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Meet the 2013 Tribeca Filmmakers #32: Josh & Benny Safdie Explore Basketball Fame and Glory in 'Lenny Cooke'

Indiewire By Indiewire | Indiewire April 15, 2013 at 10:49AM

Josh and Benny Safdie are brothers and were born and raised in both Queens and Manhattan in New York City. They shared that they're "interested in characters, in feelings and the moment all fodder for our wild attraction to filmmaking." Together they make films of all lengths. They share an equal passion for film and basketball, calling them moody mediums that "keep them present and that stimulate them and at the same time provide some form of an escape."
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 Josh and Benny Safdie
Josh and Benny Safdie
Josh and Benny Safdie are brothers and were born and raised in both Queens and Manhattan in New York City. They shared that they're "interested in characters, in feelings and the moment -- all fodder for our wild attraction to filmmaking." Together they make films of all lengths. They share an equal passion for film and basketball, calling them moody mediums that "keep them present and that stimulate them and at the same time provide some form of an escape."

What it's about: It's about an American martyr named Lenny Cooke, who was once the #1 ranked high school basketball player in the USA. It's about the American dream, but the idea not the story and what happens when that dream becomes a reality before it is fully realized.

What else should audiences know?: "There's a real glory to being the best or nothing at all."

On the challenges: "We had a ton of source material ,that we did NOT shoot, which was all very specific, and like life, none of it told the whole story. This initial burden was hard to get over. You cannot tell the whole story, you can only point at it, try to show it. The most difficult part seemed to be figuring out how to tell this story, again because this film was not born within us, which is actually beautiful… We chose to let life exist. Let the situations mostly dictate the emotional climaxes and arcs of the film. When filming with Lenny over the past few years, we had the luxury of documented memories in the back of our heads, almost like we were doing "additional shooting" on a feature film shot in a ton of footage from the past. That existing footage allowed us a set of unchanging material to really get narrative with."

Films that inspired them: "Some 19 years later, "Hoop Dreams" still resounds within us. It was and still is a great American document, a moving tale and it happens to also be about basketball players. It's a socialist film, in a beautiful way. It cherishes the dream and the heart in a very earnest way. It speaks volumes about Black America. Embarking on our film, we could only hope to further the conversation or add to the perspective. In a way we are telling the alternate reality of that film. While we were in the beginning stages of scripting the edit and still shooting here and there, we went to see it projected on 35mm at Lincoln Center just to live in that world, remind ourselves of its influence. That film's greatest triumph is its ability to get into the minds of William and Arthur, it's so special in its portrayal of their emotions.  We should also mention, that we're continually inspired by a lot of Frederick Weisman’s work, the Maysles Brothers, D.A Pennebaker, Flaherty, McElwee… All of their work transforms non-fiction into the hyper-real and fictionalized. It's a remarkable talent and one we look to for both our fiction work and something that helped us a great deal with both shooting and editing Lenny Cooke.

Lenny Cooke in "Lenny Cooke."
Lenny Cooke in "Lenny Cooke."

What's next: "We are about to start production of a new fiction feature film this summer called Uncut Gems, our most ambitious effort yet. Diamond district, hustling, crime, emotional, moody, thriller-esque… etc."

Indiewire invited Tribeca Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they're doing next. We'll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2013 festival.



Keep checking HERE every day up to the launch of the festival on April 17 for the latest profiles.

This article is related to: Meet the 2013 Tribeca Filmmakers