Category Archives: Greg’s Interviews
Chris Wilcha (Center, Glasses) in The Target Shoots First.
Chris Wilcha made one of my all-time favorite documentaries, The Target Shoots First. I feel really cool for having seen it since it hasn’t been released yet, and I saw it by borrowing a VHS version from a friend who knows him—which is how I connected with Chris for this interview.
The Target Shoots First is a collection of footage shot by Chris while he was working at Columbia Music House in the early 90s, which he guides you through with his own narration. It sounds simple, and it is, but the story that unfolds is unassuming and profound. It’s like Office Space, but for real, and a lot more personal. Like many films of the 90s, it explores the life of a post-college twenty-something, and how they fit into the workforce as a Gen-X’er.
The entire movie should be available online sometime soon. When it is, we’ll link it here.
I’ve also done an (imaginary) interview with Steven Spielberg. That one is cool too.
White people hate Spike Lee and I have no idea why. When I was in film school, they brought in this huckster guy to talk to us about producing, and he mentioned Spike Lee, and then, as an aside, he made sure to tell us that he doesn’t think Mr. Lee is talented. Things like that happen all the time and I don’t get why.
When I was seventeen, Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing was my favorite movie, if you can believe it. At that time I was exploring American independent and foreign ‘cinema’. They say the best way to be an atheist is to read the bible. Well, the best way to love real movies like Back to the Future is to watch French movies and American indies. However, in small ways, Do the Right Thing holds up for me. It’s definitely Spike’s most complete movie—it has arcs and a brilliant ensemble. The compositions and camera movements are mind-blowing, and it does a great job of making you feel like you’re on the block. It’s alive and adventurous—it’s filled with music and color and jokes and fun—not to mention, some very touching human moments. In fact, the only thing it really lacks is clarity. It’s so much of a hang-out movie that you end up having to accuse it of loitering. But, I’ll always have an affection for it, and I’ll never call it a bad movie.
I’m not really sitting with you right now, Steven Spielberg, but I want to be. There’s really nothing I could think of that would be more of an achievement. To be honest, I don’t think about your movies enough anymore, and I don’t reference you enough in my pieces on this site. It’s because talking about you is kind of old hat. You are unequivocally the most successful, and the most household name-y of any movie director in history. You created my childhood, and millions upon millions of other childhoods. Your name had as much market value in the 80s and 90s as McDonald’s and Reebok. (I made that last sentence up but it sounds real!)
So anyway, yeah, I’m sitting here (not really) with the most iconic living legend filmmaker of all time, Steven Spielberg:
An Interview with Roko Belic, Director Of One Of The Greatest Adventure Movies Of All Time, ‘Genghis Blues’
Genghis Blues is one of the greatest adventure movies of all time. Thank god it’s also a documentary, because if it were fiction, you’d never believe that a legendary-yet-unknown blind bluesman would join up with a ragtag group of twenty-somethings to travel to an equally unknown place, Tuva, deep in Siberia and bordering Mongolia, to sing the most difficult technique of singing: throat singing.
As I’ve been interviewing for this site, I’ve come to find that a lot of documentary filmmakers dive into the deep end on their very first movie. That was certainly the case with Mike Jacobs, whose brilliant vérité epic Audience of One was also his first feature. I think it’s a testament to the form. Vérité filmmaking certainly requires less; you don’t need a script or a crew or even much gear. In fact, all you really need is an idea, a camera, and the willingness to go all in. That third quality is pretty rare, and as you’ll see from my interview, Roko and his brother have that quality in spades. However, it’s pretty rare that first timers have the massive success that Roko had. Genghis Blues was not only a journey of a film, but also a journey that took a kid from college into adulthood, to San Francisco, to Tuva, to the winners circle at Sundance, and finally, to an Oscar nomination for best documentary, all on his first at bat.
What Roko Belic achieved with this film is beyond remarkable. I sat down with Roko to find out just how that story got to be so well-told, and what life was like after Blues’ premiere in 2000.
Audience of One (2007)
If you follow my posts at all, you’ve probably noticed that I’m fascinated by cinema vérité. In fact, someone once told me that I used the word ‘vérité’ too many times in one of my pieces. Well fuck that. What else are you supposed to call it? Anyway, the concept is interesting to me: you tell a story by just filming people in their daily lives. How do you know when to stop shooting? Or start, even? How much does your observation have an effect on what’s happening? (I have a theory that Mark Borchardt finished Coven BECAUSE he was being followed by Chris Smith’s camera in American Movie).
Vérité is one of the most naked modes of storytelling. You’re out there without a script or even an outline, you shoot on instinct and rely on your wits and intuition to build the story in your head, only to stitch it together later in your editing suite.
I was fortunate to sit down with Mike Jacobs, whose documentary, Audience of One, is one of the most fluid, interesting, and hilarious examples of cinema vérité ever made. It’s about a pentecostal pastor, Richard Gazowsky, who receives a message from God that he has to make the biggest science fiction epic of all time, telling the story of Joseph. He then embarks on this lofty pursuit with the help of his congregation, and of course, their donations. As one might assume, they run into many, many ups and downs along the way.