Filmmakers Make Do

Jean-Luc Godard on the set of Masculin féminin (1966)

In one of the most entertaining interviews to appear in the past few weeks, Paul Schrader tells Vulture’s David Edelstein that he’d shot about eighty percent of his next film, The Card Counter, when his producers shut him down just five days before he was scheduled to wrap. One of around five hundred extras had tested positive for the coronavirus, and the producers—taking ethical considerations into account, of course, but also potential legal liability—felt they had no choice. Furious, Schrader took to Facebook: “Myself, I would have shot through hellfire rain to complete the film. I’m old and asthmatic—what better way to die than on the job?”

Schrader has since been blowing off steam by working with the material he has, having his cast (Oscar Isaac, Tye Sheridan, Willem Dafoe, and Tiffany Haddish) deliver dialogue, and combining what they send in with images he’s found via Google in order to put together at least a product reel—and perhaps more, something like “a simulation of the film.” Rewatching Jean-Luc Godard’s Masculin féminin (1966) with his daughter a few nights ago, he was struck by “a scene where a guy passes by with a gasoline can and then they hear a sound and somebody rushes back and says, ‘He just poured the gasoline on himself and burned himself up!’ Now, what is that? Is that Godard not shooting a scene, or is that Godard saying, ‘I don’t need to shoot that scene.’ It’s certainly the second . . . If I had to do a prison scene with just voice-over, would people accept it as a choice rather than a compromise?”

Another filmmaker determined to make lemonade out of lemons is Petra Costa, whose most recent documentary, The Edge of Democracy, was nominated for an Oscar. She’s issued an open call via Twitter for contributors to her next project, Dystopia. “We want to document this urgent moment in which the Covid-19 pandemic brings to surface our deepest structural problems and the inequality that defines our societies,” she tweets. Costa is inviting potential collaborators to film—horizontally—“what’s going on with your family, your community, your neighborhood, and your city . . . We want to make a mosaic with different views of the world, to try to make sense of this pandemic.”

Eric Hynes, Damon Smith, and Jeff Reichert—who, as a producer of Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar’s American Factory, was one of the winners of the Oscar Costa was nominated for—have also reached out to collaborators for their latest project, ROOM H.264: Quarantine, April 2020. Specifically, they’ve asked filmmakers whose work was to have premiered at SXSW, Tribeca, and other recently cancelled festivals to speculate on the future of cinema.

At Hyperallergic, Dan Schindel notes that the “general sentiment” among those responding is that “cinema is evolving, and that the current social mode of forced isolation is both making these evolutions apparent and in some ways accelerating them.” Documentary filmmaker Cecilia Aldarondo “makes a really excellent point that I’ve thought about almost every day since we filmed her,” says Reichert in an exchange on ROOM H.264 with Hynes, Smith, and Schindel. “Just as the pandemic is laying bare how intrinsically unjust so many systems we take for granted are, there is a possibility for us in the film world—which like a lot of work around art making, comes with a patina of privilege—to recognize the same. And to hopefully build back up better and more sustainably when we can.”

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Variety’s Peter Debruge has spoken with Cameron Bailey and Joana Vicente, who head up the Toronto International Film Festival, and has found them determined to go ahead with this year’s edition in September “even if that means fewer venues, smaller audiences, or, worst case scenario, no in-person component at all.” Looking ahead to the fall, Variety’s Owen Gleiberman finds that “six months into the eruption of this pandemic, the risk of spreading the virus makes the international gathering of people at a film festival an untenable, and unlikely, proposition.” Even so, he understands why the fall festivals are still “flirting with taking place: to keep hope alive, and to float the logistics of what a reawakened culture might look like.”

Georgia governor Brian Kemp may be determined to reawaken his state sooner rather than later, but as Gene Maddaus and Brent Lang report for Variety, film and television production “isn’t expected to restart anytime soon.” Movie theaters, too, are reluctant to throw open their doors. “It just doesn’t feel socially responsible to me to go out there to try to grab a few bucks,” says Brandt Gully, the owner of the Springs Cinema & Taphouse near Atlanta. He and other cinema owners as well as casts and crews around the world will go on hurting for the foreseeable future. At IndieWire, Chris Lindahl has drawn up a list of ways to help, and he’ll be updating it for as long as it takes.

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