[EDITORS NOTE: This interview was originally published in January as part of indieWIRE’s coverage of the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.]
Industry veterans will readily identify Dan Klores with public relations and marketing firm, Dan Klores Communications, but he has also produced and directed television docs as well as 2005’s “Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story,” which screened in competition at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. He returns this year with “Crazy Love,” which Sundance describes as “at once romantic, but very disturbing. [The film] is a multifaceted exploration of the pathology of our emotional lives.”
The doc is the story of a successful older attorney and a beautiful “Liz Taylor-like” woman who met what she believed was the man of her dreams, Burt. Linda, however, soon discovered he was not the man he had claimed, and the life they might have shared changed. Obsession, forgiveness, contrition and cruelty are fully exposed in this film, in which nothing could keep Burt away from Linda, not even friends, family, prisons or public exposure.
In an indieWIRE review published during Sundance, Steve Ramos wrote about the film: “The will-she or won’t-she rehab antics of actress Lindsay Lohan pale in comparison to the New York tabloid tale of lying husband Burt Pugach and his beautiful girlfriend Linda Riss. [Dan Klores] captures the pulpy spirit of their oddball, fifty-year love affair with his stand-up-and-cheer documentary “Crazy Love.” The fact that their story made newspaper headlines for many years is clear in the first minutes of Klores’ rollicking film, his finest effort yet. Despite the sadness, crimes and terrible actions, the story of Burt and Linda is the best time at Sundance. Via Burt and Linda, Klores also uncovers something far richer: the complexity of human life, the understanding that people are capable of anything and despite the terrible things people do to each other, the surprise that love still prevails.”
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Brooklyn and live in Manhattan with my wife, Abbe, and three little boys. I played backgammon and gin rummy for a living until I was 30 years old. I wrote one book, Roundball Culture (Strode Publications, Huntsville, AL, 1980) and numerous magazine pieces in the late 1970s.
What were the circumstances that lead you to filmmaking?
Out of desperation, I took a PR job in politics and formed my own company in 1991. I disliked every moment but we built a pretty good firm which now employs about 150 people. My first film was “The Boys of 2nd Street Park,” which premiered at Sundance and was purchased by Showtime. It was about a generation told through the lives of six old friends from my neighborhood near Coney Island. I wanted to do that story via the documentary form for some years. Lynn Novick, who is Ken Burns‘ (“Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson“) producing partner, offered me the encouragement I needed, and Matthew Penn, who is the producer/director of “Law & Order,” told me I was crazy to look for someone else to direct it, because it was my story and my passion. I never went to film school, but I was always a decent storyteller. My instinct and my ability to listen helped me greatly, [and] I keep on learning.
Please talk about “Crazy Love,” and how did the initial idea come about?
“Crazy Love” is based upon the true story of Burt Pugach and Linda Riss; a romance which began in 1957 and continues to this day. It is a story of obsession, love, behavior, mental illness, desperation, violence and forgiveness. It’s also a story about what we do in order not to be alone. The story dominated the headlines of the New York City tabloids when I was 10 years-old in 1959. I remember being saddened and moved by the cruelty. Three years ago, while finishing “Ring of Fire: the Emile Griffith Story,” I spotted an article in the New York Times about Burt and Linda, which led me to begin my pursuit.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project or making the movie?
The biggest challenge in making the film, I think, was to try to understand the psychological complexities of both subjects.
What do you hope to get out of the festival, what are your own goals for the experience?
I have very simple and basic goals in terms of the festival–I just want the audience to enjoy the work.
When did you find out your film was accepted at Sundance?
I found out we had been accepted into Sundance right before Thanksgiving. I was with my eight year-old son at a neighborhood luncheonette when one of the programmers called me on my cell phone. I was so happy, I bought him an extra brownie.
What were some of your favorite films of 2006?
In terms of my favorite films in 2006, I liked “Little Children,” “Babel” (although I think the title cost the studio at least $50 million) and “Little Miss Sunshine,” amongst others.
What is your definition of “independent film”?
I don’t really have a ‘definition’ for ‘independent film.’ I do know that the part of the process that I love is the freedom of working on my own without having to answer to institutions or individuals who give me money. I’ve found that in general, people want to support or encourage you, but as soon as you meet the lawyers, your problems begin.