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FUTURES | "Cinema is Everywhere" Director Teal Greyhavens On His "quasi-academic project"

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire October 27, 2011 at 4:42AM

Home: Los Angeles, California
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Home: Los Angeles, California

Why He's On Our Radar: Greyhavens recently saw the U.S. premiere of his ambitious "quasi-academic project" (as he describes it), "Cinema is Everywhere," at the Austin Film Festival, where it was very well received (Austin 360 called it "a love letter to the joy, beauty, pain and importance of a tool and art form").

Detailing four narratives from China, India, Scotland, and Tunisia - including insights from venerable filmmakers and ordinary moviegoers - that combine to (as the Austin Film Festival describes) "tell the global story of cinema and how it affects our everyday lives." The film was picked up earlier this year for distribution in all territories by TriCoast Worldwide in Los Angeles.

More About Him: "Growing up in Oregon in the USA meant lots of running in the forest and getting scabby knees and turning over rocks to look for bugs and lizards...that was me," Greyhavens said.

Self-described as a "dreamy kid," he was that one on the playground who was "walking around looking up at trees, coming up with fantastical stories instead of playing baseball or tag." His mother pushed him to pursue a career in making up fantastical stories, which started by making short films in high school.

What's Next?: "Cinema is Everywhere" is an ongoing project.

"We’re turning the website into an international gathering place where people from everywhere can share stories about how movies have affected their lives and their countries, plan projects, find resources, and continue the cultural exchange that cinema inspires – I’m very excited about that," he said. "On my end of things, I’m soliciting investors for a quasi-documentary film expedition to the mountains of China, and a low-budget claustrophobic thriller alongside about a dozen other things in the pot."

Tell me about the film. How did it come about? Where did the idea come from and how did that evolve?

"Cinema is Everywhere" was born not as a film but as a research project I did after university. I was lucky to be given a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, which is a totally magical grant that lets you travel the world for a year to basically explore the thing that you love most. So I came up with this project where I would ask what it means to “go to the movies” in countries all over the world, and why the dream of being part of cinema is so strong everywhere you go. And as it happens, along the way, through some totally absurd serendipity and a lot of help from a lot of wonderful people, I wound up connecting with folks like Mark Cousins, Shyam Benegal, and Stanley Kwan – brilliant thinkers and filmmakers whom I was totally gaga to speak with – and found that I had the workings of a potentially exciting film.

A scene from "Cinema is Everywhere."

What do you want audiences to take away from this film?

I think the part of "Cinema is Everywhere" that’s important is the “everywhere.” Cinema really is everywhere on the planet, including a lot of places that don’t get much attention. We know Hollywood makes movies, and a lot of people know about European art-house cinema. But what about cinema from places like India, Iran, Egypt, Japan, Senegal? There are Iranian children’s films that are as accessible and magical as most Disney movies. There’s a movie from Belarus called "Come and See" about WWII that’s as powerful as "Schindler’s List," but it hardly ever gets talked about because it wasn’t directed by Steven Spielberg. You have to be open-minded to watch a movie made in Algeria, definitely, but there really are some amazing things out there, and not in the art-house-snobs-only kind of way – in a straightforward, entertaining, fun-for-the-whole-family kind of way. And the thing that you get from watching those films is not just a good time or a moving story, but a glimpse into another culture and another life. I think the value of a kid not only having a great time watching a movie, but at the same time getting to see what it’s like to grow up in, say, Iran, is... It’s tremendous. That’s what cinema can do, if we give it the chance. It can connect us with people and worlds whom we would otherwise have nothing to do with.

What was one of the most challenging things about making it?

As I said I had a lot of help from a lot of great people, but a lot of the time nonetheless it really was just me and a camera, and that has perks and drawbacks. I had the freedom to go where I wanted and slip under the radar a lot, but there was also no support base at all! In India my translator and I were chased out of the slums by a local drunk who was starting to throw rocks at us. In Hong Kong, I filmed probably 15 hours of the film crew I was following while they spoke Cantonese all day long – and I had no idea what they were saying or what was going on. But the most challenging thing of all was piecing it together in the end to try and make a coherent film, and desperately wishing I could have had more time in each of the countries to get to know all of the stories and characters more in depth. That’s brutal for any documentary filmmaker – how do you find an end to a story when the person’s life is still going on as we speak?

Were you inspired by other films or filmmakers?

At the same time as I was filming "Cinema," the great Mark Cousins was making his epic "The Story of Film," which takes a more historical look at world cinema and is 15 hours long! It’s making the festival rounds now and I’m desperate to catch it... That wasn’t an inspiration per se but I’ve gotta give it a plug. Lola Rennt was my favorite film growing up. It pretty much has no resemblance to "Cinema is Everywhere."

Now that the film is completed, what advice would you give aspiring filmmakers who want to get their first film off the ground?

I think you will either have a great idea or not, and there’s no way to convince someone his or her idea isn’t good, so just pick the thing you believe in and run with it. Probably the more important part is how you get the film “out there” – I myself heard a great quip which I think was from Peter Belsito, if not I’m attributing it to him and he can thank me later, he said that the fundamental mistake of most independent filmmakers is that they make movies according to a two-phase plan: First, make the movie. Then, look up and go “well, what do we do now?” That’s what I did on this film and it sat in limbo for eight months before getting finished and picked up, which was total hell and I never want to do it that way again. So in whatever way you can, make the film ready to launch from the get-go. Get investors who can also distribute, or set aside promotion & festival funds from the very start. Do the networking and outreach game early so by the time you need exposure you have people to call. Most filmmakers hate the promotion end of things but it’s only worse if you don’t do it full-tilt from the start.

This article is related to: Features, Interviews, Futures





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