While it might appear that director Jonathan Demme has retreated from the mainstream in recent years, directing a string of documentaries including “Jimmy Carter Man From Plains” and a trio of Neil Young concert films, the director says he’s just been following the projects he finds himself drawn to. “It all depends on what I’m enthusiastic about at the moment, what presents itself,” Demme told The Playlist in an exclusive interview this week. “I love doing fiction. I love doing performance films and I love doing documentaries that don’t have music. I love to shoot and I love to shoot things I’m enthusiastic about.”
And lately, Demme has been enthusiastic about Neil Young. Their latest collaboration is entitled “Neil Young Journeys,” in which Demme tags along on a road trip with Young in his 1956 Crown Victoria en route to a performance at Toronto’s iconic Massey Hall. 'Journeys' premiered at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival and will hit theaters at the end of the month.
In between the Young films, Demme’s name has been tied to numerous projects, both documentary and narrative. He exited an early incarnation of the recently released "Marley" documentary over creative differences, but says he still plans to see Kevin McDonald’s take. “I haven’t seen it yet. I want to. I’ll probably like it.”
He’s a producer on the developing “Song One,” which will likely star his “Rachel Getting Married” leading lady, Anne Hathaway. “It does have a start date,” says Demme. “The script is still in the works, but there’s a very strong likelihood that Anne will play the lead. She’s one of the producers of the film along with Adam Shulman. It’s being directed by the writer, Kate Barker-Froyland, who is a wonderful young filmmaker. It’s a very exciting kind of indie, music-obsessed about a young woman who isn’t music-obsessed and is sort of thrust into a situation that puts her face to face with a thriving music scene in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. At least two of the characters are songwriters and musicians.”
Demme is also still working on an animated adaptation of the Dave Eggers book, “Zeitoun,” based on the true story of Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian-American contractor who stayed in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. “It’s in active development,” Demme told us. “We’re working with a great artist from Minneapolis, a guy named Charlie Griak. We’re deep into the script. It’s been so challenging to find the money for an animated film about a Muslim American family set against the backdrop of hurricanes and floods. We’ve really kind of channeled our energy into the script for the time being. It’s something that’s going to happen. It’s a great book, a great story, great characters. I’m excited about working with animation because you can get any shot you want. This is the first time working with animation and I’m really enjoying it a lot.”
Finally, Demme is hard at work with Stephen King on an adaptation of the writer’s 2011 novel, “11/22/63,” about a man who travels back in time in an attempt to thwart the assassination of JFK. “Stephen and I are working together on the script right now. After all these years, what I’ve come to understand is don’t plan the script that you’re really thrilled with," he explained. "At the heart of '11/22/63' is this profound, magnificent challenge that our hero is faced with, which is that the past doesn’t want to be changed. Our boy Jake has his work cut out for him if he really wants to change history. He really has to go up against it. And he may or may not succeed."
As to whether the film’s storyline will wind up the same as the novel, Demme in non-committal. “You never know. There’s a dozen movies in '11/22/63.' We’re finding the one that we think is kind of the best of all. And Stephen is wide open. The book is the book. The movie will be something different. It’s great fun working with him.”
Stay tuned for more from Demme, including more about his work with Neil Young on the intimate concert film, “Neil Young Journeys” which opens on June 29th.