Earlier today, the Toronto International Film Festival announced the line-up for its Mavericks program, and our eye went immediately to THE LOVE WE MAKE, a decade-in-the-making look at Paul McCartney's organizing of The Concert for New York, a charity response to 9/11, directed by Albert Maysles and Bradley Kaplan.
The film is set to air on Showtime on September 10 (TIFF opens on the 8th), and McCartney showed up via satellite recently at the Television Critics Association summer press tour to talk about the film - and about his history with the Maysles:
"I first met Albert and his brother David," McCartney recalled, "when we came to America, came to New York, and they were filming us." Their manager, Brian Epstein, had been approached by the Maysles brothers with a pitch to film them in a new way: cinema verite.
"Well, we were very big fans of that," McCartney continued. "That was kind of happening in Europe at the same time it was happening in America. So we loved the idea." And when the quartet met the duo, the Maysles brothers sealed the deal when the Beatles asked what the filmmakers wanted them to do. The reply: "We want you to just ignore us."
McCartney smiled widely. "We thought that was the best piece of direction we'd ever received. 'Oh, ignore you? Yeah, we can do that. I can ignore anyone.' So we did, and we just had a great time. And they were right to direct us in that way, because we completely forget they were there. And so the film is very natural. We'd be in our hotel rooms, talking to deejays, talking to each other. And they would just be behind the couch, filming very quietly."
We talked with Mavericks Programmer (as well as the Documentary Programmer at TIFF) Thom Powers about the new Maysles film, plus the latest collaboration between Jonathan Demme and Neil Young, as well as some of the major titles in the previously announced TIFF documentary line-up, including the very current - and apparently in furious re-edit mode - PARADISE LOST 3.
All these wonderful things: The thing that jumped out at me immediately in the things that you are announcing (today) is, of course, the Maysles/Paul McCartney film. Do you have any more to say about that?
Thom Powers: Well, you know, it's not often that I see a 16mm, black and white film these days that's brand new. It's kind of exciting and even more exciting when Al Maysles is behind it. I really think one of the things that stands out in this film is that quality of Maysles' camera work. It's shot just a few weeks after September 11, and everyone is a little dazed. One of the most memorable moments of the film to me is the scene where Bill Clinton comes backstage to say hello to McCartney. And you have to remember that Clinton has only been out of office for 8 or 9 months and Maysles has a way of capturing that moment that feels very loaded with subtext.
TP: This is the third collaboration between Demme and Neil Young and it testifies to the breadth of Neil Young's song book that out of those three films, this new one doesn't have any song that overlaps the previous films. It was shot just this past spring in Toronto's Massey Hall, the two previous were shot in the US, so the fact that Neil Young is sort of coming home to Toronto, which played such a meaningful role in the beginning of his career gives it a deeper experience. And this is a solo show, drawing heavily on his last album, Le Noise. I think the whole show is sort of summed up by a lyric in one of his new songs, "Love and War" - "Since the backstreets of Toronto, I sang for justice and I hit a bad chord, but I still try to sing about love and war." It's going to be a big hit at the festival.
One other film (from today's announcement) that I'd like to bring attention to is THE ISLAND PRESIDENT by Jon Shenk. I was a huge admirer of his first film, LOST BOYS OF SUDAN, made with Megan Mylan. In this film he got incredible access to the President of the Maldives, who may sound like an obscure political figure, but once people encounter him in this film, they're going to discover an incredibly eloquent and charming and important voice in the world conversation over climate change.
ATWT: Going back to the initial press announcement of this year's documentary line-up, obviously in the past few days there's been a major development in one of the key premieres, PARADISE LOST 3. Just wondering what your interaction has been with Joe and Bruce as they're apparently now doing a new ending for the film.
TP: Joe emailed me on Thursday night to give us the heads up that this was coming down. It's only been three or four days since then and we've just been absorbing the news as it's been developing. I talked to Joe this morning and he was back in New York and they're furiously working to re-cut the film. I don't know what's going to take place in the next few weeks leading up to the festival, so it's a little premature to say, but we're looking forward to showing the film, with Joe and Bruce here. It was a strong film to begin with and now it has this new, added layer of profundity to it.
ATWT: Another of your major highlights has the potential for its subject to make news just before the premiere. Sarah Palin is rumored to be considering and perhaps annoucning her candidacy for the Republican nomination in early September. What else can you tell me about Nick and Joan's new film (SARAH PALIN - YOU BETCHA) and how does it compare to some of Nick's recent films where he tackles, shall we say, difficult-to-access subjects.
TP: That's a specialty of Nick's, often working in collaboration with Joan Churchill - even when his access is blocked to a subject, getting us into the milieu of where that subject came from. An important thing about this film, to me, is that for a lot of people, they'd like to treat Sarah Palin as a joke that they hope will go away, but she's definitely not a joke to her millions of supporters and she doesn't show any sign of going away. So Broomfield doesn't treat her as a joke, although there's certainly a lot of humor in the film, and supplies a very worthwhile, complete portrait of her background.
ATWT: Just looking at the first list, there's obviously a number of films from very well known filmmakers, whether it's veterans like Fred Wiseman or Werner Herzog, or more recent successes in documentary like Morgan Spurlock and Davis Guggenheim. Of the big name filmmakers who are screening new films, was there one in particular that struck you as doing something completely different from what the filmmaker has done before?
TP: I think the Werner Herzog film, INTO THE ABYSS, is notable in that some of the things that we think of as being characteristic of Herzog's recent work, particularly a heavy presence of his voice over narration and philosophy, that's pulled back in this work. We hear Herzog asking some questions but there's no other narration in the piece. And I think that in this exploration of this horrible crime you really see a kind of compassionate side of Herzog coming out in his interactions with his subjects.
And speaking of filmmakers kind of pulling back from their normal presence in the film, it's also true of Morgan's film, COMIC-CON: EPISODE IV - A FAN'S HOPE. He doesn't appear in the film. Instead, his team is following several other characters and we're experiencing Comic-Con through their eyes instead of Morgan as the main character.
A third I would just add to that, Fred Wiseman's film, CRAZY HORSE, looking behind the scenes of a nude dancing club, perhaps the subject matter not the thing you might expect, given some of Wiseman's other work. It's the sexiest Fred Wiseman film ever made.
ATWT: That doesn't seem like a competition that's rife with entrants.
TP: Sexiest since MODEL then, I'd say.
ATWT: Speaking earlier of the PARADISE LOST trilogy, I'm wondering if the world's design enthusiasts who have become Gary Hustwit's groupies (after HELVETICA and OBJECTIFIED) will find satisfaction in the close of his design trilogy, URBANIZED?
TP: I think so. To me, URBANIZED is in some ways the deepest of the three films. I can say that because the subject matter is something that I think is more crucial to our daily lives. It's getting to the heart of how we live and how we can affect our environment. So, I think that Gary has really perfected this style of inquiry that he's developed in his first two films, to deliver a really thoughtful essay on cities today.
ATWT: And, finally, we mentioned Sarah Palin earlier, she had a documentary out this summer called THE UNDEFEATED, but you have a film called UNDEFEATED which I've seen you give high praise to in other interviews. What else can you tell us about that film?
TP: This is, of all the documentaries this year, the one that grabbed me the strongest, emotionally. The characters in this film are so vivid and that emotionalism is matched by really exceptional filmmaking from two filmmakers who are relative newcomers (Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin). I've said before that documentary is about 50% of the talent you bring to it and then 50% of the luck of what happens in front of your camera, and in this case, the film has it all. It has both the talent and an incredible story unfolding on camera.