Interview: Micheal Palmieri and Donal Mosher

Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher

At this year’s Hot Docs, the film that undoubtedly had the biggest effect on me was Off Label. This erstwhile “issue doc” turned out to be so affect­ing that I lit­er­ally could not write about it for months. You can read my very recently pos­ted review of the film and maybe get a sense of why it seemed to dif­fi­cult for me. My first view­ing was a few weeks before the fest­ival, but after see­ing it a second time dur­ing the fest­ival, I knew I wanted to talk to the film­makers. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to say, but I knew that any film that left me so unsettled was doing some­thing right. I’d been a big fan of the pair’s first fea­ture doc­u­ment­ary, 2009’s October Country (review) but that film’s intim­acy didn’t seem to fit with what I thought would be a stand­ard take­down of the phar­ma­ceut­ical industry. So we sat down for break­fast at the Sutton Place Hotel while I threw some half-formed ques­tions and obser­va­tions their way.


James McNally (JM): OK. So I’ll start with just the stuff that you prob­ably always answer. Tell me about how the film came about. I know you said that you were approached; it wasn’t some­thing that came out of your own ideas. But how it came to you, let’s talk about that.

Micheal Palmieri (MP): Well the idea was pro­posed to us by our pro­du­cers, who saw October Country in 2008. They saw a rough cut of it, and they approached us and asked us if we were inter­ested in mak­ing a film about “human guinea pigs” because they had seen two art­icles, one of them being Carl Elliott’s “Guinea-Pigging” which was in The New Yorker. We said we would be inter­ested. And we kind of explored it for a while, and we got back to them and said, “I think we can do some­thing with this.”

As we star­ted film­ing we kind of real­ized that on a dra­matic level, we felt the way that you can tell the story – just about guinea pigs – was lim­ited. It was like it was a first part of some­thing, or a story unto itself that was more like a “60 Minutes” epis­ode. So we star­ted think­ing along the lines of how we could expand upon it, and that’s how it kind of opened up to this sort of struc­ture that we have. We’re just loosely fol­low­ing test­ing, mar­ket­ing, and then end use, but seen through the prism of eight char­ac­ters.

JM: What was it about your pre­vi­ous work that they wanted? Did they tell you, “We like the style; we want to do it in a cer­tain way?”

Donal Mosher (DM): They saw October Country, and I think it was the styl­istic approach. In that film there are very pre­val­ent issues but they’re not the cent­ral focus; it’s more the impact of the issue on a person’s life.

JM: Yeah, it’s sort of impli­cit; the storytelling is front and centre. That’s part of what I love about the film and part of what I’m hav­ing an issue with…well, not an issue, it’s a chal­lenge. It’s novel, let’s just say that to approach an issue film in this way. So I don’t know if any­body else is doing it or has done it.

MP: I haven’t seen any­thing per­son­ally.

DM: I haven’t seen any­thing that I think quite walks that line.

Still from Off Label

JM: Did you feel a little bit daun­ted tak­ing on this mater­ial?

MP: Oh sure, the mater­ial is so daunt­ing because it’s end­less. It’s so com­plic­ated.

You could make a film that was com­pletely bal­anced and showed the pos­it­ives and the neg­at­ives. What was inter­est­ing to us were the ways in which it was cor­rupt and how human agency on all fronts is part of that so it’s not just the phar­ma­ceut­ical com­pan­ies that are cor­rupt, that they are engaged in cor­rupt things. I think they are in some cases, and it’s usu­ally on the mar­ket­ing side.

But the ways in which we as con­sumers buy into these ideas that are presen­ted by phar­ma­ceut­ical com­pan­ies because we all want to be well.

JM: Yeah, and what that means, to be well.

DM: Not to be well, but not lonely. I think that’s the biggest ill­ness we’re try­ing to hint at.

JM: Yeah. You’re jump­ing right to what I want to say which I’ll jump right into, then. The song “No Depression” is won­der­ful because I always thought of the double mean­ing of the Great Depression as this eco­nomic dis­aster. But also just depres­sion, the feel­ing of being blue, down, and I won­der if the sub­jects are sort of fin­an­cially strapped and there’s a sense that this med­ic­a­tion is going to make them feel bet­ter about their lives. It’s almost as if there’s an epi­demic of sad­ness or some­thing, and instead of deal­ing with it the way that people used to deal with it, we’re let­ting com­pan­ies tell us that we need to take med­ic­a­tion.

DM: And it’s a con­sumer soci­ety, and before it was goods, then it was faith, so there’s been a long…

JM: The con­nec­tions you make to it with faith are inter­est­ing because there’s Jusef [Anthony] try­ing to clean his body and I guess he’s drug free at this point. I mean what you’re say­ing is that faith used to fill that place and now people are using some­thing that’s being pre­scribed to them by a dif­fer­ent clergy.

MP: Yeah. It’s not just one or the other, either. I think when you look at it on just a basic level, the modes of belief in a god are sim­ilar to the ways in which we believe that cer­tain medi­cine is going to work for us, or that we trust our doc­tors or whatever. Those are things that ought to be examined, not just taken.

JM: Moving on to the pro­cess of cast­ing the film. I would say that must have been a really inter­est­ing pro­cess. How did you settle on the people that you found? Related to that, obvi­ously you didn’t talk to any drug com­pan­ies, but you didn’t talk to any doc­tors or any med­ical pro­fes­sion­als?

MP: Well, we did. We talked to a lot of people.

JM: What was the pro­cess for mak­ing the cut?

DM: For a doc­tor, there’s a double chal­lenge. One is just the nature of the film. You have to get into the doctor’s life, and into their prac­tice.

A golden char­ac­ter would have been a doc­tor who is actu­ally quite moral about his pre­scrip­tion, and fight­ing against the pres­sures. That’s step­ping into the very private world of the doctor’s office, which you’re really not allowed. It would be mor­ally ques­tion­able for us to step into this thing.

MP: It’s also dan­ger­ous for the doc­tor, because they’re wor­ried about get­ting sued. It’s actu­ally very, very hard to do some­thing about.

Just maybe to step back a tiny bit, we did do a lot of inter­view­ing of doc­tors, of people who write for the New England Journal of Medicine. Shannon Brownlee and all these people. Carl Elliot, we spent an enorm­ous amount of time inter­view­ing, film­ing. But they all weren’t char­ac­ters. They were talk­ing heads.

We were really inter­ested in try­ing to do a film that didn’t have that, that some­how illus­trated the issue without a talk­ing head. The closest thing we get to it, obvi­ously, is [Michael] Oldani, but on some half, he’s act­ively doing things he’s inter­ested in. He’s try­ing. He’s pur­su­ing the stuff at the zoo.

Still from Off Label

JM: Yeah, I was going to say, his char­ac­ter, there’s sort of an expos­i­tion func­tion that he has to do. In that sense he doesn’t feel quite as con­nec­ted to the story. Again, that’s a chal­lenge in try­ing to make any kind of issue doc­u­ment­ary, when you’re try­ing to give inform­a­tion to people.

The issue with him is, he’s very cha­ris­matic, but I sup­pose the issue is, do people trust him? He’s also a good sales­man. He’s someone that used to do that for a liv­ing.

His func­tion in the film is, you know why he’s there, but it doesn’t feel as organic. I guess that’s unavoid­able when you’re try­ing to…like you said, if you put in a talk­ing head, that would have stuck out, as well.

DM: The hard­est thing about mak­ing the film was always wrest­ling with the need to inform. One of the reas­ons we have so many guinea pig char­ac­ters is that each one of them is really unique and they’re com­pel­ling in their own way. The mater­ial we got from each of them spread a little pic­ture of the pos­sib­il­it­ies of the lives on that seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion, so we had to have all those char­ac­ters. There was a lot of bal­an­cing the real desire for the sort of lyr­ical film we wanted to make against the need to have some kind of found­a­tion.

JM: Yeah. You don’t want to just throw up stat­ist­ics and things like that.

MP: No, and that always throws me out of a movie. I mean I appre­ci­ate films that are more straight­for­ward issue films, there’s noth­ing wrong with that, I just don’t have an interest in mak­ing one of them.

DM: I actu­ally wish some­body had the strength, the legal pro­tec­tion, to make the big exposé on this sub­ject.

JM: Another thing that you’ve talked about a few times, but it’s not in the film, is the fear of mak­ing that film. You said doc­tors don’t want to get sued. And you don’t want to get sued. It’s always loom­ing, but it’s not really in the film. It would be inter­esting to let people know that really this is kind of insi­dious. That we can’t actu­ally show you a lot of things because people are afraid to talk to us.

MP: But at the same time we have to be bal­anced. Honestly our interest is not on that level. I’m not going to go after a phar­ma­ceut­ical com­pany because that sounds to me like the dumbest thing in the world to do just for your own per­sonal reas­ons. You’re going to be des­troyed. We’re not here to do exposé, we’re here hope­fully to help you to feel the rami­fic­a­tions [in a dif­fer­ent way].

JM: That’s actu­ally a good jump­ing off point. Most issue doc­u­ment­ar­ies want you to think, want you to have a rational reac­tion. Or they manip­u­late in other ways, but they usu­ally do it with facts. They blow you away with stat­ist­ics or some­thing like that. What I liked is that your film seeps into your con­scious­ness. It’s not some­thing you’re imme­di­ately going to react to, but it’s going to stay with you because of the stor­ies. And also, I think I men­tioned to you last night that I like the way you left space in the film for people to…

MP: I really appre­ci­ate you say­ing that.

JM: …absorb things. I didn’t notice it the first time, but I really noticed it with an audi­ence. Because you’re going through some pretty har­row­ing stuff. There are lots of shock­ing things in the film, but there are also these little spaces where you just shoot birds or icicles. My first thought was, “Oh, what’s that?” But then I really real­ized you need this. You need a bit of, just take a breath.

MP: Yeah.

JM: Don’t just jump into the next thing.

MP: It’s part of the strategy of the film, at least for us. We wanted you to feel the phys­ical inva­sion, so things are filmed closely. The reason Donald offers his arm up.

JM: Wow. [laughs]

MP: It’s a tac­tic to get you to under­stand that, this is going inside your body.

And the reason that scene is there before you hear Mary’s story, is you feel invaded. When you hear her story, which is only a story that she’s telling, it’s con­nec­ted. You’re feel­ing phys­ical hor­ror. That’s why you need these pauses, too.

DM: But it’s also just the nature of cinema. The thing you can do really well in cinema is, you can take any well filmed scene and infuse it. It works reliev­ing the pres­sure. Also, in those inter­ludes, or those pro­saic moments, you’re relieved of the imme­di­ate pres­sure of the scene before, but you don’t lose it. It holds you.

JM: Yeah, you’re right.

DM: I think the nar­rat­ive cinema works con­stantly on this. Documentaries can do it as well too, although they…

JM: They haven’t a lot of the time. Especially issue doc­u­ment­ar­ies. They seem like they want to move on to the next point, which is very dif­fer­ent.

DM: Yeah.

JM: How long were you able to shoot with each sub­ject? Because it really felt like you got very intim­ate with each of them. I wondered, does it take you a while? Were you just fly­ing in, and shoot­ing, and going home?

MP: We star­ted film­ing in the begin­ning of 2009, and we fin­ished in this last sum­mer. We star­ted edit­ing in the begin­ning of the sum­mer. There were some gaps we had to fill. Basically, each char­ac­ter in the film really rep­res­ents only three vis­its.

Visits of, depend­ing on the per­son, a couple of days to, let’s see… With Mary [Weiss], we would meet with her for a few hours. We met with her three times. We had an enorm­ous amount of con­tact with her before, dur­ing, and after. We’re still in con­tact. We developed rela­tion­ships with people before we go in, because we know that this is really…

Still from Off Label

JM: Kind of long term.

MP: Yeah. Andy [Duffy] became a friend. We met him at a very dark moment in his life. We filmed him twice, and then he came out to Portland because there happened to be an Iraq Veterans for Peace con­fer­ence that was just set in Portland. It was the national con­fer­ence. He asked to come stay with us. I said, “Yeah, of course. Come on, let’s go.”

DM: And that’s how we got the tat­too scene.

MP: More import­antly, it’s like you’re devel­op­ing a friend­ship with some­body who needs that con­nec­tion, that the thing he’s miss­ing in his life.

DM: On the prac­tical side of it, too, even Mary, every­one in that film, their stor­ies have been told. They were in a pos­i­tion where the basics of their story, they could put it out very eas­ily. So, there was a feel­ing of intim­acy already built in because they knew how to speak their story. We could go from per­sonal to fac­tual very, very fast, and that allowed for a richer intim­acy.

JM: So some­body like Paul [Clough], it doesn’t sound like he was someone that was spoken to a lot, he’s not someone that would have been in the media or any­thing like that, he just sounds like a guy try­ing to get by.

MP: He’s a little bit higher up the food chain in the sense that he has a web site that oper­ates in a sim­ilar way that Robert Helms used to do with Guinea Pig Zero. He had a zine that organ­ized people who are doing this as a means for people to rally around and fig­ure out which one of these has com­fort­able beds, which one of these stud­ies has bet­ter food, that kind of thing. He’s doing that online with his web site called jalr.org, and that’s how we got in touch with him.

JM: That’s inter­est­ing because what I would get from the film is that each of the char­ac­ters feels very isol­ated. The way you shoot them, I don’t think you even shoot Paula [Yarr] in the same shot as her hus­band, you do it sep­ar­ately. The whole effect is of these people being alone, but what you’re telling me is that they’re not, they’re cre­at­ing their own net­works.

MP: Oh yeah, but they are alone. Hopefully it comes across.

JM: Oh yeah, I don’t think it’s pos­sible to miss it.

DM: Paul doing his web site, he works on it off and on and it is actu­ally one of the most lonely things in his life.

JM: I think Robert [Helms] has a web site, too, doesn’t he?

DM: He writes and pub­lishes small art­icles.

JM: He still does print stuff?

MP: Old school.

JM: It’s sort of like this lonely, tilt­ing at wind­mills kind of stuff where it’s one per­son and he feels like he’s up against the whole world. They all feel it, a lot of them do. I would say the excep­tion would be Jordan [Rieke]. Jordan is inter­est­ing, too, because you don’t get the sense that this is going to be a big part of his life for very much longer.

MP: They’re kids grow­ing up, they don’t really under­stand what they’re deal­ing with, in a way. That’s part of the weird conun­drum of this film is that it’s not all bad, this kid is using these stud­ies to pay for his wed­ding. In a sense, you could see that as a pos­it­ive.

JM: Although it’s a weird sort of thing to say that that’s the job that’s avail­able.

MP: Yeah. And for him I think his is more of a choice issue and that’s why he’s in the movie. You know, Eddie (Jusef) Anthony in prison, it’s not a choice for him. It’s a sys­tem of coer­cion, which is why they banned it.

But the coer­cion, I think, runs into the same thing with people like Paul who are mar­gin­al­ized for sys­temic reas­ons in group homes and adop­tion and foster care.

JM: It’s not that dif­fer­ent from the pris­oner situ­ation.

MP: That’s the point.

JM: Because it’s sort of like a cap­tive audi­ence where people have no other options.

MP: Right. They have no other options. That’s a large part of why Jordan is in the movie. He rep­res­ents someone who actu­ally does have options, in a way, but their life­style choice…

JM: Although, maybe not. I mean, I can’t see him going and work­ing in an office or some­thing.

MP: Well you’re right, that’s true. But all those things are choices that he’s made. You’re right.

JM: But it’s also great that you have him because you get to have the wed­ding scene which you really need at that point in the film. So that’s won­der­ful. The only other thing I would say is that I guess the film – and I think I men­tioned this last night as well – there’s sort of a per­vas­ive, it’s almost kind of gloomy in a way, mostly. What I’m not used to – and this is not good or bad, this is just unusual – is that most issue doc­u­ment­ar­ies want you to feel like there’s some­thing you can do, you know, there’s a call to action. There’s some­thing. They want to sort of tie it up a little bit with a bow.

Still from Off Label

MP: Yeah, it’s not a call to action. It’s a call to reflec­tion.

JM: Yeah, it’s dif­fer­ent. There’s def­in­itely a sad­ness. There’s isol­a­tion and you real­ize that the prob­lem seems to be — it’s not about men­tal health. It’s not about drugs, it’s not even about cor­por­a­tions. It’s about how we don’t have any sense of com­munity any­more. Are we just fall­ing for the wrong solu­tion to some of these prob­lems? And when you see someone like Andrew find­ing this group of vets, that’s the way we used to do it and that’s the way it should be done. And it’s just weird that’s there’s…it’s just over­whelm­ing. The mar­ket­ing is so over­whelm­ing. And nobody can make a buck out of that. Do you see it as a sort of a lar­ger indict­ment of the way our eco­nomy works? Our soci­ety?

DM: For me it’s one of the symp­toms of a cap­it­al­ist soci­ety and the con­sumer­ism of that is a real isol­a­tion. It is def­in­itely cast­ing a light on that side of the American land­scape, for sure. I feel that it’s great to have polit­ical anger. It’s great to have the facts on the web­site but those are also things that are eas­ily shaken off.

JM: I think the reason why they like to do that, to sort of rally around a cause because in a way that’s how you get that sense of com­munity. Because you get people together that share the same…

DM: And that’s com­pletely neces­sary.

JM: And that may or may not change any­thing but it’s like you’re bring­ing people together that can sup­port each other.

DM: But I think if you have that sort of action… I think anger and right­eous action comes and goes very quickly but heart­break stays with you. That’s the thing we want to…

JM: That’s the thing that you want to come out of it and go, “Wow, is that, is that…?” You don’t want to feel…

MP: But how you feel is. I mean it’s a suc­cess the way you feel. Whether or not you choose to like or not is not the point. The point is that you’re sit­ting here and you’re like, “I need to talk to you guys about this because I don’t really under­stand…” I think that is the type of thing that has more force than the “Here are three things you can do.” type of movie.

JM: And if you see a lot of doc­u­ment­ar­ies, it’s just the same stuff.

MP: We also con­sume media. I mean, you go to a doc­u­ment­ary they tell you dah dah dah. You feel like you’ve par­ti­cip­ated simply by watch­ing. We don’t want you to feel like that. We want you to think about how you might also be implic­ated in that issue by break­ing your heart and by mak­ing you feel con­flic­ted and frus­trated or whatever.

DM: This is some­thing that can hap­pen in nov­els and art even and cer­tainly in nar­rat­ive film. Somehow it’s become more and more that it’s not accept­able in doc­u­ment­ary. I mean the films that we love are Chris Marker films. Every Chris Marker film is an elegy that com­mun­ism didn’t work. It was such a beau­ti­ful idea, but it didn’t work. Or even Grey Gardens doesn’t tell you how to deal with crazy rel­at­ives, like “Here’s a web­site!” you know? [laughs]

JM: No, no. You’re right. Yeah. I know it’s refresh­ing but again the feel­ing that you come away with is… and it’s good. I guess that’s what I’m say­ing. It’s unusual. I don’t know if you are mean­ing for people to come away com­pletely hope­less or com­pletely feel­ing like, “Oh, this is just too big.”

MP: But how can you feel totally hope­less when you’ve got Andy. Because Andy’s pos­it­ive, Jordan is incred­ibly pos­it­ive.

JM: Yeah and these people are get­ting by. It’s a struggle but most of them seem like they’re going to be OK. But wow it’s just across the whole coun­try. It’s this whole epic sort of loneli­ness every­where. I don’t know. I don’t want to come out of it and say, “It’s just depress­ing.” But I guess the fact that it makes you think about it longer is prob­ably the desired effect.

DM: I don’t think you want every film to be doing this. But I like that feel­ing. I like com­ing away from a piece of cinema or whatever it is and just be blas­ted by it. You’re uplif­ted or you’re des­troyed or whatever. I think really that’s what cinema does bet­ter than any­thing else. I don’t mind.

JM: No. I guess I find the more that I reflect on it I can sort of under­stand that if you get people to say­ing, “I can’t get that film out of my head”, you know, “it just made me really sad”, that’s not a bad thing. It’s just that when you’re tak­ing on some­thing so big, I guess the idea here is you’re not mak­ing a film that’s try­ing to change any­thing.

MP: We’re lay­ing out a com­plic­ated set of prob­lems, how those things inter­con­nect and we’re giv­ing you the tools to think about it. You can’t cast judge­ment on some­thing that’s that com­plic­ated. You know, part of the prob­lem, at least with the cul­ture of the United States at the moment is that everything is a black and white issue.

JM: Right, yeah, so you take sides.

MP: And you take sides. And there’s no one doing ser­i­ous think­ing about it any­more. The pos­i­tions are rooted in the sand, you know. Rooted in the ground, and it’s not that easy.

DM: I think we dif­fer slightly. I mean, I feel like you really can cap­ture that, like, I am cap­tur­ing that.

MP: Oh we are. But we’re leav­ing open this space for you to think about it.

Still from Off Label

JM: Now, I think one of the ques­tions at the Q&A when I was there, there was actu­ally an acquaint­ance of mine who asked you about put­ting two people from the film in a room and what two people that would be?

MP: Incredible ques­tion.

DM: Incredible ques­tion because she got to the heart of the prob­lem with that ques­tion.

MP: Isolation.

JM: Right. I just wondered have you shown the film to each per­son, have people inter­ac­ted with each other’s stor­ies at all, you know, the char­ac­ters?

MP: Well [Michael] Oldani and Bob [Helms] and, you know, Carl [Elliott], they’ve all met. In Minnesota we’re going to show the film and we’re going to get Mary and Jordan and Andy and hope­fully Oldani will all be there. Paula and Andy are going to be in San Francisco, they’ve all seen the film.

DM: But they’ve never met each other.

JM: I guess you would feel a little less alone when you real­ize that other people are strug­gling in dif­fer­ent ways or the same way.

DM: You know to me it works like, I love to com­pare everything to coun­try music, like good ole’ coun­try music. That music soothes you because it knows your loneli­ness. You know, if we can get a hint of that kind of effect, you know.

JM: The blues.

MP: You know I was just think­ing about this. I don’t know where this is going to go, but one of the things we were really con­cerned about, actu­ally, you know, when you first put a film out and the first thing that is writ­ten is a cata­logue with the descrip­tion, right, and so Tribeca and Hot Docs wrote these cata­logue descrip­tions that, you know, reduced the film to an issue film about phar­ma­ceut­ic­als, right? And one of the wor­ries we had was if you do that the viewer goes in expect­ing issues and they feel thwarted by that in some cases or their mind is open and they watch the film. And I think you’re in the camp of your mind being open, cer­tainly, but at the same time you are also…

JM: Oh I know, you’re right, my expect­a­tions are dif­fer­ent for that and I think the inter­est­ing thing was that I had seen your pre­vi­ous film (October Country) and I sort of thought, wow this is inter­est­ing I won­der how they are going to do this? But not every­body has that lux­ury.

MP: But the pre­vi­ous film is also touch­ing on these mul­ti­pli­city of issues like foster care, the wel­fare sys­tem, spousal abuse, phar­ma­ceut­ical drug pre­scrip­tions, and we are look­ing at all of those things in the con­text of this story under one house. We are doing sim­ilar things with this film but October Country was never viewed as an issues film. And this is a sub­ject that we’re using as a jump­ing off point and it’s more of an issue.

DM: But like we said earlier, the issue kept for­cing itself up.

MP: It kept for­cing itself in.

DM: Like you had to adjust.

Still from Off Label

JM: Yeah and I guess because you had to choose dif­fer­ent sub­jects there had to be some­thing, a thread, and it was going to be this. One of the other things I would say is that there is sort of a trend in doc­u­ment­ar­ies that you guys are part of which is toward more impres­sion­istic stuff, like I saw the Ross Brothers’ film [Tchoupitoulas] last night. And even stuff like, you prob­ably saw Billy the Kid a couple of years ago and, again it’s storytelling but there’s all kinds of stuff there. I just wanted to know if you would do another film if someone said we want you to make a film about gun con­trol or some­thing.

MP: We would really shy away from it I think prob­ably at this point. We want to go back to some­thing that is just com­pletely per­sonal.

JM: Yeah, so it is dif­fi­cult in a way to meld those forms and I just want to know, from what you have exper­i­enced and learned is it some­thing that you can’t really do again?

MP: No, I wouldn’t shy away from it, I just think that the type of stuff that we love to do is going to prob­ably lead to a film that is very intim­ate in the way that October Country was and we also want to move in that dir­ec­tion again because we did get to do this.

JM: And those films, to be fair, are dif­fi­cult to see in a fest­ival con­text, I think.

MP: Which films?

JM: The kind of films that you are mak­ing because I think you don’t, and this is a sort of gen­eral thing about fest­ivals, is that you don’t have as much time to really reflect on a film when it’s part of a packed sched­ule.

MP: Oh, now you’re talk­ing about how you, like when you’re watch­ing?

JM: Yeah. If the film gets out there and has its own release I think that’s dif­fer­ent, but I think when you get press cov­er­age at a fest­ival, you get this sort of frenzy where people have to watch 20 films and write about them. I’m not going to be doing any other inter­views because I can’t do that. I can’t just bang bang bang, and I don’t think that’s fair.

But I also think, for instance the Ross Brother’s first film [45365], I was work­ing at Hot Docs when that was sub­mit­ted. I was an asso­ci­ate pro­gram­mer for two years, and I didn’t have a lot of power, I was like the second viewer on films and I got that film and it had already been turned down and I watched it and that was the week I was watch­ing 30 films or some­thing.

Again, if some­thing doesn’t grab you, it’s not fair but it’s the way the pro­cess is, if it doesn’t grab you, you kind of go wow, this is too lan­guid…

MP: Yeah, that was the prob­lem with October Country.

DM: So, when you saw the Ross Brothers’ film, did it grab you or not?

JM: It didn’t grab me and this was like three years ago or some­thing and maybe this, for me it was a new devel­op­ment and I hadn’t been see­ing films like this before.

Isolated examples. Billy the Kid was a Doc Soup as well, but when you’re in that hot­house of fest­ival sub­mis­sions you – I’m not sure every­body is like this, but I was sort of told “OK, you know there are cer­tain things you’re look­ing for, you know is this going to grab people.” You are under a lot of time pres­sure where you’re like “OK, I’m going to give this 30 minutes or some­thing and if it doesn’t seem like it’s going any­where…” which is unfair to the film, no doubt. I won­der if it’s not con­du­cive to fest­ival type view­ing, you know, whether from the pro­gram­ming per­spect­ive or the view­ing.

MP: I would argue that it is con­du­cive for fest­ival type view­ing. I think audi­ences are much more open than the pro­gram­mers think they are, but at the same time the pro­gram­mers are inund­ated with so many films that the func­tion of actu­ally get­ting through those films and doing due dili­gence, you’re going to cut the corners because you have to. I mean I used to live with some­body who did screen­ers for Sundance. You just watch them and Bam! Five minutes, out.

DM: But that’s why it’s not con­du­cive. I actu­ally think the shape of a lot of films has been recon­figured by the sub­mis­sion pro­cess.

JM: Yeah, I think that is what I was driv­ing at and it’s unfor­tu­nate. It’s like cer­tain fest­ivals would be a bet­ter fit than other ones for you. I don’t know, did you show at True/False? Something that is highly cur­ated by one or two people, audi­ences know what they are going to get.

MP: We had an amaz­ing con­ver­sa­tion at Tribeca with Geoffrey Gilmore on the open­ing night. And I just walked up to him and said thank you so much for hav­ing us it’s an hon­our to be here. Especially in that pro­gram. He was like, “Great, so you made Off Label?” and then he said, “Wait a minute, did you guys make October Country? You guys are doing some­thing so dif­fer­ent and it’s so hard to pro­gram that kind of stuff. I think he was intim­at­ing about how they didn’t take it at Sundance. I under­stand now what he was talk­ing about after hav­ing gone through it a couple of times.

That film, it wouldn’t just get lost at Sundance, it would be trampled on at Sundance. They’re look­ing out for it in a way too where I think they actu­ally are some­times deeply read­ing…

JM: Yeah, you want to give it a bit of space. You need room to see a film like yours.

DM: He was talk­ing about a lot of films that are not that stand­ard doc­u­ment­ary. Charlotte as well here, both of them are pro­gram­mers who under­stand that non-fic­tion film is everything from Animal Planet to the Maysles; it is a huge spec­trum and they’re really, I think at this point, people are fight­ing for a small but very solid win­dow for films that don’t quite fit those stand­ard­ized molds. I think it’s going to shift. I think Tribeca and Charlotte here are really strong cham­pi­ons of that non-stand­ard non-fic­tion film.

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