laughs)
Audience Question: I noticed that J.J. Abrams was executive producer. Did he have more than just a monetary role in the film?
Maya Forbes: He didn't have a direct role paying for this movie involvement. He was almost like the protector, the godfather of the film. He came on board really early and the fact that he said to the financiers, "I believe she can direct the movie" that helped me get it made. Whenever you needed him, he would come in like a superhero and help fix the problem. He protected it.
Audience Question: What directors influenced you?
Maya Forbes: [Francois] Truffaut would be one of my favorites. I love My Life as a Dog. Terms of Endearment is a movie I love for its dramatic highs and lows which are very powerful. Kramer vs. Kramer. I love The Squid and the Whale. That was a movie that made me feel I could do this kind of thing. Truffaut is probably my favorite. I like Louis Malle too.
Audience Question: How do you direct kids to curse like that? Do you have to explain what they are saying?
Maya Forbes: They know what they're saying. (audience laughs) They're kind of based on my kids. My kids don't curse like that but they get angry and they can be very difficult. Kids are very obstinate and they don't care if you are having a horrible day. They can be brats. So I celebrated the brattiness of them. But it came naturally to them. (audience laughs)
Audience Question: Could you repeat the line in the film that became the title? [Bipolar to polar bear].
Maya Forbes: She says, "Our dad is totally polar bear." But the title came from my own father. When my sister and I were in college, we went to Harvard and my father was still in Cambridge. He was having a manic episode and we took him to McLean hospital. He was in a cheerful and willing-to-go-to-the-hospital manic place. He was filling out his intake form and it said, "Have you ever been diagnosed with a mental illness, if so what was it?" And he wrote "infinitely polar bear."
Infinitely Polar Bear opened in the DC area on June 26.
The Tribe: Q&A with Director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy
By Annette Graham, DC Film Society Member
A preview screening of The Tribe (2014) was shown at the AFI Silver Theater on June 22. A Q&A with director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy followed. AFI programmer Todd Hitchcock was moderator. The whole discussion was simultaneously translated into sign language. This Q&A has been edited and condensed.
The Tribe is set in a boarding school for the deaf in Ukraine. The actors, all of whom are deaf, are non-professionals and although the whole film is signed, there are no subtitles or explanations of the sign language. The audience, while not knowing precisely what is said, can nonetheless easily follow the plot. The film has won numerous awards including the Critics’ Week Grand Prix at Cannes. The Tribe was shown during Filmfest DC.
Todd Hitchcock: Congratulations on this amazing unique film. How did you come up with the idea to do a film exclusively in sign language but not only that, to not use subtitles? How did you know it would work?
Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy: It's a long story. It's like a Sigmund Freud trauma--I'm joking of course. When I was a young boy I was studying in a school--the same school where we made The Tribe, not a deaf boarding school, just a regular school and on the opposite of the road was a deaf boarding school. So when I was a little boy I saw how deaf people communicated with each other using sign language. It really impressed me, because it looked like a miracle. It looked like they could communicate at the highest level. They didn't need words; they could directly exchange their feelings and emotions. So for me it seemed like a miracle, but it's because I couldn't understand sign language. After 20 years I was thinking it was a great idea to shoot the film in this way. But I must mention silent movies of my childhood, Mack Sennett, [Charlie] Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton. Probably every year someone does a modern silent film. We can mention The Artist by Michel Hazanavicius. [Others: Dr. Plonk, Juha, Tuvalu, Blanca Nieves]. I needed to use it in my own way because the film is a distillation for silent movies. I wanted to make a modern silent film and I wanted to make a film in which people have a reason to not speak words. Finally I wanted to share this imagination from my childhood with audiences.
Todd Hitchcock: At what point did you know it would work? You had made several short films before. But it's such a risky thing. But for all the talk about experimentation and artistry, there's a commercial side to filmmaking. At what point did the project together and everyone believed this idea of yours would work?
Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy: I've had this idea for a long time, since film school but with no possibility to make it. I made a number of short films. One is called "Deafness," you can find it on youtube; it's about 10 minutes, absolutely no budget film, the whole budget of the film Deafness is about $300. It was shown in Cannes and a number of film festivals. It was an important film for me because I was able to test this way of storytelling--I had an idea to make a film in this way but I must test it to see what it looked like. That was one reason. And secondly, after making the short film I had a very nice connection with the deaf society of Ukraine. And I had very good cooperation with a lot of people from the deaf society who consulted with me, who helped with the casting and who finally played a role in the film. The first people who believed in the film--by believe I mean gave money--was Hubert Bals Fund of the International Film Festival Rotterdam. It's not much money for project development, approximately 10,000 euros. But it's important because it's like a sign that the project can be interesting. So they gave money for The Tribe, then I received some private money. In Europe it's different in financing of films. Typically the European film is financed by taxpayers. We joke about it. After The Tribe some people called me from the US, and wanted to make a film in the English language with American actors. We discussed it. In Europe--Germany or France--you finish film school and the government comes to you with taxpayer money and says, "Pleeeease do the next film."
Todd Hitchcock: The film debuted almost exactly a year ago at Cannes in the Critics Week section and won the Grand Prix there among several other awards. It has since played the Toronto Film Festival, AFI Fest in Los Angeles, the Sundance Film Festival, and it was named the European discovery of the year for the European film academy awards in 2014. Let's talk about your wonderful cast. How did you find your actors? How did you convey to them what you were trying to do with this unique project?
Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy: In America you have casting agencies and you have an actress who won an Oscar--Marlee Matlin--but in Ukraine it's impossible to go a casting agency and say, "Please provide me with a number of deaf persons with special ages and special conditions." The casting went on for approximately half a year. The deaf society of Ukraine really helped us. We did auditions inside the deaf culture center of Ukraine. It's important us because in Ukraine the deaf society is very close and they don't trust people from outside the community. I did a short film before ["Deafness"] and it helped me connect with them. We did two or three auditions per month and shared the information with Ukraine, Russia and Belarus, every way we could, especially over the social networks. The deaf people are enthusiastic users of social networks because there are no borders between us and them in the social networks. The deaf community in Ukraine is very small. The main actor [Grigory Fesenko who plays Sergei] lives in Kiev and his girlfriend [Yana Novikova who plays Anna] lives near Belarus. We waited to see who will come. We saw approximately 300 persons from different cities in Ukraine as well as Russia and Belarus. Finally we found our actors. We shot the film before the war.
Todd Hitchcock: Yana is in Minneapolis tonight representing the film.
Todd Hitchcock: You worked with a very gifted cinematography Valentyn Vasyanovych who's also a filmmaker himself.
Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy: He's a close friend of mine. He was a producer on the film and an editor and of course he's a DOP. He was a successful documentary filmmaker in Ukraine. He studied cinematography and then documentary filmmaking. It's a debut for him because he never shot a film with a director, he was always the director himself. So it was an interesting situation. I saw his last documentary film called Crepuscule. I was impressed with his style of shooting and invited him to be the DOP. He has a very small company. It's like a family pizzeria. I could do everything I wanted.
Audience Question: The movie was very violent, but it was ironic that there were no guns or knives, just primitive weapons--the desk, a bottle. Was that intentional?
Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy: Weapons are completely forbidden in Ukraine. It's not so easy to get a gun. Now with the war, guns can be found in Ukraine. But it's still forbidden and it's not so easy to get guns. But we shoot violence in the realistic style; we shoot the ugly scenes the same way it happens in real life. Violence looks ugly in real life. I think it's a film about love.
Audience Question: Can you comment on the controversy about the Ukraine Academy Award nomination?
Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy: It was a huge scandal. The film was nominated for the Academy Award. I'm still angry about it. It was a political decision partly and partly a corruption decision. Five members of the Ukraine committee which nominated the film resigned under protest after this decision. The organization which nominated Ukrainian films last 5 years must resign. The filmmakers union of Ukraine is the biggest organization in Ukraine, approximately 1,200 members will nominated a film next year. I hope we will change the situation but unfortunately it didn't help The Tribe.
Audience Question: With the storyline of the film, would it have been any different if the characters were hearing?
Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy: I built a simple story line because the audience must be able to follow the protagonist and nobody will watch a two hour film if he can't follow the story. And in my opinion dramatic construction of the story is very simple. It's a classical American western. The foreigner comes into a small village in the wild wild west, he loves the girl of the main gangster and bang bang bang.
Audience Question: Is there any difference in reception between those who understand the sign language and those who don't. Does it play differently to one audience.versus another?
Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy: Someone who understands Ukrainian sign language will watch the film like a usual film with dialogue. I got critical notices from people who understand sign language, that it was too dark in some scenes so they couldn't see the signing and sometimes they couldn't see in the longshots. But it's like a usual film. For other people it's a foreign language. When the film was released in France Le Figaro newspaper made an experiment and asked a writer who knows sign language to watch the film and write an article about the film. She wrote a positive review but she understood only about 20% of the signs. Same in the UK.
Audience Question: What scene was the most challenging to shoot?
Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy: The most difficult scene to shoot was when the truck killed the pimp. Because it was a real truck and a real deaf person, not a stunt. It happened in the winter, and we were very nervous when we did it. But of course it was prepared very well, we used a number of stunt persons but we were really scared. We made a huge number of takes.
Audience Question: What does the title "The Tribe" signify?
Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy: Tribe in this case means community.
Todd Hitchcock: Plemya is the name of film in Ukrainian. Does it literally mean tribe?
Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy: Yes.
Audience Question: Do you think the rawness of the film might alienate viewers? There's a rape scene, an abortion scene and violence.
Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy: Some people lost consciousness after the abortion scene. We lost one in New York yesterday. The same thing happened in Haifa, Moscow. But for us it is usual now. It's not a Disney movie. This is a different kind of film, a different market, a different audience. Yes, some people will not like this kind of movie; others will accept it. I completely agree--somebody can hate this movie, it's possible, why not?
Audience Question: It's an amazing idea, no captions, no dialogue. Now that the world has looked at it, has there been any impact on the deaf community?
Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy: I always know when deaf viewers are in the audience, when I present the film, because they clap in a different way (demonstrates). When it was announced that the film would take part in Cannes, the international deaf community accepted it like a big victory for the deaf society--deaf actors played in a film which took part in Cannes. They were so proud of it. In Italy, France, Czech--always the same, people shake their hands. They liked the film and they accepted it well. In one negative review, an American review, it was said that we have no subtitles in the film but sign language is a language like any other and if we don't have subtitles, it means we don't respect the sign language. What can I say? I saw the Romanian film The Death of Mr. Lazarescu in the Romanian language with Estonian subtitles. I couldn't speak Romanian or Estonian and I was able to understand the film, I was completely emotionally involved in the film. So I know this point of view. But mainly people love the film. I had an interview with a journalist from a magazine for deaf people and she told me that deaf actors in United States are against main studios using hearing people to play deaf roles. At a MOMA screening in New York, a deaf guy told me the same and said, "Thanks for your doing this, probably you are the first, and on the next film we will win this battle.
Audience Question: Did you have any hesitations about depicting the violence against women in the film? It was difficult to watch.
Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy: We built a world in the film. This world has its own rules. Of course it's completely fiction, but whole scenes you seen in the film happened in real life. One woman called me when I was working on the script and explained how she did abortions in this way. I was very impressed and said I must put it in the film.We made a film based on real life and built a world which had its own rules. These rules are not acceptable for a lot of us.
Audience Question: There were a lot of realistically shown social and economic problems in the film. How will this impact the view other people have of the Ukraine society?
Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy: How will this film represent Ukraine for foreign viewers? When I lived in the Soviet Union I would think, "Thank god I'm Ukrainian because in America there are terrible gangs, people are killed in battles and put in a dump in New York." It's just a movie and of course, but it's based on reality. The characters move to Italy because Italy has a large number of Ukrainian legal workers and legal immigrants. Concerning this representation, it's an old discussion, how Americans represent America, how the French movies show gangs in the streets of Marseille, etc. When you are working on Wall Street you have one kind of world and if you are part of a street gang you have a different kind of world.
Todd Hitchcock: Do you think the film, even though it's not a literal depiction of this moment in Ukraine, might get people thinking about how society works in Ukraine?
Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy: Before the revolution, Ukraine's social/political principle was created like an Italian mafia group. We hope it will be changed.
Audience Question: Did the script have every line written out and then to be translated into sign language or was it more of an outline of what should happen and then they would interpret that?
Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy: The script was written in the usual way with dialogue just like any drama. I wrote all dialogues in the script. Sometimes if we were not satisfied how a scene looked in sign language we would ask the actors, "Can you do the same but use a different sign." It happened a few times. But it's a very usual script.
Audience Question: Who are some of the filmmakers who have influenced you?
Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy: It's a hard question. I'm a crazy cinephile but can mention Lars von Trier and Ulrich Seidl.
The Tribe opens July 10 for a one-week run at the AFI.
Calendar of Events
American Film Institute Silver Theater
"Tell It Like It Is: Black Independents in New York, 1968-1986" (July 4-September 5) is a series of key films produced by African-American independent filmmakers. Titles in July include Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One shown with From These Roots; Will; In Motion: Amiri Baraka shown with The New Ark; a Kent Garrett Program of two documentaries The Black Cop and The Black GI; and Losing Ground. More in August and September.
"Keepin' It Real: '90s Cinema Now" (July 2-September 16) covers films from the 1990s. Titles for July are Reality Bites, La Femme Nikita, Total ecall, House Party, Jurassic Park, Safe, Pi, Clueless, Days of Being Wild, Spanking the Money, Welcome to the Dollhouse, Tremors, Dazed and Confused, The Virgin Suicides, and Reservoir Dogs. More in August and September.
"Ingrid Bergman Centennial" (July 2-September 13) covers Swedish, American and Italian films starring Ingrid Bergman. Titles in July are Casablanca, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Gaslight, Indiscreet, Notorious, Spellbound, and Under Capricorn. More in August and September.
"Best of Totally Awesome: Great Films of the 1980s" (July 2-September 15) brings back favorites from the past eight editions of the Totally Awesome summer series. Titles for July include Back to the Future, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Big Trouble in Little China, Tron, The Dark Crystal, Aliens, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Predator, Purple Rain, Labyrinth, Stop Making Sense, and The Princess Bride. More in August and September.
Special Events for July are a 70th anniversary show of From Mayerling to Sarajevo (1940) in 35mm; Children of Paradise (1940) on its 70th anniversary; Cheatin' with animator Bill Plympton in person; The Lost World (1925) (90th anniversary) with live music by the Alloy Orchestra; a newly restored print of Man With a Movie Camera (1929) with live music by the Alloy Orchestra; Earth vs. the Flying Saucers with Count Gore; and more including Jaws, Lawrence of Arabia, Nashville and I Am Cuba.
Freer Gallery of Art
The 20th Annual "Made in Hong Kong" Film Festival takes place in July and August. On July 17 at 7:00pm is the award-winning film Dearest (Peter Chan, 2014); on July 19 at 2:00pm is Golden Chickensss (Matt Chow, 2014); on July 24 at 7:00pm is From Vegas to Macau (Wong Hing, 2014) starring Chow Yun-fat; on July 26 at 2:00pm is Martial Club (Lau Kar Leung, 1981), followed by a demonstration and discussion with martial arts masters; and on July 31 a 7:00pm is The Midnight After (Fruit Chan, 2014), a comedy-horror film. More in August.
Two films from Vietnam are shown July 11-12 with actors present. On July 11 at 2:00pm is The Children of the Village (Nguyen Duc Viet) with actress Thuy Hang in person. On July 12 at 2:00pm is the historical drama The Prince and the Pagoda Boy (Luu Trong Ninh, 2010) with actor Quach Ngoc Ngoan in person. This film ws Vietnam's pick for Best Foreign Language Oscar in 2011.
On July 18 at 2:00pm is "Inspired by Forough Farrokhzad," a program of film and conversation. The short documentary The House is Black (Forough Farrokhzad, 1962) is shown and composer/performance artist Sussan Deyhim presents excerpts from her stage production "The House is Black Media" and her art installation "Dawn of the Cold Season," both of which were inspired by feminist poet Forough Farrokhzad.
National Gallery of Art
While the East Building is being renovated, films are shown in the West Building and in other locations. Please check the locations for each show.
"Maysles Films Inc.: Performing Vérité" runs from July 5 to August 2. On July 5 at 4:00pm is Soldiers of Music — Rostropovich Returns to Russia (Albert Maysles, Susan Froemke, Peter Gelb, and Bob Eisenhardt, 1991); on July 10 at 2:00pm is Horowitz Plays Mozart (Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Susan Froemke, and Charlotte Zwerin, 1987) shown with Anastasia (1962); on July 11 at 2:00pm is Meet Marlon Brando (1965) shown with Salvador Dalí’s Fantastic Dream (1966); on July 11 at 3:00pm is Jessye Norman Sings Carmen (Albert Maysles and Susan Froemke, 1989) shown with Orson Welles in Spain (1966); on July 12 at 4:00pm is What’s Happening! The Beatles in the USA (1964); on July 19 at 4:00pm is The Gates (Antonio Ferrera, Albert Maysles, David Maysles, and Matthew Prinzing, 2007) shown with Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece (1965); On July 23 at 3:00pm is Sally Gross: The Pleasure of Stillness (Albert Maysles and Kristen Nutile, 2007); on July 24 at 2:00pm is Christo in Paris (Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Deborah Dickson, and Susan Froemke, 1990); and on July 26 at 4:00pm is With Love from Truman (Albert Maysles, David Maysles, and Charlotte Zwerin, 1966) shown with Accent on the Offbeat (Albert Maysles, Susan Froemke, and Deborah Dickson, 1994). All are in the West Building Lecture Hall.
"American Originals Now: Karen Yasinsky" is a two-program set of Baltimore-based artist Karen Yasinsky's animated films. On July 18 at 2:30pm is a program of ten animations produced between 1999 and 2011 highlighting her use of puppet stopmotion and rotoscoping animation. On July 18 at 4:00pm is a program of more recent work. Karen Yasinsky will be present at both programs to introduce and discuss her films. Both are in the West Building Lecture Hall.
On July 25 is "Black Maria: Selections from the Festival." Black Maria's executive director Jane Steuerwald will introduce both programs at 12:30pm and 3:00pm. In the West Building Lecture Hall.
Special events during July include The World of Tomorrow (Tom Johnson, Lance Bird, and John Crowley, 1984) on July 4 at 1:00pm; two restored nonfiction classics America Lost and Found (Tom Johnson and Lance Bird, 1979) followed by No Place to Hide (Tom Johnson and Lance Bird, 1982) on July 4 at 3:00pm; and How to Smell a Rose: A Visit with Ricky Leacock in Normandy (Les Blank and Gina Leibrecht, 2014) on July 5 at 2:00pm. All are in the West Building Lecture Hall.
Museum of American History
On July 25 starting at 10:00am is the "Disability Film Festival." Three short documentary films will be shown in conjunction with the exhibit "The Americans With Disabilities Act, 1990-2015." Discussion follows each film. In the Warner Brothers Theater on the first floor.
Smithsonian American Art Museum
On July 9 at 6:00pm is Focaccia Blues (Nico Cirasola, 2009), a documentary about a McDonald's restaurant that is run out of town by the local focacciaria.
Washington Jewish Community Center
On July 14 at 7:30pm is the cult comedy Wet Hot American Summer (David Wain, 2001) starring Paul Rudd, Janeane Garofalo, Amy Poehler, Elizabeth Banks and more. Ticket includes one free drink. On July 28 at 7:30pm is The Outrageous Sophie Tucker (William Gazecki, 2014), a documentary about the story of Sophie Tucker's sixty year career in vaudeville, Broadway, radio and Hollywood.
"Blochin: The Living and the Dead" is a TV series starring Jurgen Vogel. On July 6 at 6:30pm is Episode 1, on July 13 and 6:30pm are Episodes 2, 3 and 4; and on July 20 at 6:30pm is the finale.
On July 13 at 7:00pm is L'Enfant sauvage (Francois Truffaut, 1970), about a feral boy's introduction into society.
The Japan Information and Culture Center
On July 10 at 6:30pm is Mai Mai Miracle (Sunao Katabuchi, 2009), an award-winning anime film. On July 15 at 6:30pm is Bushido Sixteen (Tomoyuki Furumaya, 2010), based on the book by Tetsuya Honda.
The Textile Museum at GWU
On July 30 at noon is "Nick Cave Soundsuits Performance at Denver Art Museum," a film of a dance performance featuring dance companies 3rd Law Dance Theater, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, Wonderbound and others.
On July 18 at 2:00pm is The Lost Weekend (Billy Wilder, 1945) starring Ray Milland in an Oscar-winner performance of an alcoholic.
Landmark's Bethesda Row Cinema
"Movie Rewind" is a new series of classic films on Wednesdays. On July 1 at 4:00pm and 7:30pm is Duck Soup; on July 8 at 4:00pm and 7:30pm is Space Jam; on July 15 at 4:00pm and 7:30pm is Mary Poppins; on July 22 at 4:00pm and 7:30pm is The Manchurian Candidate; and on July 29 at 4:00pm and 7:30pm is Fiddler on the Roof.
Interamerican Development Bank
On July 16 is Gabo (2015), a documentary about writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez. At 6:00pm is a discussion with Marie Arana, National Book Fair Director and the film is at 6:30pm.
On July 1 at 8:00pm as part of the "Programmer's Choice" series is the DC premiere of Jauja (Lisandro Alonso, 2014) starring Viggo Mortensen.
The "French Cinematheque" film for July is Gemma Bovery (Anne Fontaine, 2014) on July 15 at 8:00pm.
The "Reel Israel" film for July is Orange People (Hanna Azoulay Hasfari, 2013) on July 22 at 8:00pm.
Italian Cultural Institute
On July 14 at 6:30pm is I'Intrepido (Gianni Amelio, 2013), a Chaplinesque odyssey through the world of work.
New York University Abramson Family Auditorium
On July 15 at 6:30pm is the Italian comedy Happy Family (Gabriele Salvatores, 2010), part of the Milan EXPO 2015 "Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life." Location: 1307 L Street NW).
Anacostia Community Museum
On July 26 at 2:00pm is a talk "The Civil War on Celluloid." Jeffrey McClurken, University of Mary Washington talks about the historical representations (both good and bad) of the Civil War in film. Glory actor Mel Reid will be on hand to participate in an audience Q&A.
The Fourth Annual Jane Austen Film Festival begins July 1 at 7:30pm with Sense and Sensibility (1995); other films are Emma (1996) on July 15 and Pride and Prejudice (2005) on July 29. Films are shown outdoors at sundown.
Variety--the Children's Charity of the National Capital Region
A reception and advance screening of Trainwreck will be held at Regal Gallery Place on July 14. The 5:30pm reception is at Clyde's of Gallery Place and the screening is at 7:00pm. You must be over 21 to attend. Tickets are $75; you can also buy raffle tickets to win signed posters and DVDs.
Workhouse Arts Center
On July 18 is the Clifton Film Festival of locally made films, starting at 9:00pm.
On July 12 at 3:00pm is the documentary The Phantom Tollbooth: Beyond Expectations, about the making of the classic children's book from 1961. The film's producer, Janice L. Kaplan, will moderate a talk between author Norton Juster and storyteller Bill Harley as they reflect on the book's enduring relevance. Location: Baird Auditorium.
Montpelier Arts Center
On July 15 at 8:00pm is Grease (1978) and on July 29 at 8:00pm is The Book of Life (2014), both shown outdoors.
Reel Affirmations XTra
On July 17 at 7:00pm and 9:15pm is a program of short films "Fun in Boys and Girls Shorts."
Busboys and Poets
On July 5 at 6:00pm is Nas: Time is Illmatic, at the Takoma location.
On July 29 at 6:00pm is Life is Waiting, about Western Sahara. At the Brookland location.
On July 15 at 7:30pm is a program "Cheers and Sneers," films that didn't make the cut for the film festival.