"Why don't we have more of a riotous disposition toward injustice?" I had a good feeling about this before the festival even started. At the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, The Birth of a Nation won both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize, and was picked up by Fox Searchlight in a record-breaking sale. This powerful film is the directorial debut of actor Nate Parker, who not only stars in and directs the film, but he also wrote the screenplay and produced it as well. I had the honor of meeting Nate after his premiere and talking with him for 10 minutes about making the film and returning to Sundance as a filmmaker, not just an actor. It's one of the best interviews I've had at Sundance - he's so intelligent and delightful to talk with.
One of this year's holiday comedies is The Night Before, about three friends, three ride-or-die homies, who go on one final Christmas eve adventure in New York. In truth it's actually a much sweeter story about friendship, and how important is to hold onto the friends that mean something to us. The Night Before is directed by Jonathan Levine, a filmmaker I first met in 2008 at the Sundance Film Festival because I went crazy for his film The Wackness. Years later he has directed two other films - 50/50, Warm Bodies - and now his latest is this one, The Night Before, once known as X-Mas or the Christmas Eve Project. It's a very fun movie and I had a great time talking with Jonathan about the challenge of making audiences laugh.
"It was very intense." One of the best films I've seen this year is called Son of Saul, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and won the Grand Prize of the Jury and a few other awards. Then it went on to play at the Telluride, Toronto, Vancouver, New York and London Film Festivals and will be opening in theaters this December (the same day as Star Wars). It's a masterpiece, and I said that in my glowing review, since this film totally blew me away. Let me now introduce you to its director - Hungarian filmmaker László Nemes (as seen above). He has made a number of shorts previously, including The Gentleman Takes His Leave, but this is his feature debut and it's astonishing. I had to meet László to talk about this film and so much more.
"I'm not so sure you want to be me." It was an opportunity I couldn't pass - the chance to interview Jason Segel. He stars as the late author David Foster Wallace in one of my favorite films this year, The End of the Tour directed by James Ponsoldt. The film is about the actual end of his (book) tour, specifically the time David Foster Wallace spends with fellow writer/journalist David Lipsky, played in the film by Jesse Eisenberg. The two meet in winter and discuss all kinds of topics, and it's really a beautiful film about life and honesty, and still being real even though you may be brilliant, as with DFW. Segel gives a phenomenal, Oscar-worthy performance as David Foster Wallace - and I don't bat an eye saying that. I had to meet him.
"Sometimes the rules that you put on yourself till you're figuring out how everything works don't work in your favor." Beasts of No Nation, starring Abraham Attah as Agu and Idris Elba, is a helluva film, and I couldn't wait to talk to the director behind it. The Netflix Original Film premiered at the Telluride Film Festival (read my glowing review) but it wasn't until just last week in New York City that I was able to catch up with writer/director Cary Fukunaga. Not only did he write and direct it, Fukunaga also shot the film as its cinematographer, and produced it. This is very much his film and he even spoke with me about how there were still sound tweaks he was making up to the last minute. This ended up being a fascinating, in-depth discussion about filmmaking with Cary Fukunaga and I wish I could've had more time with him.
"I like to arrive in front of the camera with all the information that I can possibly need." He's a legend. I was lucky enough to get a chance to meet up with actor Ian McKellen in New York City earlier this week for an afternoon interview. I met at his hotel near Central Park, and we spoke briefly before his appearance on a Reddit AMA. We could've chatted for the entire afternoon, but I didn't want to delay him any further. I interviewed him for his new film Mr. Holmes, where plays an aging Sherlock Holmes. I saw the film in Berlin and loved it so much that my effusive quote is featured in the trailer and on the official poster for the film. He's played many of my favorite characters, and I tried to ask some interesting questions about acting.
"There was a lot of unrequited dino love out there." A few years ago, a little film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival called Safety Not Guaranteed. It earned praise from critics and introduced a filmmaker, Colin Trevorrow, who later landed the gig of a lifetime - directing a brand new Jurassic Park movie, to restart the series again after it died with JP3 in 2001. Colin Trevorrow is the director of Jurassic World, a continuation of Michael Crichton's vision of a dinosaur theme park that Steven Spielberg made us all believe in back in 1993. It's already breaking box office records. A week before it hit theaters, I was lucky enough to spend 15 minutes chatting with Colin (on the phone) talking about creative control, Spielberg, the attention he's getting nowadays, and how he pulled off a movie like this as only his second feature as a filmmaker.
"If there are mountains, let's climb them. If there are buildings, let's jump off them." One of the most inspiring documentaries I've seen recently is Sunshine Superman, which premiered at TIFF and the New York Film Festival last year. It's an exhilarating and amusing and nostalgic story of Carl Boenish, one of the founders of BASE jumping, a man full of so much joy. Sunshine Superman is directed by Marah Strauch, a young filmmaker making her feature debut, but she made her mark and is definitely going places. I was lucky enough to catch up with Marah while she was in New York City for a brief visit, and I asked her a bunch of questions about how she made Sunshine Superman, and what her plans are moving forward now.
"Go into a shoot with a bad script, and you're in big trouble." Playing in theaters now is the new sci-fi film Ex Machina, directed by screenwriter turned filmmaker Alex Garland. Garland is making his directorial debut with this film after writing the scripts for The Beach, 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go and Dredd. A few years back I met up with him for an interview about Dredd, and we talked a lot about science fiction, and how the genre pushes itself forward. I met up with Alex Garland again, this time while he was in New York City to promote Ex Machina, and we again chatted about sci-fi and how much he loves the genre. As always, it was fun to sit down and talk with Alex about filmmaking and much more. Fire it up!
It Follows, indie writer/director David Robert Mitchell's follow-up to his acclaimed 2010 debut, The Myth of the American Sleepover, couldn't be further from the coming-of-age-in-suburbia drama. In terms of tone, that is. His latest is similar in that it deals with teens in suburban Detroit, but the comparisons end there. It Follows is a nightmarish tale of one girl and the unstoppable curse that has latched itself onto her, a ghost who's hauntings can only be transferred by some good old hanky-panky. The entity follows her relentlessly until it either catches her or she can pass the curse onto another, unlucky person. Mitchell utilizes these two simple ideas to create one of the scariest, cinematic experiences to come along in awhile.
Congratulations Birdman director Alejandro González Iñárritu, winner of the Oscar for Best Director! This is now four years in a row that I've interviewed the Best Director winner. Though at the time, I wasn't thinking about awards or anything else besides what to ask about the film and their process as a filmmaker. In an industry that loves data and obsessing over success, I can't help but notice a bit of a pattern here. Not that I am any indicator or predictor or grand wizard of the Oscars, but if anything I have my eye trained on very talented filmmakers and outstanding films. With Iñárritu winning this year, that makes four years in a row of winners interviewed, including Alfonso Cuarón, Ang Lee, even Michel Hazanavicius (of The Artist).
One of this year's must see documentaries is Citizenfour, directed by Laura Poitras, an inside look at the story of whistblower Edward Snowden. Poitras was contacted by Snowden early on and was right there with him, filming the entire event, as he leaked the information from Hong Kong about the NSA's spying program that stunned the world in May of 2013. Poitras has made two other provocative docs previously, The Oath and Flag Wars, and she's back with another one that is a bit more intimate, but still as powerful. I raved about Citizenfour after catching its premiere at the New York Film Festival, and I met up with Laura for an interview in New York City. What follows is a fascinating discussion about the power of storytelling.