Art by Seth Paradox
The Color of Pômme by Dale Kaplan
I wore ripped jeans, a peasant shirt and orange love beads the first time I saw L'une chante, l'autre pas (One Sings, The Other Doesn’t). That was many years ago when I was young and in love with my college sweetheart who introduced me to foreign films.We watched the movie atLincoln Square Cinema on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Unfortunately, this theater no longer exists. After the film we took the D train back to Brooklyn, I can guarantee that we stopped at Dubrow’s Cafeteria for strawberry cheesecake and a serving of egg noodles with mounds of cottage cheese. Both items were equally fattening and fabulous. An actress with beautiful red hair and exquisite shots of Iran, were all I remembered about the movie. Seeing the movie again, now, I can say I was accurate on both counts.
One Sings, The Other Doesn’t explores the lives of two French women, Suzanne and Pauline.The film takes place in the mid-1970s, during a time of social unrest in France. The women’s liberation movement was in high gear, and the right to an abortion was a central demand. Although I found parts of this film dated, it was sad and shocking to me that women in America are once again facing the same challenges, due to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and the film actually has as much relevance today as it had so many years ago.
Ostracized from her family, Suzanne is unmarried and lives with her photographer partner and their two young children. Her lover makes little money photographing women, in his questionable pursuit of seeking “Woman in her naked truth,” with many of the women posing with exposed breasts. Suzanne is in love with him, even though he is irresponsible and fails to support their family. Struggling financially and completely distraught, Suzanne confides toPauline that she is pregnant–again–when they meet for the first time in years.
Proactive Pauline, who is in her last year of high school, takes control of the situation. As the two friends weigh the options of a back alley abortion or a trip to Switzerland, where under certain circumstances abortion was legal, they decide on the latter. Pauline’s unwavering devotion to Suzanne becomes quickly apparent as she painlessly deceives her parents with a story about needing money for a school trip. They provide her the cash; but eventually the truth surfaces. An argument ensues and Pauline decides to leave home. Rebellious and free spirited, she can no longer live under the conservative confines of her father’s rule and moves in with a friend. Pauline is an archetypal symbol of the times, a poster child of the revolution.
When tragedy ensues, Suzanne, who has no practical skills to support herself and her children, has no other option but to return to her parents farm in the country. The two women part ways physically but never lose touch. Throughout the film, the simple postcard becomes their communication lifeline. “Love without headaches” is how they define their friendship.
One of the most moving sequences is watching Suzanne learning how to type. A kind social worker lends her an old typewriter, but her recalcitrant father is annoyed by the banging of the vintage machine and banishes her from practicing at the kitchen table. Suzanne moves to the barn where we see her practicing with a bale of hale for a table, a huge cow by her side. Animals are so non-judgemental.
[Typical of French cinema, no matter the circumstances the women always look naturally gorgeous without pretension. I always desired to look like a French actress from an independent movie.]
Time passes and Suzanne eventually opens a Family Planning Center in a gym, between the summer and winter pools. She is in the south of France, where sunshine reigns, and the location reflects her greatly improved state of existence. While Suzanne focuses on her financial independence, maintaining the family planning clinic, and on ensuring a stable home for her children, Pauline, who eventually changes her name to Pômme (“Apple”), focuses on a career in music and avant-garde performance. The costumes are ethereal and her drive to create is ripe with passion and determination.
Pômme soon finds herself in a parallel predicament to Suzanne’s and finds it medically necessary to travel outside of France, this time to Amsterdam. Just as Suzanne found a liberating camaraderie with her fellow workers, Pômme finds it with the other patients at the clinic. They all sleep in a bunk bed dorm-style hostel together and take a boat trip, touring the canals of the city, the day before their procedures.This powerful experience inspires Pomme to write her first song. It is also where she meets Darius, her new-found Iranian love. Empathetic toward the plight of the women, he is the one who arranges the boat trip and comes along for the ride.
Back in France, Darius works as an economist, while Pômme focuses on her singing career. When funding for along-rehearsed performance falls through, Darius suggests that Pômme return with him to Iran for an extended vacation.
[As an artist/designer I can certainly relate to this typeof disappointment. When a client did not come through after booking me for an exclusive, I threw a 12”-diameter thermometer with a photo of a cow across the room of my 1000 sq. ft. studio. It was a favorite object of mine. I still miss it to this day.]
The scenes of Iran are as gorgeous as I remembered. The landscape and colorful markets, entwined with the couple’s young love, are candy for the eyeballs. However, one instinctively realizes this situation is not destined to last. Iran is not the place fora young singer, interested in the avant-garde and women’s rights, to pursue the dreams she is unwilling to give up. Pregnant, Pômme goes back to France. Pômme is joyful to be physically close to Suzanne again, and Suzanne is excited to be there for Pômme’s first birthing. Darius follows after, to be there when Pômme gives birth. Yet the couple cannot resolve their cultural preferences, and a shocking and unusual family decision is made.
Beautiful Pômme, with the stunning red hair, that I never forgot in many years, makes a number of tough decisions in her life, while always being a mutually devoted friend to Suzanne. An independent soul, through and through, she remains true to her revolutionary spirit and continues her life on the road, sharing motherhood with her all-girl-and-one-man band. OneSings, The Other Doesn’t bears a palpable emotional relevance for modern America. May it inspire us in our own, varied, revolutionary spirits.
Art by Karyssa Nguyen
Yume: the Dreams of a Lifetime
a review by Seth Paradox
Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams [Yume(夢)] is a fitting film for 21st Century audiences to be introduced to one of the greatest directors of the 20th Century. Kurosawa’s directorial career spans from 1943 to 1993, with five years of work as Assistant Director leading up to it. Yume, his third-to-final film, comes after 27 feature films, including, just prior to it, his greatest masterwork, Ran (which essentially translates as“chaos”), an adaptation of King Lear. He will direct just two more films after Yume. This timing is important, as Yume is the sole film in which Kurosawa focuses on himself, and it comes after a lifetime of craftsmanship [sic], and there by, it gives a deep view into of his values and voice.
Kurosawa, as an artist, was vocally interested in ceaseless, albeit seasonal, growth, feeling that once a person believed themselves complete, they were done with life. This idea, he paired with his interest in speaking through his films to the younger generation, both men and women, which could be seen in the directness of his—even, at times, fourth-wall breaking—appeals to the audience and in the vital space which he created for the, often, younger actors, where they were given license to bring forth their depths. Kyoko Kagawa, who starred in two of his films, said that working with Kurosawa and his ensemble was the sole place she felt fulfilled as an actor.
Coming from a traditional samurai household, and inspired by his mother and sister—and, in particular, the latter’s love of poetry—while being immersed in global literature, theater, and film via his father’s and brother’s influences, Kurosawa brought a unique vision to the world, one that stood firm in the rich traditions of Japanese culture and in the cultural wealth of the West.
Yume serves as a marvelous autobiography, full of wondrous things: luminous fields of flowers, enchanting entities, and heartfelt relationships, among the mix. The film arises from the mind of an 80-year-old artist, one who could still ‘write’ with cinematographic freshness. Todd Haynes’ avant-garde biography of Bob Dylan, I’m Not There—which never once mentions the Nobel-Prize-winning song writer by name, which instead has multiple actors, including an, as ever, show-stealing Cate Blanchet, play different ‘spiritual essences’ of Dylan—could be seen as a comparable, refracted look at the many-faced-jewel of an artist; however, with. Yume, Kurosawa is looking at, and sharing, himself: he is spiritually naked for his audience, those of us in the proceeding generations.
As a reflection of that multifaceted gem, the film is split into various, chronologically ordered chapters—each based on an actual, recurring dream of Kurosawa’s—creating a journey, that somehow retains an essential non-linearness. Knowing he is nearing the end of this life, Kurosawa—who died in 1998, creating no new works in his final six years—was willing to embrace some sense of being ‘finished’,enough to paint his own portrait, creating this resonant, abstract film, that suggests a brightness beyond even passing.
Meditating on death moves as a keen current, flowing through much of—perhaps all of—Kurosawa’s work, from his first feature, Sanshiro Sugata, to the world-wide phenomenon, Rashomon, and right up to and through Ran and Yume. Practices devoted to such facing of death—of impermanence—were well woven into Japanese culture, and especially woven into samurai culture, arising out of a Buddhist ethoson how to view life, inspiring a recognition of the preciousness of the present moment, of the fact that the peach blossoms will be here for a time and then gone until the next cycle.
With all of this, Yume is an often sweet, and occasionally whimsical piece, punctuated by the horror of war—mirroring the punctuation of WWII in 20th century Japanese life—and by the fallout of that. Each of the eight chapters begins with the written phrase “こんな夢を見みた,” “such a dream, [I] saw.”From this, English speakers can draw a sense of the evocative way in which what we would call “having a dream” is imagined in Japanese. How well that plays into the nature of cinema and its shared relationship with dreams. Both use language that transcends symbols, creating “an artistic image [that]is not to be deciphered, [being] an equivalent of the world around us,” to borrow a phrasing from Russian auteur, Andrei Tarkovsky.
Throughout Yume, Kurosawa can also be seen to relate to a sense of “life is but a dream,” as the English children’s song puts it. Life has magic. Spirits inhabit the dreams of Yume; the protagonist, Akira—which means “bright”—meets kitsune (fox spirits), the spirits of departed, beloved trees, the embodiment of a storm, and spirits of the dead, famous and forgotten.
As such, there is a strong sense of spiritual reckoning and redemption in this story. Akira must atone for some transgression made in his youth—perhaps even in a past life—and through his life choices, between the chapters of the dreams, comes through his trials of purgation, and perhaps the weighing of the levity of his heart against a feather.
The first chapter begins with a maybe-six-year-old version of Akira, who is admonished by his mother—played by an actor who was, it is reported, directed to imitate Kurosawa’s mother’s mannerisms—not togo wandering in the weather of mixed sunshine and rain, as the kitsune hold their weddings in this kind of weather and are zealous guards of their privacy.
Naturally, the curious young boy wanders into the woods—and what woods they are; Kurosawa has ever had a facility for filming nature, and especially woods, with a sumptuousness that evokes the ordinary-magic of such spaces. The rain—a notorious challenge to film well—and sun, radiant through the immense, ruddy columns of cedar, set a perfect stage for the kitsune. Looking something likeWestern notions of fae, albeit with vulpine features and all genders sporting mustaches, the kitsune, marrying en masse it seems, parade through the forest with a vigilant formality. Every few synchronized steps, they stop and quickly scan the environment. With the barest modicum of concealment, young Akira is spotted and flees.
Returning home, his mother refuses him entry, saying, “you went and did something you shouldn’t have.I can’t let you in, now.” An angered kitsune has left Akira a dagger with which to commits eppuku, a ritual suicide. His mother commands him to run and ask the kitsunes’ forgiveness, which they are rare to give, or die. And thus, the young boy wanders into the world, seeking an absolution. We leave this dream as he walks through a rainbow gateway.
In Yume, women form the essential community Akira is part of, and feminine power is ever evident, even when made known through absence. Akira’s mother sets the spiritual moral-standard to which he must rise; later, it is the feminine spirits that advocate for him in his grief or that work to dissuade him from a martial path. It is Akira who must learn to find his right-action and right-livelihood from their example.
Going from the spiritual relationship with his mother as guardian and arbiter of his honor, in our next chapter, we find the boy, Akira, some years older. While dressed for a holiday, bringing food to his sister and her friends, he admires the ornate dolls that line the walls; yet, one seems to be missing. When he then notices an unfamiliar girl in a pink kimono in an adjacent room, he enquires of his sister, who is she? His sister thinks he may be feverish, as, unseen by anyone else, the girl has disappeared.
Spotting the girl outside, Akira sets out after her, despite his sister shouting—in reflection of the previous dream—“where are you going; you’re not allowed out.” He follows the bright-coloured girl to a grassy hillside, where a coterie of well-dressed spirits—which look like the ornate dolls come to life—move to block his way. The leaders, a man and woman, inform him they will never return to his house, because Akira’s family have cut down the peach trees that once held the hillside. The spirits assert that the holiday being celebrated is meant to celebrate the peaches and their blossoms.
Akira weeps, free with his genuine emotion. He cries because he loved the trees, and they are gone. This true love and willingness to bear his sorrow allows the audience insight into Akira’s, and thus Kurosawa’s, true heart.
As the chapter closes, Akira sees the girl once more and she becomes one small, remaining peach tree, about the boy’s size, in full blossom. We freeze frame on the boy’s face and fade to black, in what could very well be a reflection of the end to Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows [Le Quatre Cents Coups], knowing Kurosawa’s love for great European art.
It is interesting to note: in cinema theory, freeze frames like this are often read as an act of death, or death suspended, such as in the ending of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or the more recent Korean film, The King and the Clown[Wang-ui Namja (왕의남자)]. Hereon, the child version of Akira will be left behind. What is the death of childhood in the story of a life?
As Yume changes through the seasons of a life, ceremonies become a resounding pattern throughout—beginning with the kitsune wedding, then the celebration of the peaches—forming a thread of care and reverence for life, its most important moments, which leavens the film and shares a genuine joie de vivre.
As a counter-woven thread, spirits return in every piece, whether as embodiments of elemental powers, asyurei—“faint spirits” which have unsettled business or emotions—as ogerish monsters, or as inspirational figures, which the film’s artist—whether Akira, the subject, or Kurosawa, the sensei, the Master, telling the story—grapples with, sometimes literally, as he treks towards the summation of this life.
What we find at the end of his journey is surprising. What happens is unremarkable, yet is awesome inits embodiment of a fulsome Spring upon the Earth and within the artist. It returns us to the vernal season in which we met Akira, suggesting something has been restored, something that can perhaps be experienced because we have been through Summer, Fall, and Winter. Rebirth, as an essential in inevitability.
When you watch Yume, especially should you have yet to see any other of Akira Kurosawa’s works, perhaps then go watch the other films, in no hurry to arrive anywhere, until you come back, once more, to Yume, toDreams. That journey, played out in a non-linear unfurling and returning, full circle, to the end, will give you a special insight into an art and into an artist. Insight that can be as deep as Kurosawa’s love for humanity, that which permeates each shimmering, stitched-together, silver-halide frame of his films.
Seth Paradox is a writer/director and SAG-E actor living in Los Angeles. You can follow him on Instagram @sethparardox
The Wobblies is a documentary about the I.W.W.—the Industrial Workers of the World—the first labor union in the U.S. We sat down with the Director, Deborah Shaffer, to discuss how The Wobblies came to be, and what it takes to have a career as a documentary filmmaker.
Shaffer’s films include To Be Heard, Witness to War: Dr. Charlie Clements, Queen of Hearts: Audrey Flack, and she is currently co-producing My Underground Mother.
Interview by Kiran Chitanvis
GCC: So what was the moment in your life where you realized, “I want to be a filmmaker?”
D.S.: I never aspired, when I was much younger, when I was studying, to be a filmmaker.When I was in school, it wasn't particularly something people did, going to film school, especially to make documentaries. I did, randomly, take an 8mm film production class.
I was at a small girl’s college in New England, and there was another college nearby that was offering an evening class. I don't remember anything about that class or it influencing me, but there was this seed of something.I really got into film through activism. In the late 60s, early 70s, I became an active participant in the anti-war movement. But, I wasn't so comfortable being a real, out-front rabble-rouser myself, and I met a group of people who were making political films. They were members of a group called NEWSREEL, which still exists. I fell in with the NEWSREEL people, and I was just amazed by the power of their documentaries. We formed our own little group, in Ann Arbor, of NEWSREEL. We had a collective, and we all moved into a house together. We went out every night and showed films at labor unions, at high schools, at churches, just against the walls of buildings. There would always be a discussion afterwards, and it was a very exciting time.
The films had such power to motivate people: to talk, to take action. Often, there would be a march right after; the film would end, and we would march somewhere.Somebody at NEWSREEL started teaching me how to do little things, and it turns out that I loved the craft of filmmaking as much as I loved what films could do. Little by little, I started learning more about making the films. I ended up drifting to New York. I had finished college, and I didn't really know what I was going to do; I came to New York, like everybody. I had a friend who was living here, and I was able to live in her apartment with her, on the Lower East Side. She was going to art school, and I was trying to figure out what to do. I couldn't get a job. I tried and tried and tried. I couldn't get a job in publishing. Iended up just hanging around at the NEWSREEL office, and they didn't really want new members. They said, “We're not taking them.” But, they finally felt sorry for me. I was hanging around so much, and because I knew how to do things, like run the rewinds and clean the prints–it was all 16mm–they took pity on me and let me join the group. That was my film school.I remember going out to cover a Young Lords demonstration with three or four of us; somebody was shooting, and, at some point, they handed me the camera and said, “Here, you shoot." I said, “What? Me?” Mostly though, at that time, I gravitated towards doing sound. I did a lot of sound recording. It was separate: separate camera and sound.
Eventually, I gravitated towards editing. I really, really loved film editing. I loved cutting andpasting and figuring out: Where's the story in here? How do you put the pieces together?How do you get from A to B to C? How do you build an arc? I just put all the pieces of the puzzle together. That's still one of my most favorite parts of filmmaking, figuring it out:taking real life and shaping it into a kind of story that reflects reality and has meaning.
G.C.C.: Through your persistence of filmmaking, was there ever a moment you thought you were going to make a living with this?
D.S.: When I was in the NEWSREEL collective, which I was a member of for maybe two years, in New York, I guess you could call it making a living. Well, I did have some outside work to earn money. I was a temp. I would get these calls from a Wall Street company, an agency where I was registered, and they say, “Go to this company,” and I would go there, and for a day I would basically do data entry or typing. It was crummy work, but it paid hourly, and I made enough money to pay my rent. I didn't need very much money then. Later, I became an Assistant, and I started synching dailies for money. Somehow, somebody offered me the opportunity at an editing room. I worked the overnight shift on some massive documentary for public television. I worked the overnight shift. I did a couple of different jobs like that and assistant-edited here and there. I realized that I loved editing, and I was debating whether I should figure out a career, wondering,”Maybe I should go to school in public health?” That was a big era in my mid-twenties, where I was debating whether I should go into public health or to stick with film. I realized I really loved filmmaking, and that I could make a living as an Editor or, initially, as an Assistant Editor. And that's what I did for many, many years. I worked on tons of projects at CBS Television. It paid very well. It was a union job; they paid hourly and there was always overtime and golden time. I was able to make a lot of money editing. I worked about half the year as an editor, and about half the year I worked on my own projects.I was able to support my filmmaking habit by editing. The films, themselves, were supported by grants, always. The grants were rarely enough to pay a salary. Every now and then. I was lucky enough, though: I have had a partner since my early twenties, a partner who actually was very supportive of the work I did. And there were times I was supportive of his work. He was also in freelance, in a different field. There were times when he supported both of us, and there were times when I supported both of us. That was a while before we had a child, but this became something we had to work out:how to raise a daughter, take care of a family, and have enough income to both pursue our work.
G.C.C.: That is great. I appreciate your candid response. I think that a lot of people don't give an honest answer as to how much other work one has to do while at the same time one is pursuing one’s passion.
D.S.: You mean the economic part of it? One of the pieces of advice I always give my students in film school is to learn a craft. “I know you want to be a director, but I think it's very important to have a skill by which you can support yourself.” I once heard Fred Wiseman speak, when I was teaching at NYU; Wiseman was addressing a group of documentary students, and somebody asked a question: “How do you support yourself as a documentary filmmaker? How can you?” And he said, “Marry rich,” which was half a joke. It is an expensive profession to choose.
I wouldn't advise people to marry rich. I mean, sure, if you can. But, you need a side gig; you need a way to support yourself. Though, the field is changing a lot. Right now, a lot of documentarians are making more commercial documentaries, which pay. The big streamers are hiring documentarians to make series. That pays well, if you're lucky enough to get one of those. Many of the top documentarians are doing that now.
G.C.C. : What is The Wobblies about?
D.S. : I was no longer working at NEWSREEL, but somebody I had known when I was in NEWSREEL, Stew Bird, co-wrote a play called “The US vs. William D. Haywood, et al.”,which is about the Wobblies. I, somehow, saw a notice about this play, and he was performing it at the Hudson Guild Theater, a theater owned and run by a labor union in Chelsea.I knew about the Wobblies themselves because somebody, when I was at NEWSREEL, had given me a book called Mill Town. It's a small picture book about the strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, in 1912, and it tells the story of the IWW. The book had been published in the 1950s and was banned for being a communist book. I was shocked by that, and I was shocked that I had never heard of the IWW. I'd never heard of this strike inLawrence. It was a major textile strike in New England. It's where the phrase “Bread and Roses” came from. Women played a major role in the strike, and they came up with this slogan, “We want bread and roses too,” which is just one of the most beautiful slogans anybody has ever come up with. So, when I saw that somebody I knew had co-written a play about the IWW, I went to the play, and it was a wonderful play. That night, there were a couple of old Wobblies, who lived in the area and had come to the play; they were all hanging around afterwards, very enthusiastic. One of the authors of the play was Stew Bird, who had been in Detroit when I was in Ann Arbor, and I knew him when he was making another film. We had never worked together, but I looked at him that night, and I said, “Stew, somebody needs to do a film about these people.” They were very elderly at the time. The IWW were really an unknown quantity, and here were these living people who weren't going to be around for much longer. I had to work to convince them that it was a good idea. We just started interviewing the people who had come that night. Stew had met several old IWW people in the process of writing the film, and we kept going with them. We recruited a camera person named Judy Arrow–one of the first, prominent women cinematographers–who sadly passed away. She had a small grant to do a film that she wasn't going to do, and she said, “Let's all throw that in, let's use it.” We used her small grant to do our first handful of interviews and created a fundraising reel that we could show people to raise money. And that was it: we were off to the races. We ended up recruiting former members of the IWW all over the United States. We were fortunate enough and we worked hard, and we got a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, which is a significant production grant. It enabled us to do the film and to travel the entire United States the following summer, to film all the former IWW members. Then the film premiered at the New York Film Festival in 1979, which was–looking back on it–amazing. Then the film was released in theaters all around the country.This was before there was the Internet. There was no virtual release. You could only see it in theaters.
G.C.C.: How did your background in activism play a role in how you came to The Wobblies?
D.S. Definitely! My role in activism has played a role in everything I've done, my entire life. Inspired by that most important politically influential era of the late Sixties, early Seventies, initially, I was drawn to the student movement, because of the war in Vietnam. That was the big thing for people of my generation. The men my age were being drafted. Then, the second wave of the Women's Movement came up, right around 1969. I remember reading an essay written by Robin Morgan, called “Goodbye to All That,” and it was one of those moments where the scales fell from my eyes, and I thought “Oh! I see what's going on here.”The article is about how women were second class in all these movements. When I first started in NEWSREEL, we still weren't the filmmakers, for the most part. The women were the office organizers and the bookkeepers and the coffee makers and the girlfriends. The organization was still very much male-dominated; although, there were some powerful women in the organization. They had a big influence on me.The thing that the Women's Movement injected into my life, into the life of many other people like me, is the idea that our personal problems are also political problems. That stopped this separation between what goes on in the-world-out-there of activism and what goes on in the-world-in-here of your private life.I brought that with me when I started The Wobblies in 1977. I left NEWSREEL in the early seventies, and I formed a filmmaking company with several other women who had been in the organization. We were called Pandora Films, and I believe we were one of the first groups of women who were making films, documentary films, independently. I know inNew York City, there were a handful of others, the women who later formed a group called New Day Films, and then there were Emily Rothschild and Julia Reichert, who were making films out in Ohio.
GCC: I understand it has been added to the Library of Congress. Very exciting.
D.S.: So The Wobblies was released in 1979 and had a really solid distribution. We were able to sell it internationally on television. It was never on television in the U.S.,unfortunately. That could still change. But, we sold it well internationally, and then it went to an educational distributor. Then, after a certain time, it went to another one, and eventually it fell out of distribution. In 2003, I applied for a grant from the New York Women in Film and Television Film Preservation Fund to restore the film. I worked as part of a program, restoring films made by women. We did the film preservation in 2004, and we showed the film at Lincoln Center, again, a few times. It was great, and the film was being distributed on DVD. In 2018, somebody from the New York Women in Film and Television PreservationCommittee arranged a screening of The Wobblies at Union Docks in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I showed up for the screening with my partner, Stu Bird, and there were only about 40 of us there. It was a small screening. We hadn't seen the film in many years, at that time, and I think we were shocked that night by how relevant the film seemed to the problems that the country was facing then, especially issues of immigration, gender discrimination, and labor issues. It really was shocking. It didn't seem as much like a history film as much as a most relevant set of circumstances for today's world. We looked at each other that night and said, “We really should get this film out again.” That led to two things: one was the effort to further preserve it and make a digital version of it; and the other, was the campaign to get it included in the National Film Registry, which is in theLibrary of Congress.We campaigned hard to make that happen. You have to get the public to vote for you.Anybody can vote. We campaigned hard among our friends and colleagues. We also got a lot of scholars and film critics, people who had used the film over the years, and people who had shown the film to write letters on our behalf to the Library of Congress to support the nomination. It succeeded! This was the second time we had campaigned, but we campaigned much harder the second time and more thoroughly. We are very, very proud of that film.At the same time we were working on the idea of doing a 4K restoration. After we did the original film restoration, I donated the negatives to the Museum of Modern Art. I went to them and said, “I'd like to borrow back my negatives; I want to raise money to do a digital4K restoration.” They said, “We'll do it.” The rerelease of The Wobblies just happened in May of 2022. We have relaunched, and, in a way, it saddens me that the film is still so relevant. The film is almost more relevant now than when we made it, in 1979. Conditions in this country have changed so much for working people. We released The Wobblies in ‘79, right before Reagan was elected, when something like 17% of the labor force in the United States belonged to unions. Now it's less than 10%. Reagan set about to destroy labor unions.One of the first thing she did as president was to go after the air traffic controllers when they went on strike, firing them all and breaking the union. A combination of economic factors in this country–the decline of heavy manufacturing, the job flight overseas–has all contributed to breaking the back of labor unions, the back of the working people, so that people no longer have the kinds of decent industrial jobs they had 20, 30, or 40 years ago, where they could earn a decent salary, retire with a pension, and support a family on one salary. The issues are still, unfortunately, very much with us and have yet to be solved.I look forward to a day when The Wobblies really is a piece of history, when it's quaint, when we can look back and say, “Oh, wasn't it too bad how people lived then?”
G.C.C.: On that historical note, I remember at the Metrograph screening for The Wobblies, you were mentioning the use of voice over in documentaries–a style that Ken Burns is often credited for–and how you and your team were the pioneer women who may have started that . . .
D.S.: One of the challenges we faced in doingThe Wobblies was that the leaders of the organization were all long dead, so we couldn't interview them, but we felt it was important to include them. I mean, we were doing a people's history. We were doing a ground-up, oral history kind of film, yet we couldn't ignore the leadership entirely. Because my partner, Stu, had written that play, it was like this idea of dramatic readings was somehow in the air. And we hit upon the idea of having actors read some of the statements of the people who we couldn't actually interview: the words of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn or Big Bill Haywood or even some of the people who were in opposition to the IWW, you know, Rockefeller, John Astor and all these capitalists who were against the IWW. Now, it seems so commonplace. We are all used to having dramatic readings in documentaries, but I don't believe it had been done before that. I can't think of a single example that had been done before that.I'm fond of pointing out to people that this was ten years before The Civil War came out, which is Ken Burns best film. He had made other films before that, but that's the series that really put him on the map, with all the beautiful voiceover readings and music. But, we did it before that with The Wobblies. We used actors, and we used things like music, cartoons, and art. At the time, historical documentaries were still kind of like a classroom, while people were making, already by the early sixties, interesting and fantastic cinema verité current documentaries: Maysles and Leacock, and Penne baker, and those guys. There were things like Salesman and Gray Gardens, and other vibrant cinema verité films. However, we were in the very forefront of the movement, with The Wobblies for changing the nature of historical documentaries.
G.C.C.: Wonderful! Finally, I would love to know if you have any advice for young fans, who are coming up and want to pursue a career in either documentary or filmmaking in general?
D.S.: I can tell you the most important quality I think you need to be a documentary filmmaker is persistence. You have to want to do it so badly that you can't not do it, and you can’t take no for an answer. You just have to keep at it, and keep at it, and keep at it and keep at it. I tell people, if you're going to ask a question, to ask people to do something for you, try to ask in such a way that doesn’t make it a yes or no question. Always try to leave the door open. Always leave a crack open and so you can go back from another angle and try to find another way in. Making documentaries is a labor of love: you have to be in love with your subject; you have to be in love with the work. One of the things that I personally love about it, is that it's a collaborative art form. I'm not a solo artist.I'm not. I could never be a painter or a poet. I could never sit in a room by myself for hours, and hours, and hours and try to solve problems. I love the collaborative nature of film making; you figure it out with somebody. I work very, very closely with my DP's, with my editors. My editor on the last film, Queen of Hearts: Audrey Flack, she started as the editor and she became my co-director. It's that's a wonderful award of filmmaking is the kind of collaboration that exists.