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indieWIRE Interview: Harry Moses, director of “Who the %$#! is Jackson Pollock?”

indieWIRE Interview: Harry Moses, director of "Who the %$#! is Jackson Pollock?"

Who the %$#! is Jackson Pollock?” director Harry Moses has spent his career in television and film, for the past 20 years on behalf of his company, The Mosaic Group, Inc. Prior to forming the company, Moses worked with CBS News, producing for “60 Minutes.” Moses has been honored with Emmy, Peabody, and Directors Guild of America awards, as well as a lifetime achievement award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for his work on “60 Minutes.” In his latest effort, Moses chronicles the story of Teri Horton, a 73 year-old former long-haul truck driver with an eighth grade education who bought a painting in a thrift shop for five dollars. What she didn’t know was that the painting may very well be by Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock, and that the painting would result in a clash with the biggest powers in the art world and perhaps change forever the way art is authenticated. Picturehouse will open the doc at the IFC Center in New York City and the Jacob Burns Center in Pleasantville, NY beginning Friday, November 15.

What initially attracted you to filmmaking, and how has that interest
evolved during your career.

I’ve been making documentaries since the late 1960s. I decided I wanted to do this for a living after watching a stunning documentary called “Crisis Behind a Presidential Commitment” on ABC in 1963. The film told the story of two black students, James Hood and Vivian Malone, who defied Governor George Wallace to enroll at the University of Alabama. The film was produced by Drew Associates, which hired me as an associate producer on five Bell Telephone hours for NBC some four years later. It was a great way to learn how to make films and I have never looked back.

Are there other aspects of filmmaking that you would still like to explore?

I’ve been lucky enough to do just about everything I’ve wanted to as a filmmaker. This has included doing almost 100 stories for “60 Minutes” over the years plus directing three docudramas for television. The most memorable was a dramatization of the trial of Bernhard Goetz in which the script was an edited version of the actual trial transcript but the roles were played by actors.

Please talk about how the initial idea for “Who the %$#! is Jackson Pollock?” came about.

The initial idea for the Pollock film came from a lunch I had with one of the characters in the film who mentioned in passing that he was representing a painting which had been purchased for five dollars in a thrift shop, had since been proven to be a Jackson Pollock, and was now worth in excess of $50 million. I thought that was a pretty interesting story and set about trying to make it happen.

A scene from Harry Moses’ doc “Who the %$#! is Jackson Pollock?” Image courtesy of Picturehouse.

Elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film.

I never think about a particular approach to a film before it’s made because I try not to impose myself on the material. If you pay attention to the material it will usually tell you what approach to take.

How did the financing for the film come together?

The financing for the film came together because my executive producer, Don Hewitt, knew Michael Lynne, the chairman of New Line Cinema, and persuaded him to finance the project.

Who/what are some of the creative influences that have had the biggest
impact on you?

My two major creative influences were Bob Drew, who was the driving force behind cinema verite, and Don Hewitt, whose storytelling genius was the driving force behind “60 Minutes.”

What are some of your all-time favorite films?

My all time favorite films include “The Treasure of Sierra Madre,” “The Battle of Algiers,” “In Cold Blood” and “Paths of Glory.” All are great stories and all possess the necessary amount of grit. Recent favorites are few and far between. I liked “Capote” and “The Queen” but not too much else.

What are your interests outside of film?

My interests outside of film? Teaching. I was on the faculty for three years at the J School at Columbia and am currently teaching a course in documentary filmmaking and investigative reporting at Quinnipiac University. I also play a pretty good game of tennis and an atrocious game of golf.

Please share an achievement from your career so far that you are most proud of.

The career achievement I’m most proud of would have to be the two nominations I received for best director of a documentary from the DGA, one of which won the award.

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