Wednesday, March 08, 2006

 

Interview With: Steven Greenstreet, Director/Producer

Director/producer Steven Greenstreet, who turns 27 next week, is a filmmaker to watch. While he's worked on the film crews for larger productions such as The World's Fastest Indian (with Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins) and Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (the third in the Urban Legend series), it's the story behind the production of his documentary This Divided State -- which examines "the failure of civil discourse in America" -- that is utterly fascinating. Greenstreet, who was raised Mormon, sensed a storm brewing when, during the 2004 Presidential Election year, Utah Valley State College (UVSC) announced that its student body officers had invited Oscar-winning filmmaker Michael Moore to speak at their campus. Having only lived in Utah for 18 months at the time, (but personally aware of the conservative nature of the state), Greenstreet quickly decided to drop out of college, quit his job, and commit himself exclusively, over the next four months, to the developing story at UVSC. He, and a small crew, soon teamed up with a group of UVSC communication students, who were also interested in documenting the unfolding controversy, and together, often with just minutes of advanced warning, they captured all of the speeches, protests and extemporaneous debates waged throughout the campus. The film, now available on DVD, was released last year. For more information you can go to www.ThisDividedState.com. Greenstreet agreed to take time out from his schedule to talk with "Movies on My Mind" about his film, the current political climate in the country, and what's next for him.

Movies on My Mind: Congratulations on your win at the Santa Cruz Film Festival. What has the overall reaction been to This Divided State from both the left and the right?
Steven Greenstreet: Well, the general consensus to the film is that what happened in Utah during the Michael Moore controversy represents a microcosm of the ideologies that are currently dividing us as a nation. People who have seen the film agree that, despite popular belief, we are not a nation divided into red and blue states. That is a lie and that is a myth. It is absurd to think that you can simply divide an entire body of people into two polarized groups. The human race is much more complex than that and I think This Divided State demonstrates that there are many voices that aren't being heard in America right now. People nowadays do not listen to each other and there exists an unwillingness to get along. Almost 100% of the people against Michael Moore coming to UVSC had not seen Fahrenheit 9/11 nor read anything Michael Moore had written. Those suing the school, or trying to impeach the student body presidency, never once physically met with those they were persecuting. No one listened to each other. And if there's one thing I think we all need to do more of it's to open our ears and honestly listen to those with opposing views. I might add that the film doesn't make Utah look that great. I didn't mean for the film to do that, but people across the country were a little shaken up by what they saw. In fact, one film critic in Detroit wrote, "Do not go to Utah. Don't even visit."

Movies on My Mind: Documentary films sometimes walk the fine line of journalism and moviemaking. Do you consider yourself more of a journalist or a filmmaker?
Greenstreet: This might sound like a cop-out, but I consider myself a documentarian. In my opinion, being a documentarian requires the healthy combination of both journalism and filmmaking. I believe it's the journalist in me that attracts me to stories and subject; but it's the filmmaker that ultimately edits and creates the final project.
Movies on My Mind: Michael Moore is the centerpiece of your film. How has Moore changed the audience's concept of documentaries? Has he had an influence on you specifically, as a documentary filmmaker?
Greenstreet: I think it's safe to say that I do documentary because of Michael Moore. When I came home from my two year Mormon mission to Venezuela, one of the first films that my best friend showed me was Roger and Me. I was like, "Oh, my God. I want to do that". And so I started doing some short documentary pieces with a documentary director in Baltimore named John Paul Kinhart who taught me the basics and then sent me on my own. Michael Moore has had an influence on me in that he tells a fascinating story and incorporates and personal sense of humor and tragedy. That's different from most docs because, normally, docs let the stories themselves develop the emotion. Moore pours his heart and soul into his films. Some might call that propaganda. I call it "an opinion piece".

Movies on My Mind: Who else you admire in this genre?
Greenstreet: I would say that my top three documentary directors that have inspired me technically would be, Errol Morris, Bruce Sinofsky, and Andrew Jarecki. Morris' The Thin Blue Line, Sinofsky's Paradise Lost, and Jarecki's Capturing the Friedmans should be studied in every Documentary 101 class.
Movies on My Mind: So, what are the top five documentaries of the last five years?
Greenstreet: Oh, wow. The Fog of War, Capturing the Friedmans, New York Doll, Promises, and Bowling For Columbine.

Movies on My Mind: "Movies on My Mind" has suggested that a film be made of an unscripted debate between Sean Hannity and Randi Rhodes. Would you direct such a film? What's your take on how it would turn out?
Greenstreet: Yes, of course I'd direct it. I would approach it with the thesis of "Civil Discourse between polemics is not possible". I'd follow the two of them preparing for the debate, and then obviously shoot the debate juxtaposed with other examples of "the clash of opposing views". It would be very interesting. Sean Hannity wouldn't last three minutes before getting flustered, angry, and begin name-calling. If my film [This Divided State] doesn't expose him for a douche-bag hack, then this film surely would.
Movies on My Mind: The Left and the Right don't seem to be meeting in the middle much these days. What's not happening to prevent that?
Greenstreet: No one wants to listen to each other. Everyone wants to talk, no one wants to listen and understand. The maturity of civil discourse in the United States is in the toilet. Nobody actually sits down and calmly works through differences. Blindly throwing bombs at each other is both childish and ignorant.
Movies on My Mind: With This Divided State, you, reportedly, had 76 hours of footage that you edited down to 88 minutes. Tell us what goes on in your mind as you do that.
Greenstreet: This was the hardest part of making the film. I locked myself in my editing room for almost three straight months -- 18-20 hour days, and hardly any food or water. I wanted to get the film done as soon as possible, while the story was still fresh on everyone's brains. I knew that I didn't want the film to have a narrator to guide the story and definitely didn't want myself as a central character (the way Moore does his films). I felt the film had many voices that needed to be heard, so my first decision was to stay as neutral and unbiased as possible. This was also very hard, since I have my own strong political beliefs. I could very easily have made both Kay Anderson and Sean Hannity look a hell of a lot worse than they do in the film. I had to bite my tongue a lot. I think it worked. The New York Post review said, "Allows both sides equal time" and the Lexington Herald review commented, "The first balanced political documentary."
Movies on My Mind: What's next for you?
Greenstreet: Currently, I'm attached as a producer to two feature documentaries. My main project right now, though, is producing a feature narrative film entitled One Plus One. The budget is $2.5 million and will, hopefully, be shot this summer. I'm actually working on it right now, at this coffee shop. Trying to raise money. Don't worry, though. It'll happen...

Comments:
Great interview. How do you know these filmmakers? You should sell dvds of the filmmakers below the interview. Maybe "click here to buy the dvd"...
 
This is an interesting interview. You should do more like this one and the one with the producer rep.
And maybe you shouldn't do any more posts about the Oscars or Christmas.
Just a suggestion...
 
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?