Mario Falsetto gets to meet the directors 

By Barbara Black

Film studies professor Mario Falsetto has published another book of interviews with directors. It was supported by a SSHRC grant and qualifies as scholarly, but it can be enjoyed by the average moviegoer.

Mario Falsetto explored independent films through their directors’ lens. Magnifying glass

Mario Falsetto explored independent films through their directors’ lens.

If you’ve seen American Beauty, The Talented Mr. Ripley, My Own Private Idaho, Sideways, The Last Seduction, In the Company of Men, Frida or The English Patient — and who hasn’t? — you might enjoy exploring the minds behind them.

Dialogues With Independent Filmmakers (Praeger Publishers) has been released in paperback with this title, and in hardcover as the first volume of a two-volume set titled The Making of Alternative Cinema.

The book comprises interviews with nine British and American filmmakers: Anthony Minghella, Gus Van Sant, Neil LaBute, Julie Taymor, John Dahl, Sam Mendes, Alexander Payne, Michael Polish and Nancy Savoca. Falsetto presents them as independent filmmakers, but a lot of their movies have moved into mainstream popularity. Defining “independent” these days can be tricky.

“I think they are movies made by what we used to call an auteur. There’s a personal vision, a voice behind them,” Falsetto said in an interview.

What may surprise readers is the extent to which directors feel their way into the job. There’s no real school for directors. Some went to film school. Some, like Sam Mendes and Neil LaBute, came from the theatre. Some, like Minghella, were playwrights first. Some freely admit they didn’t know what they were doing, but they persisted and learned as they went.

Readers will also be impressed by the dogged determination required to follow a movie through to completion.

Few artistic enterprises require as much collaboration as filmmaking. The script is an outline, but it’s the director’s many creative decisions that are made along the way that really write the film. As for the actors, all the directors Falsetto interviewed were unanimous in their praise for their role in the film process.

There’s the money, the script, the casting, the technical requirements, the design, the shooting, the editing and post-production, the marketing — it can take years, and then be destroyed with a quixotic studio decision or a negative review. Falsetto gives the example of Minghella, who withstood prolonged, physically brutal conditions to make Cold Mountain, only to encounter a lacklustre reception.

Yet the directors simply move on, pursuing their art. One is owed millions of dollars by the studio that produced his movie, but lets it go. Another, a woman, was told by a combative studio head she met on the red carpet, “If your husband wasn’t with you, I’d punch you in the face.”

Falsetto is stunned by the exponential increase in the films being made. He said that this year, 3,600 feature films were submitted to the Sundance festival, where many of his interview subjects made their names.

While his interviews read like enjoyably seamless conversations, he did a lot of research, conducted multiple interviews with each subject, and carefully edited the results for maximum clarity.

In 2000, he wrote a book called Personal Visions: Conversations With Contemporary Film Directors (Silman-James Press, 2000). He also published two books, an analysis and an anthology, about the great director Stanley Kubrick (Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Clockwork Orange). Now he’s writing a book about Gus Van Sant (Drugstore Cowboy, To Die For, Elephant).

Over a 30-year career of teaching film studies, Falsetto has come to believe that these carefully prepared interviews with thoughtful, articulate directors about what motivates and animates them are more valuable to his students than his own views of their work. He loves teaching, and he’s an optimist.

“The afterlife of movies is in many ways what keeps movies exciting for the real cinephile,” he writes in his introduction. “The good films that slipped by or that did not get a fair shake during their initial release are all waiting to be discovered on DVD. And although some people have argued that movies mattered in the 1960s and 1970s in a way they no longer do today, I do not hold with this view.”


Concordia University