Thursday, May 1, 2008

Guest of Cindy Sherman

Here is a little something about a Rhinebeck / Red Hook native whose documentary GUEST OF CINDY SHERMAN is one my favorites at Tribeca this year.

I had the chance to catch the film at a press screening in Tribeca and was taken by the high energy of the NY art scene and the authenticity and charm of Cindy Sherman, one of American's most infamous, provocative photographers. Soon after I talked with Tom Donahue, co-director, about his film. Tom has edited documentaries for HBO about the photographer Spencer Tunick whose film NAKED STATES was shown at a Woodstock Film Festival special screening a few years back. Spencer was the one to alert Donahue about Paul H- O, of the NYC Public Access program GALLERY BEAT and Cindy Sherman's life partner at the time, who was looking for a filmmaker to help him turn his hundreds hours of one of a kind footage into a film. Soon after the journey creating a fun and unique travelogue through the New York art world has begun.

"The project evolved over time but never really strayed from its central storyline - That of the changing art world and of a man's psychological crisis in dating a more powerful woman", says Donaue. "In the first two years we made the film, we conducted over 70 interviews, shot lots of verite and gathered large amounts of archival footage. After our money ran out, we made a broadcast deal with the Sundance Channel and that gave us the money to start editing in 2006. The editing started just after Paul and Cindy broke up so the third act of the film was continually in flux. We realized as we got further into the process that we needed to be honest about one of the reasons for their breakup - The film itself. That wasn't easy for me because I'm generally opposed to that kind of self-conscious filmmaking. Nonetheless, this was a very personal story and the movie became a very significant factor in their relationship so it really couldn't be avoided. The real structural trick of this film was the balancing act of telling Paul's story, Cindy's story and the story of the art world in a way that didn't bog the film down in exposition or turn it into another boilerplate artist documentary. Our goal was always to tell a good, entertaining story first and foremost and to lend insight into Cindy's work in a way that is unique and entertaining".

Donahue has two new works in progress right now. One is a documentary about the pioneering Hollywood Casting Director, Marion Dougherty, who, according to some, single-handedly changed Hollywood over the last half century. The other is his narrative feature debut which he is planning on shooting this summer. We wish him luck.
After taking a couple of days off from Tribeca to go back to the Woodstock Film Festival office to catch up on much needed work, I went back yesterday along with our deputy director Nikki Goldbeck for a day of movies, meetings and parties. After sitting down with the Executive Producer of Harbinger Media, a global organization, funded by the Soros Foundation, that facilitates, supports, promotes and distributes filmmakers throughout the world who document war torn situations and other socially relevant issues, we set off to see some movies.

First on the agenda was Julian Schnabel's LOU REED'S BERLIN. The concert film spotlights Reed's 33 year old album about the painful collapse of two lovers in the backdrop of the Berlin Wall. Shunned by critics for over 30 years, the album has been resurrected by Schnabel, who produced the 5 day live concert and who directed the film. The result is a hauntingly dark and melancholic piece with some great performance by Reed and his band.

Next was our friend Tom Donahue and Paul H-O's art documentary GUEST OF CINDY SHERMAN. Before the screening we ran into Tom who was curious to hear our thoughts of the film, warning us that while many loved it, some critics expressed concerns of exploitations. When we saw Tom later on at a party we both quickly told him how much we loved the film. And indeed, this intimate and high energy look into the art world in NYC in the nineties along with a particularly intimate and endearing look into Cindy Sherman, one of America's most unique and provocative photographers, is both entertaining and insightful. I'll have more about the film in a later piece.

At the A&E Indie Films party later that day, held at the Rivington Hotel in the trendy lower east side, much of the independent film community gathered for good drinks, food, and endless conversations. It was nice to meet some of the young filmmakers who submitted their films already to the Woodstock Film Festival (some of whom might have a good chance of making it to the final line up...), as well as other filmmakers who were encouraged by us to submit. The party was full with WFF's alumni, including Thomas Kikis of DARKON, Ann Chaisson of P.S., filmmakers and Woodstockers Alex Berger and Avi Wider, and many more. Festival's long time friend Amos Poe, and indie icon, was there as well, talking about his upcoming project, starring Scarlett Johansson, to be shot in Italy later this summer. Talking to Amos, whose film EMPIRE II is screening at Tribeca, and whose short film JUST AN AMERICAN BOY screened in one of WFF's special year round events a few years ago, I was amazed by all the new projects he's involved with these days. Amos has always been a very busy filmmaker as well as an NYU teacher, but lately his work seem to have sky rocketed. I'll definitely follow up on his progress.

Industry members, including many film sales agents, distributors, programmers, and producers milled about during the crowded party enjoying the beautiful NY night and A&E's hospitality. Nikki and I stayed until nearly the very end, until, like Cinderella, we had to leave before midnight so that we can catch our "coach" (bus) back upstate.