The apple core
This year's Gotham Award Tribute recipients all love New York and love film -- but all look at the big picture.
IFC Entertainment president
The Hollywood Reporter: Does this award feel like a validation of the work you've done at IFC?
Jonathan Sehring: I look at the reward as recognition of what everyone at IFC has done from the top on down. I didn't start IFC; Cablevision funded it and believed in it. Being a New York-based entertainment and media company, they felt that independent film was an important part of the New York cultural scene. It's really recognizing everyone at IFC, Rainbow Media and Cablevision.
THR: How has IFC played a role in the New York cultural scene you mention?
Sehring: IFC relaunched in 1997, but prior to that, when Cablevision ran Bravo before they sold it to NBC, Bravo had a long history of supporting independent film on television and really growing and expanding the audience for independent film -- not only within the New York community but nationally. Having been here for 25-plus years and always working in independent film, it's always been important at Cablevision, from (HBO founder and Cablevision owner) Charles Dolan on down, for specialized movies to have an audience. Cable can deliver that audience. It's been gestating for at least 25 years.
THR: Was it always your intent to help IFC become as multifaceted as it is now?
Sehring: I think everybody felt like there was a bigger audience that we should help grow. The mission from the outset was to expand the audience for independent film. Not every city in the country has an art house. We launched the channel at a time when independent film was exploding. (Miramax's 1994 release) "Pulp Fiction" had been made; (Miramax's 1989 film) "sex, lies, and videotape" was known, but not as well as "Pulp Fiction." We were right on the crest of that wave when we launched the channel. I know from talking to other distributors that we helped grow the audience for those types of movies.
THR: Would you say that the audience growth has something to do with the impact of new technologies involved in exhibition?
Sehring: In my mind, video-on-demand has been the next page (for) independent film. It's how to connect filmmakers to their audiences and make the distribution of independent film economically viable for everybody. God bless the studios for getting into the specialty film business in a very big way, but (they) usually have major Hollywood talent in their movies and big budgets. A lot of movies have been left behind. When we launched our day-and-date theatrical rerelease program, we wanted to help get quality content out there that's not getting any distribution.
THR: Where's the business heading over the next 10 years?
Sehring: Digital technology is rapidly changing the face of the specialized film business. To be able to say six months, 12 months, two years, how different is it going to be? I'm not sure, but it's going to be very different.
The Hollywood Reporter: Did it surprise you to receive a Gotham Award Tribute?
Mira Nair: I was delighted. I really had my beginnings at IFP 25 years ago. I used to attend these seminars they did to raise money for independent features. That's how I raised money for (1988's) "Salaam, Bombay!" It's really moving for me.
THR: Did the IFP continue to play a role in your career after your directorial debut?
Nair: Not really, but I've always supported them as a member, and I've always been engaged with them. But it's an amazing thing to come out of college and go into a downtown New York loft and sit on bucket seats and some guy comes along who has sold his documentary and tells you his story and you study how he did it -- that's how I began. That was the IFP seminar.
THR: You're behind a film school for South Asian and East African students in Kampala, Uganda. Are those influenced by the IFP seminars you attended?
Nair: It's a great school, but more like Sundance -- a real institute. It runs all year. We give fellowships to people from the poor countries in East Africa. We get mentors from Hollywood to Bollywood. It's amazing. Now it's in its fourth year, so it really has taken root in a good way. Wherever I go, I talk about it. No opportunity of this nature exists in the whole continent of Africa.
THR: Do you feel an obligation to nurture young filmmakers interested in telling stories about your culture?
Nair: It's not an obligation. It's just a desire to see our stories onscreen. There's no balance on the screen of what stories we are being told. Inevitably, there are stories of Western realities. I live in these places, and I know we have great stories of dignity and power. Africa is almost always used as a backdrop for a white story. We all understand why Hollywood films have to be the way they are.
THR: Have you had any problem remaining consistent with the types of stories you wanted to tell once your career took off?
Nair: I didn't have a real clear agenda to my career, but I always wondered if a film could change the way you think or change the world. Obviously, I'm drawn to stories of the world as we think of it. In that sense, I've always done what my heart told me to do. When I do a studio film, I ask myself if anyone else can make this film. If anyone else can make it, they should make it.
The Hollywood Reporter: The Gotham Awards obviously have a close connection to New York. What's your impression of visiting and working in the Big Apple?
Javier Bardem: I like New York. Who doesn't like New York? It's a big metropolis. It's a place where I feel at home. It's open to all people. The people are mixed and come from everywhere in the world. I feel there is respect here, and I like that. It's huge, big, enormous, and sometimes you feel like a nobody here, which is great.
THR: What do you enjoy about the time you spend in New York?
Bardem: I like to be able to observe, to watch, to listen, to be a spectator and look around. I don't know if I could live there, though. It is kind of stressful. But I am very urban. I mean, I live in Madrid, on one of the busiest streets, and I like it. I like cities, I like to walk around cities. It's my kind of thing. I'm not one of those guys who lives in the countryside.
THR: You have a starring role in two major films this year (Miramax's "No Country for Old Men" and New Line's "Love in the Time of Cholera"). How did you prepare for the whirlwind surrounding their releases?
Bardem: Well, it's part of the job, and it has to do with something that you are not trained for. I train in order to perform well, or better, but I've never trained to speak better or promote myself. The only way to face something like this is to come here, have a conversation, try to be honest and move on.
THR: You come from a large, extended family of performers. What advantages did that give you when you decided to become an actor?
Bardem: My grandparents were actors. And my mother, who I grew up with, she was an amazing actress. I've seen her in every condition. I've seen her up and down, when the phone didn't ring for months or years. The instability of the state of mind that this profession gives you is hard, so the most important thing I learned from my family was to detach myself from that -- which means that you do your job the best that you can, show respect to your profession, and if it's good, great, and if it's bad, well then, great also. But make sure they are going to call you again. Everything beyond that is an extra. Sometimes it's fun. Sometimes it's not.
THR: So you learned mental survival at an early age?
Bardem: Yes. At the end of the day, your job is going to be judged by a lot of people, so you have to really be strong in your personal view of things, otherwise you can be destroyed.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, film critic Roger Ebert and production designer Mark Friedberg will receive Tribute Awards.