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The biggest surprise out of Sundance came in the form of a German sexplotation film so aptly named Wetlands. It's a film that surged with raunch, comedy and genuine drama that had me wincing, bursting out laughing and deeply feeling for all at once. Simply put, it's a stunner. So all the better that director David Wnendt came out and had a chance to briefly speak with us about his divisively awesome film. Talking about how he skirted around censorship, being a man making a feminist film, German cinema and Quentin Tarantino, Wnendt goes into up the skirt on the making of Wetlands.
Read more: David Wnendt Talks Stunning...
Even if you won't be able to see Richard Linklater’s stunning Boyhood for another five months or so, the epicly elongated process that went into making this film is undeniably amazing and certainly worth a read. Shot over 12 years as a young boy grows from age six to eighteen, Linklater’s ambitious project is truly one of a kind and the product reflects his thoughtful dedication. Alongside his cast, including Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, daughter Lorlei Linklater and debut star Ellar Salmon at his side, Linklater took to the stage at Sundance's Eccles Theater to answer a host of questions after the world premiere of his sensational film.
Richard Linklater: We couldn’t imagine any place else to show this film to its first audience so it’s really special for us. We started this film 4,208 days ago. So thanks for coming along with us. I’m just so proud of these guys! We’re here to answer any questions you might have.
Q: Was it all your idea and script Richard, or do you collaborate with what’s going on in their lives?
RL: Very collaborative. It’s kind of outlined. But every year we would work out the scenes. The great thing of having that gestation period, roughly a year between shoots, so I could think about it, you know, fourth grade, fifrth grade, and then we would get together and just work on it, sometimes really quickly. It was very intense, like three or four day shoots every time, about a year in between to think about it. That’s the way I always work. At some point, the ideas merge, as the kids got older, at some point Ellar was writing with me much of it.
Q: How did you approach casting?
RL: Casting. Well, you know that’s the key. That was the lucky thing. I mean, I talked to Ethan first. We’d worked together and we’re friends, we run ideas by each other. So he jumped in. Do you guys wanna talk about how you came aboard?
Ethan Hawke: It all started with me. (Laughter) No, sometimes I think that Rick either has a lucky star or sold his soul to the Devil, because this movie couldn’t have worked without Lorelei and Ellar. And you couldn’t really know that they would be able to contribute the way they did. Except for the fact, for your writing question, one of the ways that Rick likes to write a movie is to invite his performers to be a part of the filmmaking process with him. It’s very clear the way he wants to make it and he lets it be incredibly open to us. So Lorelai, what’s going on in her life could inform what is happening in Samantha’s life and vice versa. For all of us, a lot of it was talking about it for us, what it was like in fourth grade, but now a lot of us are parents of fourth graders or have been. So we could benefit from having both points of view. I mean, Lorelai signed up for something...what age were you when you agreed to do it?
Lorelei Linklater: Eight.
EH: Eight. He held you to that promise for twelve years? What was the year you decided you no longer wanted to be involved in it?
LL: Maybe around the fourth year. I asked my Dad (director Richard Linklater) if my character could die. (Laughter) He said it would be too dramatic.
Patricia Arquette: Another thing that Rick did during the process, in regard to the writing thing, sometimes I think Ellar would be a little more advanced than Mason would be, because Ellar’s parents are really cool experimental artists and musicians, incredible people. Rick would say, “So here’s where Ellar’s at, but Mason’s a couple of years behind, so we’ve got to cut his hair, make him look not so cool.” So we had to uncool Ellar. Yeah, the coolest seventh grader on Earth happened to be working on our movie. But when Rick called, we met at Ethan’s hotel at a little party for ten minutes–
EH: In 1994.
PA: So he called me and said, “What are you going to be doing for the next twelve years?” I don’t know, hustling, trying to get a job, unemployed, what I’m doing now. “Ok, wanna do this movie?” Absolutely, coolest opportunity on Earth.
Q: Ellar, do you remember being cast?
Ellar Salmon: Very vaguely, I remember being a variable in an audition process. And, I remember having a distinct feeling that a large part of why I was cast was because of how cool my parents are. He knew he wouldn’t have to deal with those kind of parents. But I don’t remember it. It goes in and out. There are things early on that I watch and remember really clearly and then there are other things that I just have absolutely no memory of.
EH: It was fascinating to see Ellar develop as an actor. Because when he was a little boy, it was like playing with a kid and trying to capture moments. And when I came in, I would miss two years at a time sometimes. We had a camping trip scene, and that was the first time you had agency in the writing, bring in where he thought the character would be. You really wanted to talk about this Star Wars thing and talk about girls. So watching you learn how to act and how to collaborate as a filmmaker as a participant in this film. You learned how to improvise and how to be in character. And that just started growing. And the process of making it felt differently because Ellar was becoming a young man.
Q: With a three hour film, I’m curious if there was something that was a little difficult to cut that the audience would be interested in hearing about?
RL: All of my scenes. There was quite a bit on the floor. Q: What was your favorite scene that you cut?
RL: Well it would be in the movie if it was my favorite. It was an interesting editing process. You got to spend all those years. Two months ago I trimmed something from Year 2. I had ten years to think about what I wasn’t totally happy about. Everything about this movie was odd. But there’s nothing. The movie’s long but it had to be. I never made a movie over two hours but this one had to be for a reason.
Q: As far as it how it was shot, seamlessly, it looks so beautiful and has incredible the production value but I was just curious about the technology involved. Did you keep using the same camera or was it changed in post?
RL: That’s a good question about technology. That was a big issue upfront. So we shot it on 35mm, negative, I wanted it to look the same way. I knew it’d look a lot different if we jumped into the digital, hi-def formats. So I don’t know how many 35mm films are at Sundance this year, but we’re one of them. Can I give a big shout out? There’s a hero in this film. It’s the crazy guy who took a leap of faith. Obviously, this whole thing, we all took leaps of faith. It was a lot of belief in the future to commit for something for so long. But it’s the strangest proposition to ask someone to help finance something for twelve years, in our industry. So I want to really thank Johnathan Sirak, at IFC. He doesn’t make a lot of films, and as years went on, I’d run into him and he’d say “Well, we have one film in production.” (Laughs) Every year, I just had a board meeting. Everyone asks what the hell this is on the books. He had to lie, every year. But we have to thank him so much for his support.
Q: You guys wanna let me know about any other films?
EH: You’re gonna be in the next episode. This is part of the movie now.
RL: We started a reality show actually. (laughs)
Ten years ago New York architect Kyle Bergman began designing his dream project: the Architecture & Design Film Festival. It would take another five years before his vision was transformed into reality. Now the fifth annual ADFF (October 16 to 20, 2013) spans more than 30 films -- selected from 250 submissions -- and towers over other domestic film festivals devoted to its theme.
Over five days at New York's Tribeca Cinemas, festival-goers can armchair-travel as far as Moscow, Helsinki and Buenos Aires and as near as Brooklyn, Cape Cod and North Carolina to explore issues in architecture, population, scale and urban planning. Curated by Bergman and Laura Cardello, the slate highlights the work of urban designers such as Jan Gehl and William Whyte, iconic architects including Antoni Gaudí, Richard Neutra, Tadao Ando and Paolo Soleri, and leading creatives such as fashion designer Paul Smith and environmental artist Patrick Dougherty.
Beyond the Q&As accompanying most screenings, ADFF rounds up architects, designers, industry grandees and filmmakers for solo and panel discussions. In New York, the Festival coincides with marquee architecture and design expo Archtober. ADFF also travels to Los Angeles and Chicago. (Information is posted at adfilmfest.com.)
FilmFestivalTraveler.com snagged Bergman for a quick chat in between screenings at the Tribeca Cinemas.
Q: What's your "design" for the Festival?
KB: The Festival is about creating a dialogue about design, and film is a great way to bring the professionals and non-professionals together. It's good for business, not just for an architect in the sense of economic business, but good for design and good for people. With better designed things in life -- in urban places, in buildings, in products -- it's better for humans. And really this is about making things better for humans.
Q: How does this inform your programming?
KB: We program the festival to be interesting to a wide variety of people, not just the design community -- but for people interested in design.
Q: What's an example?
KB: My Architect is a film that reaches everyone. One of the reasons it became so widely known is that it's really a son's search for a father, who happens to be Louis Kahn, a famous architect.
Q: What are your selection criteria?
KB: Some of (the submissions) are really interesting from a content perspective, but they don't have the human quality, or they're not going to be broad enough for a wider audience. We try to focus on films that are interesting across the board. A real goal of the festival is to up the design conversation. As architects, if we're just speaking to ourselves, it's not nearly as interesting. If it's a broader conversation, it's much more exciting.
Q: How have the themes of the submissions changed since the festival began?
KB: There are more and more films focussing on the creative process of design. One of the films we're showing is Sagrada: The Mystery of Creation. It's not so much about the Gaudí building itself, but about Gaudí's process and about the people who are building it now, given that Gaudí is not here. So it's really trying to look at how things are made, what the inspiration is, who the people are who are making those kinds of decisions and whom they're for.
Q: These issues get a workout in the documentary The Latin Skyscraper, about the secret history of the Barolo Palace in Buenos Aires. What's your take on this unusual story?
KB: It's a film about historic preservation. It's looking at the reasons why this building was created and what the connection is between Dante's The Divine Comedy and the architects and the people who commissioned the building. That film is like CSI meets an architectural film. It's really like a mystery that's being solved.
Q: These days the word "design" extends beyond aesthetics to encompass solutions for the planet. Got any films about the environment?
KB: Not this year, just because we didn't get any films submitted with that perspective. But we had a film last year about biophilic design. It's about, How do we learn from nature? It's not just about using environmentally sensitive products, which is a good thing, but what is really environmental?
One of the most environmental things you can do is build things of beauty that are meant to last. A design that lasts 100 or 500 years is inherently sustainable. If you build something that's only going to last 30 years, even if it's with green products, that's not really sustainable. The Acropolis is green, regardless of the material it's made of.
Phoenix, Jonze, Johansson, Mara & Wilde
Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is tired of trying to meet girls in near-future Los Angeles (which looks a lot like modern day Shanghai). He’s a sensitive guy who works for a company that composes personal letters for people incapable of expressing that kind of intimacy at a time when your computer tells you how to behave and when to do so.
Going through a divorce after being dumped by estranged wife Catherine (Rooney Mara), the heartbroken Theodore at first becomes intrigued with the new, advanced operating system called Samantha that speaks to him — literally. Voiced by Scarlett Johansson, Samantha promises to be an intuitive and unique entity in its own right.
Once initialized, his OS, a bright, female voice, is insightful, sensitive and surprisingly funny, so he's not only fascinated by her, he falls in love with… Her. Though Phoenix’s performance is surprisingly subtle and touching, the real surprise in director Spike Jonze’s intellectually challenging film is Johannson as the voice, which makes decidedly unique and provocative decisions on its own.
Having had its world premiere at the 2013 New York Film Festival, Spike and company — Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, and Olivia Wilde — took to Walter Reade’s stage and conducted this press conference after a preview screening.
Q: What sparked the idea for Her?
Spike Jonze: The initial spark was an article I saw online, where it linked to an instant message -- you could have an instant message with an artificial intelligence. It may have been called Alice Bot. It was 10 years ago
I had this buzz of, "Wow, I'm talking to this thing. This thing is listening to me." And then quickly it devolved into this thing that wasn't intelligent; it was just parroting things it had heard before. It was a clever program.
I didn't really think about it for a long time. Then I eventually thought about a man having a relationship with an entity like that, but with a fully formed consciousness. I thought, "What would happen if you had a real relationship?” And I used that as a way to write a relationship movie and a love story.
Q: What were all your initial responses to the script?
Joaquin Phoenix: I liked it.
Amy Adams: I also liked it. I think I met with Spike before I read the script, so I was more into Spike's vision. It was compelling.
It was at a time where I was really busy, and I had a baby, and I was like, “I don’t have it in me to do a film right now.”
But every time I met with Spike, I couldn't say no because his vision was so beautiful, and it was in line with the kinds of issues I was dealing with.
That’s the great thing about this film: everyone finds their own pieces of issues in it. I just couldn’t say no. I had to work with Spike.
JP: You could’ve said no, Amy!
AA: I couldn’t. He looks very sweet, but he’s very insistent.
SJ: It was more like I would pretend I’d be about to cry if you said no, and you felt too guilty.
Rooney Mara: I really liked it too. I actually had to beg Spike for the part. I didn't have the option of saying no. I had to beg you for it.
Olivia Wilde: I loved the script. It worked. Everybody else was already in place. It’s interesting.
I loved that this supporting role was another piece of the puzzle that Spike needed. I wanted to be able to make it work the way it needed to work for the story.
I wanted to figure out what Spike needed to serve the story, to make it complete. [I wanted] to create something for Theodore to bounce off of, to then fall in love with Samantha. It's the experience that pushes him into this deep love.
Spike and I read for an hour-and-a-half and had so much fun with it. Even after that experience, I thought, “If that’s it, that’s already great. I already love this experience.”
Getting to go to China for a week and getting to hang out with these guys was pretty amazing.
Q: This is a very specific and detailed near-future world that you created with your longtime production designer K.K. Barrett, combining Los Angeles with the exteriors in Shanghai, right?
SJ: The initial idea was to try to make this a future L.A. that felt nice to live in, where the weather is so nice, and there's great food, and you have the mountains and oceans.
But even in that setting, you can feel very isolated and very lonely. I’m making this utopian future [where] to feel lonely in that setting is even worse because it’s a world where, seemingly, you should be getting everything you need. It seemed like an interesting setting.
I met the architects who did Lincoln Center and the High Line -- Liz [Diller] and Rick [Scofidio]. I got the opportunity to go to their office and talk to them.
Liz had gone to film school before she became an architect, so she was very interesting to talk to because she came from a storytelling [background].
This was when I was still writing the script, so I was still trying to figure out what it was. I remember asking her what the future could look like. She asked a simple question: “Is it a utopian future or dystopian future?” It’s the basic question that made it concrete.
I started [telling her] these ideas I was imagining. I had this idea that it would look like the colors from Jamba Juice. She said, “OK” and started giving ideas and talking about stuff.
Q: Joaquin, what were some of the challenges of acting opposite someone who isn't there physically?
JP: I'd like to say I trained really hard. But as an actor, I'm accustomed to walking around the house talking to myself. You rehearse all the time, so I don’t think it was that dissimilar.
Q: And the loneliness aspect of the film?
JP: I don’t know how to answer this. All I was concerned about was trying to feel natural to something that wasn't there. I think I kind of overlooked the loneliness of the character.
Q: Samantha Morton was the original voice of Samantha. How did Scarlett Johansson replacing Samantha Morton change the tone of the Samantha character and the tone of the movie?
SJ: Every movie -- at least the ones I’ve worked on -- takes a long time to find what it is, and that was part of the process of this movie.
I’m hesitant to answer that question because what Samantha [Morton] brought to the movie by being with us on set was huge. What she gave me in the movie and what she gave Joaquin off-camera was huge. And then I think what Scarlett gave the movie was also huge.
I would rather leave it at that.
Q: Why did you decide not to give Samantha an avatar or image in cyberspace?
SJ: I liked the idea of her existing the way she does exist, which is more in the ether and in [Theodore’s] heart and psyche.
OW: I would add, as a fan of that choice, that I think she then becomes your ideal; it becomes your own experience. Even if people are familiar with Scarlett's voice, and imagine her as an actress, it transforms that. I think she becomes whatever you want her to become.
If you had defined her, you would have stopped people from being able to create that for themselves. That’s one cool effect of it.
Q: Where did the Perfect Mom game come from?
SJ: I think the pressure of parenthood and the peer pressure of parenthood seemed like a funny setting for a video game for me.
Amy, you’re a parent. Do you find that kind of peer pressure?
AA: Oh yeah, it’s really intense. I think we ad libbed some of that stuff -- like “Oh yeah, I know this.”
Q: What do you think this film says about what it means to be a man, what it means to be a woman, and what it means to be intimate?
SJ: I don’t know if I can live up to the question, but thank you for that.
I was thinking about one of the conversations Olivia and I were having when we were rehearsing. It [was] about what you [really] hear when somebody says something to you.
There’s a scene where Olivia says, “When am I going to see you again?” What does she hear when he says, “I’m not sure. I’m busy.”
We were making up all kinds of stories about what she actually hears that gets her to the place where she says, “You’re a creepy dude.”
That’s inherent in everything -- not exactly hearing what they say, but hearing what you think they actually mean.
OW: You said something really interesting yesterday about how the artificial intelligence carries no baggage. She’s pure, which makes her even more of a kind of an ideal -- romantically, of course. The difference between human and artificial intelligence is baggage.
So whereas the blind date carries an enormous amount of pain and baggage and projecting all of that on what Theodore is saying, Samantha is so open-minded and only sees the best and assumes the best. That's the difference between human and artificial.
SJ: One of the things we talked about, and what I talked a lot to Scarlett about, was that Samantha is brand new to the world, so she's like a child that hasn't learned any insecurities, any self-doubts.
[Samantha] learns through the course of the movie. She has these experiences that give her those painful situations that create those self-doubts.
I think that's when Scarlett started to understand just how hard that role would be, to try and go back to that place where you don't have those kinds of fears yet.
Q: Can you talk about why so many of the characters don’t really question the idea that a human can fall in love with an object that has artificial intelligence? Rooney’s character seems to be the only character in the movie who questions how normal it is.
SJ: Yeah, there might have been a couple of other characters along the way that questioned it but fell by the wayside.
But it seemed like Rooney’s character and Rooney’s performance delivered that message and represented that part of the population.
Q: This film has a lot to say about the idea that people expect relationships to be perfect. What was the starting point that you used to build the concept of relationships in this movie?
SJ: I guess what you’re asking is how much did we talk about the ideas of the film versus the relationships and the characters of the film. I’d say we mostly talked about the relationships and the characters of the film.
AA: Yeah, we spent a lot of time dissecting the characters and finding the truth of where they were in that moment.
SJ: When Amy and I started working together, we talked a lot about how we were meeting this character at this moment in time. She’s been trying to be all these things to her husband and to her relationship and everything. She’s imploding.
AA: I don't think intimacy is a male or female thing. If Spike is exploring it from a male point of view, it’s because he's male. But I don't think being fearful of intimacy, or lack of intimacy, is specifically male or that is a failure in men.
And there are a lot of different reasons. It's hard to boil it down to one thing. Each person has their own reasons why intimacy is hard.
For Amy -- and I'm not talking in third-person, I’m speaking of my character -- Amy has a hard time with intimacy. Amy has been pretending to be somebody else and something she's not. It keeps her from being herself.
When you're not expressing yourself as your true self, you can never find true intimacy, because you’re always hiding. And I think that the relationship she has with Theodore is probably most intimate in her life because it's the most honest.
Q: Spike, how difficult has it been to maintain a creative identity over the last 20 years of your career?
SJ: That’s an interesting question. I don’t know if I have a good answer for it.
I guess just making a lot of mistakes, doing a lot of things along the way that didn’t feel like that was me, and learning from those mistakes, and staying on the things that felt more true to me.
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