Gracie Otto is an accomplished filmmaker with substantial
credits as a director, writer, editor, and actress from her bases in Sydney,
Paris, and Los Angeles. Since graduating from Sydney Film School in 2007, she has
directed an impressive reel of five award-winning short films, all of which
have screened internationally. Her debut feature documentary The Last Impresario premiered at the
London Film Festival to critical acclaim and has just been nominated for a
prestigious AACTA Award for Best Documentary Film. (Filmgraphics
The Last Impresario will play at DOC NYC on November 20.
Please give us your description of the film playing.
GO: The Last
Impresario celebrates legendary British producer and playboy Michael White, who transformed British culture through his many productions, including Oh! Calcutta!, The Rocky Horror Show, Chorus Line,
Dame Edna, and Monty Python. The film features interviews with 60 of Chalky’s
close friends and associates, including Naomi Watts, Anna Wintour, John Cleese,
Kate Moss, Lorne Michaels, Wally Shawn, Andre Gregory, John Waters, Barry
Humphries, and Yoko Ono.
What drew you to this story?
GO: I met Michael at the Opening Night party in Cannes
2010, and he was by far the most enigmatic person in a room [full] of celebrities. He
introduced me to a “who’s who” of the festival, and I discovered he was a very
famous theater and film producer. I come from a family of actors and soon
realised the importance of his life’s work.
But what really fascinated me was
when I met up with him again in London and found he lived in a simple flat in Notting
Hill — the vast fortunes he had made were gone. But he still lived a high life, invited
to all the best parties, opening nights, dinners, and festivals around the
world. His friends look after him now in the way that he had for years looked
after them. When he told me he was
selling his memorabilia at Sotheby’s, I knew here was a life that had to be celebrated and a story that had to be shared.
What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
GO: There were so many challenges — finance, nailing down
celebrity interviews, the cost of the archive material, Michael’s ill health
and inability to speak at length — but probably the biggest challenge was making
editing decisions as to what facets of his incredible life would make the cut,
and what we would have to leave out. There was so much more to his story, we
really could have easily made a ten-part series.
What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?
GO: I want them to be inspired by the life of Michael
White, to go out into the world and be brave and creative and have the best
life they possibly can! And I want them to remember and celebrate the life of
an extraordinary man.
What advice do you have for other female directors?
GO: My advice is to work hard to develop your own
projects and to try to network and work reciprocally with other women and men in
the industry. Since film school, I have continued to make my own short films
and collaborate with friends to write and develop pilots and feature-film
scripts. It’s important to take risks and not be afraid to promote yourself and
your own work.
What’s the biggest misconception about you and your work?
GO: In Australia, I have worked in a variety of ambassador
roles for fashion designers and products. I have worn hats and gloves and given
advice on what to wear and what not to wear to the horse races. So I have had
my face in the social pages on probably far too many occasions. As a result, I
think I wasn’t taken as seriously as other members of my family of serious
actors. But what people didn’t know is that all those appearances earned me
money to buy camera equipment and travel the world to make my first feature
film. Since the film has come out, I have gained real credibility in the
industry, which is nice.
How did you get your film funded?
GO: I funded the film myself for the first year, earning
quick money to buy airline tickets to wherever in the world Michael was to
shoot observational footage and do interviews with his friends. When my
producer Nicole O’Donohue came on board, we launched a crowd-funding campaign
that raised $50k and paid for an editor, Karen Johnson, to start work. After a
rough cut of the film was invited to screen at the London Film Festival, Screen
Australia and Screen NSW gave us post-production financing.
Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
GO: I am a big fan of Sofia Coppola and absolutely love Lost in Translation. I am fascinated by
the lives of people in hotels and chance meetings — in fact, I am developing a
feature called Girls In Hotels. The
immediate affinity apparent between neglected young wife Scarlett Johansson and
Bill Murray’s fading movie star is completely fascinating, and I think the
ending and their separation is one of the great tragic love stories.