The Outstanding Directors of the Year tribute event was admittedly more low-key than one would imagine. While there was certainly a long line to get into the Arlington, there weren’t any screaming fans descending upon the historic theater to see the honorees of the night’s event. But what the five tributes lack in mainstream fame, they more than make up for in their creative triumphs.
Directors Damien Chazelle, Richard Linklater, Bennett Miller, Laura Poitras and Morten Tyldum were all honored Wednesday, Feb. 4 at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. After each director answered questions from reporters, took photos on the red carpet and signed autographs for loyal fans, they proceeded inside the theater. One by one, moderator Scott Feinberg introduced the directors through praise and film clips.
The first director to emerge onstage was Chazelle, writer and director of “Whiplash.” Inspired by Chazelle’s own experiences in high school, the film involves a student attempting to impress a ruthless and abusive band director. Casting the character of Terence Fletcher was a little difficult for Chazelle. He meekly explained to the audience that “I was terrified [of casting J.K. Simmons],” but was quick to praise his acting ability, joking that he seemed to be able to control the veins in his temple. Chazelle also explained his main takeaway: People should not be harmed for the sake of art.
Linklater, who wrote and directed “Boyhood,” came next. Known for his films that deal with the passage of time, the director expressed his pleasure that Austin, Texas is becoming a popular film location. He also explained to Feinberg that, when it comes to stories, “There’s a million in the world; they’re coming at you every day,” and “You need to be deluded in the right way to think you’re the right director for (a film).” He ended off his conversation by telling the audience the now-famous story of how his daughter Lorelei, one of the stars of “Boyhood,” asked him, “Dad, can my character die?” “She was really nice about it,” Linklater said. “She didn’t leave. It helped that she knew she was getting paid. S.A.G. minimum is pretty good teenage wages.”
Next up was the director of the fascinating “Foxcatcher,” Miller. Beforehand, he talked to the Daily Nexus:
Alexander Wehrung: Whose story did you want to emphasize more: Mark Shultz’s or du Pont’s?
Bennett Miller: It’s really a film about relationships, between individuals, in between classes, in between values. So different parts of the film, it gets weighted on different people. But hopefully, it’s not specifically weighted on one character. It’s spread around.
AW: How involved were your subjects in the production, like Mark and Dave’s widow?
BM: They all availed themselves extensively to interviews and research, and they exercised no influence in the decisions in the making of the film, but they really did furnish us with a lot of information.
Onstage with Feinberg, Miller talked about the odd way in which he was approached to make the film about gold-medalist Mark Shultz and schizophrenic millionaire John du Pont. “About eight years ago, I was in a store, and a stranger approached me with an envelope with newspaper clippings about the story.” That stranger turned out to be Tom Heller, who became an executive producer for “Foxcatcher.” When asked about the scene in which the Shultz brothers (played by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo) grapple with each other in a bout of wrestling, Miller gave an unexpected reply of “I was thinking about Japanese Zen gardens,” which brought in laughs from the audience.
After him came Poitras, director of the documentary “Citizenfour,” named after the codename Edward Snowden used to contact her with. She was also interviewed by the Daily Nexus.
Alex Wehrung: Do you think that Snowden will ever be able to return to the U.S. without being arrested?
Laura Poitras: I mean, I don’t know. You look at Daniel Ellsberg, [who] was also, you know, indicted under the Espionage Act, and now I think he’s widely recognized as somebody who did something in the public interest. So probably in time, I think it could happen. But [Snowden] might end up in another country temporarily before that.
AW: What was your ultimate goal in making the documentary? What did you hope to change?
LP: I’m a filmmaker, so I don’t really make films to change things. I’m not an activist. But as a filmmaker and as an artist, I’m trying to say something. So what I’m trying to say is that … mass, indiscriminate surveillance is a threat and we should know about it. And it’s important that the public should know. So I want to say something about that, and it’s also ultimately a film about individuals and courage and journalism. It’s about the need for adversarial journalism.
Poitras, who has been to the Middle East dozens of times to film for documentaries like “My Country, My Country,” and “The Oath” told the Arlington audience that since then, she has essentially been blacklisted by the U.S. government as a potential threat and has been detained and interrogated numerous times by border agents whenever she came back to the States. This was the reason why Snowden contacted her, as he knew she was not the kind of person who could be easily intimidated. Nowadays, she is still in contact with Snowden, but not as much anymore.
The final guest was Norwegian director of “The Imitation Game” Tyldum. He was able to answer a single question on the red carpet.
Alexander Wehrung: Do you believe that your film will inspire those who are still facing discrimination today?
Morten Tyldum: Oh, I hope so. I hope also it makes people think twice about prosecuting and discriminating. And that it will get people to accept people who are different from us: different race, different religion, different sexuality. So, if people take that out of the movie, I couldn’t be happier.
Tyldum, a history buff, explained that he wanted to tell his film as though it were a thriller. He expressed admiration for the film’s star, Benedict Cumberbatch, as well as the man he portrayed, Alan Turing, whom Tyldum called a mystery. “It’s something very relatable to what Alan goes through,” Tyldum said. “With injustice and prejudice, and there’s something so admirable about someone obsessed with an idea. And [the film is] about loneliness, about a man who loses everything. It’s something people really relate to.”
The director also said something that summed up the lives of all five of these extraordinary people: “I never know what my next project is going to be. You just fall upon it; you fall in love with it, and become obsessed with it.” That love motivated the night’s honorees to make amazing feature films about time, loss, questionable actions, abuse and heroism. Their work is unparalleled, inspirational and motivational. Directors Chazelle, Linklater, Miller, Poitras and Tyldum are all outstanding directors.
Alex Wehrung would once again like to apologize to Bennett Miller for accidentally calling him Linklater.