The American Cinematheque recently presented a homage to innovative independent filmmaking titled "Ten Directors to Watch." The Times invited an eclectic roster of some of that group's most distinctive voices for a round-table discussion at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. Among the topics: the effect of Sept. 11 and new technology on their work, the best way to wrestle ground from the Hollywood studios and whether filmmakers should be involved in promoting patriotic values.
The dialogue brought together "Memento" director Christopher Nolan, 31, and Mexico City-bred Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, 38, who exchanged ideas about unconventional storytelling, on display in Nolan's groundbreaking thriller and in Gonzalez Inarritu's high-octane meditation on tough love, "Amores Perros." Gustavo Mosquera, 42, the director of "Moebius," a 1996 political thriller about Argentina's missing people, talked about the newly acquired relevance of his work in America.
Writer-turned-director Adam Rifkin, 35, of "Detroit Rock City" fame, who has two new movies under his belt--"A Night at the Golden Eagle" and "Without Charlie"--and no distributor in sight, brainstormed about possible solutions to the Gordian knot of indie filmmaking: finding a distribution channel. Valerie Breiman, who spent five years chasing financing for her 2000 romantic comedy "Love & Sex," offered to lead "the bitter women directors seminar," and Swiss-born Marc Forster, 31, took a break from a hectic schedule that includes the coming release of the Billy Bob Thornton vehicle "Monster's Ball," to weigh in on the future direction of indies.
Question: How did the events of Sept. 11 affect your work?
Gustavo Mosquera: I struggle with a feeling that events [like Sept. 11] are following me. When I was studying cinema under dictatorship in Argentina, the director of the school was a colonel, instead of a filmmaker. Soon the dictatorship was gone, and I was out of school. I felt that in my country "the missing people" symbolized a lot of political issues. As a filmmaker, I wanted to transpose this unresolved tension on screen in "Moebius." When I came here, my film was seen as just touching on the politics of a Third World country--but that was before Sept. 11.
Now the term "missing" is suddenly hugely significant for everybody, although not for the same reasons I gave in "Moebius." There's been a surge of interest in my film. Many [distribution] companies are asking for a remake, but from the perspective of the missing people in New York City. I feel that the "the missing people" are somehow following me wherever I'm going.
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu: I lived in Mexico City all my life. In the last 10 years, it has turned into a very difficult city, it's very insecure in some ways. With fear in your heart you go out every day, and say, 'Will I come back?' When you send your kids to school, you always think, 'Will I see them again?' There's always the possibility of kidnapping. I have been a victim of violence in my country many times; my family has been too.... .The good--and the bad--news is that you get used to fear: That's human nature. So I got used to fear.
I never imagined myself living in the United States, but now I am based here. I arrived 15 days before Sept. 11. I was alone, waiting for my family. And I felt [as if he was] in a different country than now. Shark attacks topped the news, the music on MTV was really depressing. Everything was really superficial, and I was not getting touched as I had been in Mexico City. There, life is horrible, but at the same time, it's beautiful: You can feel its pulse.
My wife arrived, and four days after that, Sept. 11 happened. It was really terrifying because, like Gustavo, I felt that fear was following me. My wife and I decided that this is the way life is for us, and we cannot hide from that.
Marc Forster: . Society has lost its momentum of living in the now, and we only live in the future. For me as a filmmaker, the journey--being aware of what's happening in these times--is important.
Q: What kind of obstacles have you encountered in making your films?
Christopher Nolan: The barrier I've seen most definitely in independent film is that people who finance and distribute the films continually underestimate the audiences' desire for something different, for something more. Yet if a new idea succeeds, they absorb it immediately. They say, "Now you can apply that to more films."
Valerie Breiman: They give accidental reasons for the success of anything new.
Adam Rifkin: Yeah, they say, "That was lightning in a bottle. It doesn't count!"
Mosquera: I was told that my ideas would not be accepted by people here because I was a foreigner. At the showing of my movie, it was exactly the opposite--they did accept it. But when I'm going into a new movie, I will be battling again the same kind of ghost.