Countries Year 4

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Countries 2015

Getting To Know: Miriam Cutler

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Emmy nominated composer, Miriam Cutler has an extensive background scoring for independent film & TV projects. Her passion for documentary film has led her to working on countless award winning projects. Miriam traveled to Malaysia in 2013 with AFS.

What’s your first memory of sitting in a movie theater?

I don’t remember my first memory, but I remember as a kid seeing a huge, big sky Western (maybe THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN) at the Hollywood Cinerama Dome on a giant curved screen in Technicolor. After growing up watching a lot of classic films on a black & white TV, it really blew my mind.

What do you love most about being a filmmaker?

I love storytelling – whether it’s in a song, a film, an instrumental score, or just telling it at dinner. Filmmaking allows you to have the most powerful tools available all working together to tell the story! The biggest reward comes when you screen for an audience and experience it anew through their eyes.

What do you like least about it?

Often impossible deadlines and not enough money are huge challenges for documentary filmmakers, but we are crafty and resourceful – often necessity is the mother of invention.

What or who inspired you to be a film composer?

I am a film composer who is constantly inspired by filmmakers. So much so, that I have even launched a film myself. And as a composer, experiencing my music against picture is amazing…

What is your favorite movie and why?

Impossible question – I am in love with so many movies, I could never pick one.

If you weren’t a filmmaker, what would you be?

I would teach more. I love doing workshops and presentations which illuminate the power of music in film and the filmmaker/composer collaboration.

What has been your favorite project to work on?

Once again – all I can say is I am passionate about working on non-fiction films. I love the documentary film making community – no matter where I’ve traveled in the world, I discover that we share values, interests, and inspiration.

Getting To Know: Jamie Redford

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James Redford writes, produces and directs for film and television. His latest directorial project, TOXIC HOT SEAT, is an HBO documentary film that examines the possible health dangers of chemical flame-retardants used in upholstered furniture.  James’ film Paper Tigers, a documentary about troubled teens, the dark legacy of childhood trauma and one community’s mission to heal their own, is currently on the AFS slate.

What’s your first memory of sitting in a movie theater?

As a six-year old, I saw the original PLANET OF THE APES in a theater in New York City. I was with a friend and his babysitter. There’s a moment in the beginning when the camera reveals the shrunken and desiccated corpse of a female astronaut whose time travel capsule did not work quite right. My friend lost control of his bowels and the next thing I knew, the babysitter was dragging us out of the theater. If you were to ask me to recall my first bitter disappointment, I would tell the same story.

What do you love most about being a filmmaker?

When I was a kid, I loved Hot Wheels, I love how you could make your own course with those plastic tracks. You envisioned an outcome and then built towards it. And when the car went from beginning to end as you envisioned, it was a deep thrill!

50 years later, the filmmaking process still gives me that same thrill. That my films strive to combat damaging ignorance, misperceptions, and indifference gives me a sense of purpose that gets me out of bed and into the world. I feel pretty lucky.

What do you like least about it?

That it takes some much time to do it right. I’m haunted by all the films I’ll never have time to make.

What or who inspired you to be a filmmaker?

When I saw PARIS, TEXAS, my plans to write short stories and teach literature suffered their first fracture, but it took three years and an unnecessary M.A. degree in literature for the plan to fall apart. I actually told this to Wim Wenders, which is cool.

What is your favorite movie and why?

See above.

If you weren’t a filmmaker, what would you be?

The human brain is the coolest, most mysterious thing I know, so I would be a neuroscientist. Also, I am here today because of medical science, and my health travails (two liver transplants and countless other surgeries) have earned me an honorary degree in medicine that could help me pass the exams.

What has been your favorite project to work on?

I just finished two films about the biology of stress and the science of hope. It’s a deep look at how we can we help children born to difficult circumstances get a shot at happier and healthier life? That feels like time well spent. Is it my favorite project? Impossible to say. It’s like asking, “Who is your favorite child?”

Getting to know: Zachary Maxwell

Zachary Maxwell, filmmaker.Credit Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

Zachary Maxwell is a not your average teenager. He began making documentaries at the age of eight and hasn’t stopped since. His award-winning 2012 film Yuck! A 4th Grader’s Short Documentary about School Lunch drew international media coverage. Zachary’s film, Anatomy of A Snow Day, is currently on the 2015-2016 AFS slate.

What’s your first memory of sitting in a movie theater?

I don’t remember the exact movie I first saw in a theater but it was probably some animated family feature from Pixar or Dreamworks. However, I do remember the amazing theater lobby, the smell of the popcorn, and the walls filled with brightly backlit movie posters. During the movie, I ate an entire bucket of salty and buttery popcorn. I love going to the theater because it’s an experience that you just can’t get watching something at home or on a mobile device.

I also remember that, after the movie, I threw up all over the floor of the theater lobby. It was glorious.

What do you love most about being a filmmaker?

I love sitting with an audience that is watching something that I made for the first time. It is such a rush to see and feel how people react to a project you worked on for so long and so hard. When they laugh when they’re supposed to laugh, or cry when they’re supposed to cry, it’s the best feeling for a filmmaker.

What do you like least about it?

I really do not like editing. I have an older computer so it stalls and crashes a lot when rendering and adding effects. I don’t have much patience when it comes to this so I usually delegate editing responsibilities to my Dad.

What or who inspired you to be a filmmaker?

The person that has most inspired me to be a filmmaker is my Dad. We have been making short films together since I was just a little kid. As I got older, he taught me how to use the camera, set up lights, develop an idea and tell a story. Today, he is my co-writer, my editor, my business partner, and yes, also my Dad.

What is your favorite movie and why?

One of my favorite movies is Super Size Me by Morgan Spurlock. This was the first documentary I ever saw when I was around eight-years-old. I really liked that Mr. Spurlock had an important question (how does fast food affect us?) and he came up with a creative and entertaining way to present the issue. Mr. Spurlock is a professional role model to me and a lot of the stuff I make is influenced by his style of storytelling.

If you weren’t a filmmaker, what would you be?

I suppose if I wasn’t a filmmaker I could work in a shop of some kind or do some sort of freelance selling. I could ask “what size are you, sir?” You would answer and then I would say “oh, I think we have that.” I think I would probably be pretty good at something like that… but it would depend on the hours. (Thank you Nigel Tufnel)

What has been your favorite project to work on?

I always say my favorite project is the one I’m working on at that time. It doesn’t matter what you have done in the past or what you might do next. Your favorite project should always be whatever it is you’re making at that moment.

So right now, my favorite project is what I am currently working on. It’s a first-person feature-length documentary all about puberty and the awkwardness of teenagers. I’ve been working like crazy on this project for the past two years and production is going to be ongoing for the next four years. If all goes well, I’m hoping people will be able to see the finished product before I graduate high school.

Getting To Know: Patrick Shen

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Patrick Shen made his feature directorial debut in 2005 with the critically acclaimed Flight from Death: The Quest for Immortality, which was hailed by critics as being “one of the most ambitious films ever made” (PBS 106.7 Australia). Patrick has traveled to India and Mozambique for AFS. Patrick’s latest project, In Pursuit of Silence, is a meditative film that explores our relationship with silence, sound, and the impact of noise on our lives. You can learn more about it here.

What’s your first memory of sitting in a movie theater?
I have a very vague memory of sitting in a theater watching E.T. and my eyes welling up with tears. I must have been 5 or 6 at the time.

What do you love most about being a filmmaker?
At the end of the day, filmmaking is a process of exploration for me. It is not so much a process of self-exploration, but more a process of self-alteration or discovery. When I find something of interest to make a film about it is often a direct reflection of who and where I am in my life at that moment. By the end of the process I’m inevitably a different person because I have given myself completely over to the process. For me, to encounter the world in such an intense, engaged, and focused manner is such a profound way to move through this life.

What do you like least about it?
Fundraising is in most cases the antithesis to what I love about filmmaking. It pulls you out of that focused engagement with the world. It takes an incredible amount of energy to identify sources of funding and then to convince those sources that what you are doing is worthy of their support. It involves a lot of paperwork and a lot of groveling.

What or who inspired you to be a filmmaker?
I can’t pin it down to just one person or experience but Jonathan Demme and his film Silence of the Lambs probably had a lot to do with it.

What is your favorite movie and why?
I have many favorites, which have earned that distinction for many reasons.

Karate Kid was one of the first films that I obsessed over as a kid. That film inspired me and a friend to start writing these stories that we’d then record ourselves reciting into a cassette recorder while another cassette player in the room played the musical score for each scene. It was an elaborate little set-up.

When I was about 16 I found myself obsessing over another film, Silence of the Lambs. I studied every nuance of that film and lived and breathed it for a solid 12 months. I ended up writing a screenplay inspired by that film. My friend and I bought suits and held a casting call where we auditioned all of these adult actors, got our hands on a video camera, and managed to shoot a few scenes over the course of a few weekends. The whole thing fell apart when our villain failed to show up on set due to being in jail.

If you weren’t a filmmaker, what would you be?
A writer maybe. Or a kindergarten teacher.

What has been your favorite project to work on?
My latest, In Pursuit of Silence, was the most rewarding artistic challenge of my career thus far. It stretched me and changed me in ways that I’ve only begun to understand.