Tribeca Talks: Pen to Paper

An inside look at the Calling the Shots panel.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

l - r Eric Kohn with Marshall Curry, Ira Sachs, Sofia Norlin and Orlando von Einsiedel at the Tribeca Talks: Calling The Shots.
l - r Eric Kohn with Marshall Curry, Ira Sachs, Sofia Norlin and Orlando von Einsiedel at the Tribeca Talks: Calling The Shots. Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

On Easter Sunday in New York, directors Sofia Norlin (Broken Hill Blues with Sebastian Hiort af Ornäs and Lina Leandersson); Marshall Curry (Point And Shoot on Matthew VanDyke's struggles); Ira Sachs (Love Is Strange, starring John Lithgow, Marisa Tomei and Alfred Molina) and Orlando von Einsiedel (Virunga on the plight of Park Director Emmanuel de Merode and the Mountain Gorillas) convened for a Tribeca Talks: Pen to Paper - Calling The Shots panel.

Robert Altman's Nashville, Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act Of Killing, Michael Moore's Roger And Me, Hoop Dreams directed by Steve James, Rob Epstein's The Times Of Harvey Milk, John Schlesinger's Midnight Cowboy and the oeuvre of Andrei Tarkovsky played a part in the way the filmmakers thought about time.

Sofia Norlin, director of Broken Hill Blues: "The more iron they bring up, the more the city is falling apart."
Sofia Norlin, director of Broken Hill Blues: "The more iron they bring up, the more the city is falling apart." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

The discussion held at Barnes & Noble across from Union Square in Manhattan was moderated by Eric Kohn, Chief Film Critic and Senior Editor for Indiewire.

Following the discussion, I asked each filmmaker to name a film that in their eyes succeeded in creating a certain delicate balance.

Anne-Katrin Titze: You spoke about the struggle to be timely and timeless at the same time. Can you each talk about a film that perfectly captures this balance, that would be a good example where that is very successful?

Orlando von Einsiedel: I think The Act Of Killing does a pretty good job of that. In the way the themes lying underneath are very timeless themes. Those issues needed to be discussed for the last 50 years. So in that way it's incredibly timely.

Sofia Norlin: I'm thinking about so many films but want to defend poetry. I'm thinking about the work of the great Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky. It's political, about war, it's about society. He's a great poet really. It was always the intimate and the world at the same time. That way it is still timeless.

Ira Sachs: For some reason the first two films that came to my mind were Nashville - I mentioned Robert Altman before - and I really think he captured a time with that film and we can still obviously enjoy it. And Midnight Cowboy, a film that was inspiring to Love Is Strange. In talking about an urban relationship between two men and the love between them in a city and very much how the city impacts their relationship.

Marshall Curry: Of docs, maybe Hoop Dreams (1994) or The Times Of Harvey Milk (1984), or Roger And Me (1989). These are films that are about a specific period. The question of poverty or the role of sports or leadership in the gay community, these are things that are timeless, even though they are based in a very specific story that has a specific time.

Marshall Curry, Ira Sachs and Sofia Norlin listening to Orlando von Einsiedel: "It's really important not to allow places like Virunga to fall."
Marshall Curry, Ira Sachs and Sofia Norlin listening to Orlando von Einsiedel: "It's really important not to allow places like Virunga to fall." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

This is how the panelists summed up their films in the context of the social relevance.

Marshall Curry: My film Point And Shoot is about a young guy from Baltimore. He was in his late twenties when he decided to set out on what he was calling this crash course in manhood. He went out on this three year 30,000 mile motorcycle trip trough Northern Africa and the Middle East that led him to become friends with a Libyan hippie who then when the Arab Spring began, became a revolutionary fighting Gaddafi. And the subject of the film is how Matthew VanDyke decided to join the rebels. The film follows his personal journey.

Ira Sachs: My film is called Love Is Strange and it's the story of two men played by Alfred Molina and John Lithgow who have been in a relationship for 40 years in New York. At the opening of the movie they get married, all their friends gather for the wedding. Soon after, one of them is fired from his job as a choir director for a Catholic high school here in New York. As a result, they can't afford their apartment and temporarily have to split up… I think what the film offers is an intimate viewpoint and relationship with the audience with this couple. That familiarity is perhaps the most politically active element of the film for the audience.

Point and Shoot director Marshall Curry: "The subject of the film is how Matthew VanDyke decided to join the rebels."
Point and Shoot director Marshall Curry: "The subject of the film is how Matthew VanDyke decided to join the rebels." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Sofia Norlin: My film Broken Hill Blues is about a mining town in Lapland in Northern Sweden. It's about a group of teenagers, boys and girls, their life, dreams about the future, discovering love, friendship, fighting with everything that teenagers do in life. The town is called Kiruna, it's a real mining town. The more iron they bring up, the more the city is falling apart. The town gets destroyed and has to be moved and built up nearby. This also works metaphorically. What we should build for the future is a huge question. It's a kind of documentary and fiction about this town.

Orlando von Einsiedel: My film is called Virunga and it's this battle of very brave individuals trying to save the Virunga National Park against the backdrop of a new civil war and a British oil company illegally exploiting oil in the park's boundaries. The park is this incredible place, one of the most beautiful parts of the world you have never heard of. It's also home to the last Mountain Gorillas, it's a National World Heritage site and it's one of the most vied for spots on our planet. This is not only about how this park provides lots of jobs, it's really a stabilising force in a region which has known 20 years of war. It's a really important place. It's also a kind of precedent setting case. If we, I mean humanity, allow this place to fall in the favor of business interests, what does that say about other World Heritage sites like the Great Barrier Reef or like Yellowstone [National Park]? It's really important not to allow places like Virunga to fall.

Love Is Strange director Ira Sachs: "Midnight Cowboy, a film that was inspiring to Love Is Strange."
Love Is Strange director Ira Sachs: "Midnight Cowboy, a film that was inspiring to Love Is Strange." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

On Thursday, we received news that Virunga's Park Director had been shot.

Anne-Katrin Titze: You said you just spoke to Emmanuel [de Merode - Virunga National Park Warden] and he is doing well?

Orlando von Einsiedel: He is doing well. Considering the circumstances, he is doing okay.

AKT: Can you talk at all about the disclaimer poster being put up at the press screening?

OvE: What I can tell you is, good journalism requires that you put your allegations out there and as part of that process you have to then incorporate their response into the product. Whether that's a newspaper article or TV show, you need to incorporate the response of people that you're alleging allegations against.

AKT: I exchanged e-mails with Simon Trevor this morning. I had recently interviewed him about his latest documentary on ivory poaching. Do you know who he is?

OvE: No.

AKT: He was a game warden at Tsavo National Park and second unit director on Sydney Pollack's Out Of Africa (1985) as well as on Michael Apted's Gorillas In The Mist (1988). I asked him if he had seen Virunga and he had not. Maybe you should get in touch with him. How did you get in contact with the people in your film, the French journalist, Melanie, for example?

Virunga director Orlando von Einsiedel: "Virunga is special not only because of the mountain gorillas…"
Virunga director Orlando von Einsiedel: "Virunga is special not only because of the mountain gorillas…" Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

OvE: The Park already had lots of concerns about the actions of SOCO International's contractors and supporters in the Congo. When I came along - I have a background in journalism and used to make a lot of investigative films - I heard about their concerns and wanted to find out more about it. So I started working with a variety of people, gathering evidence about what they were doing. This way you meet people who have been doing their own work, communicating with rangers. And one day I met Melanie who was working in the region and she was interested in working with us and looking into this issue. Then it was a team effort. I was the lynchpin. I didn't want her to know about the other people and I didn't want them to know who she was. That was all about safety and security. So if anyone dropped some memory cards or hard drive it wouldn't trace back to anybody else.

AKT: It's obvious the danger you are all in. In many films you don't have that acute sense of danger. Do you sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and have doubt? Are you scared?

OvE: There were times when I was scared, but I can always walk away as a foreign journalist. If it got too much, I could pack my bag and leave. The rangers in the park, the local people can't. You draw inspiration from them.

AKT: It is such important work they are doing. This is the last place in the world where there are mountain gorillas. It is one of the most important issues we have - to protect this world. The structure of your film leads from protecting the animals to issues of humans at war.

OvE: I agree. And Virunga is special not only because of the mountain gorillas but also the park can do so much to drive real development in the region. And with development comes peace and stability. So the park is special not just because of the animals which are incredible but also because of what it can do to bring peace in a region which spent 20 years of war.

Tribeca Film Festival remaining public screenings: Wednesday, April 23, 7:00pm – AMC Loews Village 7 – 3; April 25, 3:45pm – Bow Tie Cinemas Chelsea 8 is a free public screening

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