The films of Oren Moverman often find complex men at their center, trying to make it in a world that doesn’t seem to understand them. Whether haunted by war (“The Messenger“), broken down by their profession (“Rampart“) or tortured by genius (the Brian Wilson biopic “Love & Mercy,” with a script by Moverman, also playing TIFF), his characters have been weathered and wearied but are never less than fascinating, and that will likely hold true for his next directorial effort “Time Out Of Mind.” Starring Richard Gere, the film chronicles the tale of a homeless man in New York City who seeks shelter at Bellvue and begins trying to repair the relationship with his estranged daughter. Given his filmography so far, it may not be the most obvious choice for Moverman, but that’s also because it wasn’t his to start with.
Speaking with us on the phone prior to TIFF, in his first interview about about the movie, Moverman generously shared his time to talk about the project that didn’t come onto his radar until recently. In fact, “Time Out Of Mind” was shepherded for years by Gere, and there was already a completed screenplay when it landed on Moverman’s desk. However, in taking it on, he talked with Gere about his vision of the story, and wrote a new script that reflected the thematic and creative concerns they both wanted to address.
“We created the process for ourselves, which was basically talking about the script and talking about what it could be, but also doing the legwork. We started going to homeless shelters. We spent a lot of time at Bellevue, which is the intake center for homeless men,” Moverman said. “And we went on research trips at night, going into these shelters and talking to men, talking to guards, talking to people who ran it, talking about everyone’s experience and kind of got into this rhythm, where we felt like, ‘Okay, this is actually not going to work as a story about someone who’s bad and someone who’s good. It’s really going to work as a story of people who [are] sort of condemned or sentenced to be in the same system on different sides’…So we basically sort of did this forensic work of collecting stories and really getting into the histories of people who are in this situation and I think out of that that sort of developed a conversation between us about the character and about his history.”
And as you might expect, as Moverman learned more about the homeless in New York City, it opened his eyes to an issue that was there all along, even if it didn’t initially catch his eye. “I definitely remember the first time I went to Bellevue. The entrance is between First Avenue and the river, and I used to live not far away from there,” the director shared. “When I started going to Bellevue I realized over the years that I lived pretty close but I’ve never seen or never noticed the line of men every night around the corner, sometimes in rain or in the snow, every night — hundreds of men. And for some reason I realized that I was sort of living in my world and I was living with our problems our dramas, that were legitimate, but I distinctly remember a feeling of shame that I never noticed it.”
However, that feeling of an issue that’s out in the open, yet unseen, informed how Moverman shot the picture, taking an aesthetic approach that tried to be as real and immersive as possible for Gere. “The movie is designed to be about the stories that we don’t really pay attention to in our busy lives. Not in any judgmental way. Just in the way we live in the city,” he explained.
“So, a lot of it was designed to be shot through windows. So we would shoot a lot of exteriors [from the] surrounding side places and make it the glass that separates whatever’s happening indoors. Sometimes we would shoot interiors from outside through the glass, and getting a lot of reflections of the city and kind of the movement of the city. So we were in all kinds of situations where we had Richard…in live environments where we were sort of tucked away with a very long lens, inside a Starbucks, or inside an apartment, or inside looking in through a door, from inside a building,” Moverman said. “….what it also allowed us to do is kind of let actors blend into the reality of New York and sort of see almost what happens when somebody like Richard Gere, who looks like an unshaven Richard Gere with shorter hair, is completely being ignored because of the clothes that he’s wearing. And there’s one scene where he asks people for change and everyone ignores him, they don’t even look him in the eye.”
“The design of the movie is really kind of like a collection of photographs,” the director continued, talking about this shooting style this time around, which favored zooms. ” So the camera actually never moves. [It’s] always kind of very still, there’s some pans, some tilts maybe but overall the camera is never on the dolly, it’s never a steadicam shot it’s all basically letting the city move around the characters, so it creates a very unique voyeuristic feel from the various vantage points that we shot the movie.”
And so, it seems like a lot to take in, and as such, Moverman has high expectations for the movie, both in subject matter and how audiences will respond when they finally see it, starting with the turn by the lead actor. “I think it’s a very ambitious movie, especially for such a small movie. I think one of the things people are going to walk away with — and justifiably so — is Richard Gere’s performance, although I wouldn’t call it a performance. If I had to define it I think it’s an experiential film,” Moverman said. “I think it’s the sort of film that develops a relationship with the audience as opposed to just presenting things to them. There’s a certain kind of power to it that I think you get when watching it with a community. Which means it was made for the big screen. It’s purely, I think, 100% a movie about compassion. And not in any kind of preachy way or instructive way, just in the sense of if we pay attention to each other as human beings then the human race has a chance….and I think that idea of community is sort of the first step in trying to deal with this huge problem of homelessness.”
“Time Out Of Mind” premieres on Sunday, September 7th at TIFF.