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“Waiting for Armageddon”‘s David Heilbroner: “Just grab a camera and get to work”

"Waiting for Armageddon"'s David Heilbroner: "Just grab a camera and get to work"

The doc “Waiting for Armageddon” centers on the evangelical Christian obsession with the Biblical account of the Armageddon and its real-life enactment. “Armageddon” follows three American families as they explain their theories on the Apocalypse. The film follows one of the families on a trip to Israel and details another family’s worries that the second coming of Christ may come before their daughters get married and have kids. The film will have a limited one week run, beginning January 8, 2010, at the Cinema Village in New York. The film’s director David Heilbroner responded to questions from indieWIRE in conjunction with the New York theatrical release of his film.

Please tell us about yourself and include as much of the following information as you feel comfortable with:

My name is David Heilbroner. I graduated from Harvard University (B.A. cum laude, 1979) and Northeastern Law School (J.D. 1984). I’ve been been writing books and producing award-winning documentary films for more than twenty years. For HBO, I directed/produced the Emmy-winning “Jockey” (2004), “Plastic Disasters” (2006), “The Adolescent Addict” (2007), and “Diagnosis: Bipolar” (2008).

For the History Channel I wrote, co-directed and produced “Scopes: Battle Over America’s Soul” (2006) for the Emmy-winning series “Ten Days that Unexpectedly Changed America.” For A & E Television Networks, I wrote, directed and produced many episodes of the Emmy-winning series “Investigative Reports.” Titles include “Untying the Straitjacket,” “Anti-Gay Hate Crimes,” and “The Dark Side of Parole.” I worked as Senior Producer on “Crime Stories,” a series for Court TV, as well as on “American Babylon” (2003) a feature Court TV documentary which profiled the life of an African-American vice cop in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

As an independent filmmaker, he co-directed and produced the feature documentary “Pucker Up: The Fine Art of Whistling” (2005) which won both the Audience Award and Award for Documentary Excellence at the Florida Film Festival, and played on television stations worldwide. I’ve just premiered “Waiting for Armageddon” (2009), a feature documentary exploring the dangerous influence of Christian Evangelical “end times” theology on US foreign policy. The film played as closing night in the New York Jewish Film Festival and will be released theatrically in the United States.

A former prosecutor at the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, and Federal District Court law clerk, I wrote the critically acclaimed non-fiction books “Rough Justice” (Pantheon 1990) and “Death Benefit” (Crown/Harmony 1993). David has also written numerous feature articles for magazines including the New York Times Magazine, Playboy and Cosmopolitan.

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

Storytelling and journalism have been deep interests of mine along with a lifelong passion for music (I have been professional guitarist since childhood). No other artform blends these media like film. What has evolved is a (hopefully) deeper understanding of how to engage people’s imaginations and intellects without too openly forcing a political agenda.

Are there other aspects of filmmaking (either on the creative side or industry side etc.) that you would still like to explore?

Every new subject raises new challenges, structurally and visually, so with each new project I feel I am exploring untrodden turf.

Please discuss how the idea for this film came about.

My co-directors and I have had a longstanding fascination with the strange alliance between Christian Evangelicals and Israel. The tension inherent in this unlikely pairing seemed both ill-understood by the broader public and also indicative of the possible perils when religion and politics intersect.

Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film, including your influences (if any), as well as your overall goals for the project?

Making “Waiting for Aermageddon” posed huge structural challenges given that the film has neither a central character nor does it follow a single event. The solution came when Kate Davis (co-director, co-editor) thought to use the Christian story of the end of the world as our through-line. That gave the film its dramatic arc, although it still left us with the challenge of how to integrate a huge span of interviews, archival materials and locations.

A couple of films helped embolden me to make a film that really is a political essay: High on the list is “Surplus”, which made a big impression
on me when I saw it at IDFA a few years back.

How did the financing and/or casting for the film come together?

Casting the film involved overcoming predispositions. We wanted to start by just listening to Evangelicals, then focusing on representative individuals. In the end, so many of our preconceptions were blown away by reality. Casting finally involved finding attractive, educated, serious people to
interview since that, really, is representative of the Evangelical base as we encountered it.

What is your definition of “independent film,” and has that changed at all since you first started working?

Independent film has come to me to mean film not bound by commercial constraints, regardless of the funding source. It’s been my experience that
when a work is commissioned the commissioning editors become artistic partners. True independence happens best when you are free — through self-financing or grants — to make the film truest to your vision.

What general advice would you impart to emerging filmmakers?

Don’t wait for the money to come in first. Just grab a camera and get to work.

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

I’ve recently completed a documentary for American Experience on the Stonewall uprising of 1969 with my co-director Kate Davis. The recreations we filmed, for the first time in my experience, managed to blend almost seamlessly with archival material. That was a deeply satisfying artistic accomplishment.

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