You mentioned on the phone that the subject of your new film is a woman who imports models from Russia to the US.
Yes, she's a former model herself who scouts models who are 13 to 15 years old from rural Russia, and brings them to the US. She's also an accomplished fashion designer who designs all her clothes. And this is so interesting because she doesn't have a label or brand.
I think that's known as doing "Private Label."
She recruits these models, and they'll come over and stay in the Brooklyn location under the guidance of a man who is one of her business partners.
And the girls also model?
This movie sounds even more encompassing than Mardi Gras.
Yes, and it will even include fashion week in NYC.
I guess this is all part of our wonderful global economy.
The models have other incentives for being here in the United States, too. And there's the psychological motivation for these girls doing what they do, but there are also other forces that shape their motivation and provide them incentive to do this.
Before I forget: How old are you, anyway?
Well, my birthday is in four days.
And where are you originally from?
Mansfield, Texas, near Fort Worth. I grew up out in the country.
Mardi Gras was your first film?
Yes - made in 2002 through 2005 - and we've done three more since then. Our second was Kamp Katrina, which had a short theatrical release; the third one is Intimidad (Intimacy), which won several awards and premiered at the SXSW fest. Intimidad is about a woman in Mexico who makes bras for Victoria's Secret and her husband, who makes fire hydrants. They have left behind their young daughter in Southern Mexico but they are still trying to build a life of intimacy. The documentary follows them for five years. We started the film at the same time as Mardi Gras. The next film is called Odyssey of a Tin Man, a documentary about a man who hops on his bicycle one day and drives away to find his invisible girl friend Joan of Arc in New Orleans. And he meets a lot of people along the way. The new Russian modeling movie will be our fifth film.
We also have a few more projects going on, on the side, but we planned to first release these documentaries on DVD through our new distribution arm, Carnivalesque Films. In addition to my and Ashley's own films, we will also release other films to DVD, and perhaps theatrically. The first of these will be the narrative film Orphans by Ry Russo-Young, releasing September 30, which won a Special Jury Award at SXSW; then we’ll release the documentaries The Holy Modal Rounders: Bound to Lose (October 28); Manhattan, Kansas which won the audience award at SXSW (November 18) and then Durakovo: Village of Fools by the Georgian-French director Nino Kirtadze (February 2009), who won a Sundance Directing award for international documentaries this year. This last one is about hierarchical forms of power and how Christian nationalism is cultivated from the bottom up and simultaneously transmitted from the top down.
Wow - you are really becoming a distributor in your own right! Will these only get a DVD release, rather than theatrical?
Well, we are trying for theatrical, but at this point we don't know. We’ve sent them to maybe 50 distribution outlets around the country, including Anthology Film Archives here in NYC. But you never know…
What was your background that got you into documentaries?
Sociology. And… I don't know. Just watching other documentaries and films, I guess, and feeling pushed and pulled by those stories. And that just brought me into the idea of buying a camera and trying to make a documentary myself. Which led to the making of Mardi Gras. I actually made Mardi Gras to teach myself how to make a film, and then I thought I’d go on and make a “real” film afterwards.
Have you ever seen the Olivier Assayas film demonlover?
Because the film you're working on now sort of reminds me of that in terms of how Assayas's movie includes so much that is going on in the "global economy." You should take a look. A lot of people seem to hate the movie, but I think it's one of his best. Before we end, do you want to say anything? Beat a dead horse, stand on a soapbox, whatever?
Well, when we first spoke on the phone the other day, you were talking about how difficult it is to be a writer and make a living writing about films. I think I asked you if it was unusual for filmmakers to contact you, and that's when we started talking about all this.
Yes, and in my experience, it is unusual for a filmmaker to contact a film writer. You contacted me because of my mention of your Mardi Gras documentary in an earlier interview that I did with Yung Chang regarding Up the Yangtze. But I'm glad you did contact me, because meeting you and learning about you and your work just adds to my appreciation of your documentary. I also was contacted recently by an Italian director who had read my review of his film, Valzer (The Waltz) which was shown at the recent Open Roads festival of new Italian films. Valzer is an amazing movie: a real technical achievement, shot in one long take, that deals with global economics, power, "haves and have-nots" - a lot of things that your movies seem to deal with, too. But it is a narrative film, which, for me, makes the achievement even greater than the other film I've seen that uses this one-long-take technique: Russian Ark. Yet Valzer only played here in NYC for two performances, and because it received little or no mention prior to those showings, we may not get the chance to see it again.
I'd like to see that one.
I wish you could! [David takes a call on his cell phone from Ashley] Is Ashley also your "significant other'? [He nods, yes] I didn't realize that. You work together, film together, research together, live together. How does that work out?
[Laughs) People ask us that all the time but we don't know the difference. We've been together six years now. We met during the time I was making Mardi Gras, and since then we've collaborated on practically every project. We don't really know what it's like not to live together and to work together.
And you're now in your early 30s, so you've been together since you were 25? How come you're so loathe to put an actual year to yourself?
People ask me that all the time, too. I feel that age, in a capitalist society, tends to define our value as people based on productivity, and to somehow explain how much we are able to accomplish within the boundaries of age is interpreted in a quantified manner. “How much can you put out?” “How much work have you done?” The number determines your value. If you're 25 and have done four films, that's seen as “great,” but if you're 45 and have done four films, maybe it's “not so good.”
So much would depend on the quality of those four films. Some movie directors are amazingly prolific, others work at half speed. But really, on some level, doesn't quality count more than quantity?
We’re not shooting for productivity. We’re shooting for quality.
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