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A few weeks ago, I moderated the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Directors Panel, which featured five of this year’s Oscar-nominated filmmakers: best animated feature nominee Jennifer Lee (co-director of Frozen), best documentary feature nominees Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom) and Joshua Oppenheimer (The Act of Killing) and best foreign-language film nominees Paolo Sorrentino (director of Italy’s The Great Beauty) and Felix Van Groeningen (director of Belgium’s The Broken Circle Breakdown).
At the top of this post, you can check out footage of our roughly 90-minute conversation about the origins, challenges and impacts of their respective films. Among the specific topics that we covered during our conversation …
Lee, the first woman to ever direct a Disney Animation film, talks about the studio’s decades-long history with the Hans Christian Andersen fable The Snow Queen that inspired Frozen; how she and her co-director Chris Buck overcame the problems that had prevented the fable from being adapted in the past; and what it was like to get notes on a film from 150 people.
Van Groeningen talks about the fact that his film was inspired by a play that was co-written by Johan Heldenbergh, who had starred in his previous film and also plays the male lead in Broken Circle; and the role of music in his film, in which several bluegrass songs are performed live by Heldenbergh and his leading lady Veerle Baetens. (The resulting soundtrack is now the highest-selling in Belgium’s history.)
Neville, who made numerous other docs about the music business prior to 20 Feet, describes how Gil Friesen, the former head of A&M Records (who died in December 2012), first approached him with the idea of a film about backup singers; how he tracked down archival footage of backup singers, whose work is rarely cataloged by archives; and the impact that the film has had on the lives and careers of its subjects.
Oppenheimer elaborates on his decade plus of work in Indonesia leading up to The Act of Killing; teases a second, related and soon-upcoming Indonesian film that will form a “diptych” with Killing; and explains when and why he felt most in-danger during his work on these films.
And Sorrentino explains why it took him 20 years to figure out how to make “a film about everything,” which therefore became, in a way, “a film about nothing”; what it was like to shoot his film in and around the most famous sites in Rome; and his film’s interesting distribution plans with Janus Films and The Criterion Collection.
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