Samuel Beckett made one motion picture, the short, almost-silent avant-garde film, “Film,” starring Buster Keaton. In 1964, Beckett travelled to America for his first and only visit — to undertake the ambitious project. Theater director Alan Schneider, publisher Barney Rosset and Academy Award-winning cinematographer Boris Kaufman worked on the notoriously difficult production, which was riddled with problems from the start. Beckett and Keaton disagreed about the film from early on and shooting during the hottest days of summer only exacerbated tension on the set.
While working on the restoration of “Film,” archivist Ross Lipman visited Rosset and discovered reels of film and audio that had been under Rosset’s sink for decades– including the legendary first scene, which had been cut from the film.
“Two weeks or so before the production, Alan Schneider, Barney Rosset and Samuel Beckett decided to have a production meeting. Barney recorded it. This is a pretty incredible find,” said Dennis Doros, co-owner (with his wife and partner Amy Heller) of Milestone Films. The legendarily reclusive Beckett was rarely recorded, so this is one of the few opportunities to hear his voice.
Along with Milestone Films, Lipman is creating “NotFilm,” a documentary about the story behind “Film” and its production. Milestone is producing the film and plans to raise half of the film’s approximately $95,000 budget through IndieGoGo. The money will primarily go towards restoration of the outtakes and audio, acquiring clips, and professional post-production. Milestone and Lipman will commission and record a brand-new score for “NotFilm” by the famed composer Richard Einhorn (“Voices of Light.”)
“I’ve been fascinated with ‘Film’ since I first read about it as a student before I ever saw it. When you get these all-star assemblies of talent, they don’t always gel perfectly and that was certainly the case with ‘Film’ so you’ve got a lot of brilliance from Beckett’s concept to the people who are executing, but it doesn’t quite go together and yet it points to something,” Lipman told Indiewire. “Part of what I’m doing with the documentary is going into the places where it works and doesn’t work and using that to explore the process of making it and how it relates to what did or didn’t happen on the screen. It spins out into a lot of different directions. It’s at once a history of the film’s making and also a reverie on what it is, what it isn’t and what it points to.”
“NotFilm” will feature recollections from actor James Karen, critic Leonard Maltin (who visited the set as a teenager), actress Billie Whitelaw, his close friend and biographer James Knowlson, Alan Schneider’s widow Jean, Rosset’s childhood friend, the cinematographer Haskell Wexler, and Rossett, who died in 2012.
The history of “Film” is legendary. When it first premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 1965, it won the Film Critics’ Prize, but audiences were largely baffled. “When it wasn’t ‘Sherlock, Jr.’ or ‘The General,’ they were confused,” said Doros.
Even Buster Keaton has said that he didn’t know what the film was about. “He was a smart man. I’m sure he knew what it was about,” said Doros. “He was probably confused during the making of it, because Alan Schneider wasn’t a film director. He was a theatrical director, but it’s not that hard a film to understand. The perplexity that people have for it is mostly because they haven’t seen it.”
“Film” has undergone a complete 4K digital restoration by the UCLA Film & Television Archive under Lipman’s supervision, in collaboration with the British Film Institute, and with funding from Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation and the National Film Preservation Foundation. Milestone Films, which distributed Lipman’s ground-breaking UCLA restorations of “Killer of Sheep,” “The Exiles,” “Word is Out,” among other films, licensed worldwide rights from Rosset for all the material.
Milestone previously used Kickstarter to crowdfund the film restoration of “Portrait of Jason.” This time around, they decided to use Indiegogo, but Doros made it clear that they had no issues with Kickstarter. “Crowdfunding ‘Portrait of Jason’ was a great experience for us,” said Doros, adding that the company would gladly use Kickstarter again.
Why crowdfund the documentary? “We’ve never produced a film before in our lives. To do a great job, it meant we needed to raise the money,” said Doros.” Rather
than have producers tell us what we can and can’t do that, we thought crowdfunding would be a good idea. It would give Ross more freedom to make the film he envisioned.”
Check out the trailer for “NotFilm” below and find out more about the Indiegogo campaign here.