3 things about Richard Lester’s CUBA

Cuba [1979]

1. The soldier has sliced off an ear of the dead rebel and added it to his collection. Cut to Brooke Adams adjusting her earrings.
2. “Jingle Bell Rock” strip-tease number.
3. Fidel laughs heartily at the Americans desperate to the flee the country, pats one of them on the chest and says, “Goodbye!”

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3 things about Anthony Mann’s STRANGE IMPERSONATION

Strange Impersonation [1946]

1. No more than 10cc’s.
2. Kindly plastic surgeon.
3. “But I couldn’t have murdered Nora Goodrich! I am Nora Goodrich!”

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3 things about Joshua Marston’s COME SUNDAY

Come Sunday [2018]

1. He flies first class.
2. “I can’t believe he turned on you like that.”
“He’s been waiting for the chance for 25 years.”
3. He gently dips his hand into the river.

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3 things about Edgar Wright’s BABY DRIVER

Baby Driver [2017]

1. Delicate facial scars.
2. Listening by vibration.
3. When they enter the room he’s packing up his collection of toy cars.

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3 things about Shawn Convey’s AMONG WOLVES

Among Wolves [2016]

1. Massive gut, tight plaid pants.
2. A lightning storm and the clack of heels on pavement.
3. Surveying the valley where there was heavy fighting.

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My Director’s Statement for ROY’S WORLD.

movie poster for ROY'S WORLDFor many years I’ve been captivated by the Roy stories of Barry Gifford, which use a very spare and direct prose style to trace a boy’s childhood. Unlike a lot of autobiographical fiction, they’re not sentimental at all. But what especially appeals to me is that their power over the reader is gradual and cumulative; you don’t even have to read the stories in any particular order, but the more of them you read the more vivid they feel. Because they really do put you in a very particular time and place, mostly the 1950s and mostly in Chicago.

I’ve wanted to make a film about Chicago for a long time, and it seemed to me that using the Roy stories as a lens for viewing the city’s history would be the perfect launching pad for a documentary. My approach was really inspired by Terence Davies’ OF TIME AND THE CITY, Laurie Anderson’s HEART OF A DOG, and the work of Bill Morrison. In ROY’S WORLD we freely mix Gifford’s biography with the fictional versions of his life as presented in the Roy stories to create a dream-like, composite portrait—an impressionistic exploration of both Chicago and Gifford’s work. Befitting a documentary about a writer, words are the thing: Gifford’s recollections of the period, told in voiceover, mesh with narration of the stories by Willem Dafoe, Matt Dillon, and Lili Taylor. All three actors are fans of Gifford’s work and were excited to be part of the project.

From the very beginning it was important to me that the film ditch a traditional “talking heads” approach. That meant no onscreen interviews, with Gifford or anyone else. No celebrity endorsements. And I also wanted to make sure there weren’t any cutaways to contemporary views of Chicago neighborhoods, meant to demonstrate “how things look today.” Instead, in ROY’S WORLD we strive to keep viewers fully immersed in that vanished time and place. To make you feel like you’re actually there—which is exactly what Gifford’s stories achieve. Onscreen, photographs and other materials from Gifford’s personal files are intertwined with archival materials (including rare home movies, amateur footage, family photographs, and industrial films) to spotlight facets of everyday life ignored in most documentaries about the period. Animated segments by Lilli Carré and Kevin Eskew, illustrating key stories that trace Roy’s progression from childhood to adolescence, provide another way of representing the Roy stories. And binding everything together is an evocative jazz score composed by celebrated vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz and performed by the cream of the crop of Chicago’s current jazz scene. In fact, Jason composed the score and we recorded it before I even started editing. I wanted the music up front, not just lurking in the background. To sort of have a conversation with the stories and the visuals. So the sound and mood of Jason’s music pervades ROY’S WORLD and carries you along.

The end result is, I hope, a documentary that conjures a lost time and place without coming off like a dry history lesson; that draws from primary resources to offer a neighborhood-level view of city life, of how ordinary residents worked, raised families, and interacted with one another; and that, through the Roy stories, suggests how these people, and Gifford in particular, were affected by societal factors such as corruption and racism—all themes which are still timely and relevant. And I sure hope it nudges viewers to check out Gifford’s writing!

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3 things about Judith Helfand’s COOKED: SURVIVAL BY ZIP CODE

Cooked: Survival by Zip Code [2019]

1. They finally get the air conditioning they needed.
2. On the cover of the report: a snowflake.
3. A seemingly all white disaster preparedness conference.


There’s a story I sometimes tell about the 1995 Chicago heat wave. At the time I was a student at Columbia College. I had a part time job over the summer but no classes. I was also helping my friend Tchavdar Georgiev with one of his film projects. On July 13, when the high reached 106 °F (41 °C), we were recording sound effects on a Nagra. We spent part of the day riding around on the L capturing train sounds. I remember standing between the cars with the microphone to get the sounds of the traincars’ wheels. When we were finished for the day we retired to my garden apartment in Edgewater, which didn’t have air conditioning. Exhausted. We just lounged around on the sofas in the living room, trying to get some relief from the ceiling fan. We were hungry but it was much too hot to even think about cooking anything. There was a box of Ice Pops in my freezer; we ate those.

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