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Cannes 2015 Women Directors: Meet Nancy Buirski – ‘By Sidney Lumet’

Cannes 2015 Women Directors: Meet Nancy Buirski - 'By Sidney Lumet'

Nancy Buirski is the director, producer and writer of “Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq,” which had its world premiere at the 51st
New York Film Festival and its international premiere at the 64th Berlinale. She is
the director, producer and writer of the Peabody- and Emmy-winning “The
Loving Story” (2011) (HBO). The film was included in the shortlist for the 2011
Academy Awards and received the WGA Screenwriters Award at Silverdocs. It was
selected for Sundance’s Film Forward, the US State Department’s American Film
Showcase and has screened at The White House. Buirski will next direct “Endangered,” a live-action/animated narrative based on Eliot Schrefer’s
award-winning book of that title.

Buirski founded and was the Director of the
Full Frame Documentary Film Festival for 10 years. Prior to her work in film,
Buirski was the Foreign Picture Editor at The New York Times, garnering the
paper its first Pulitzer Prize in photography. (Press materials) 

By Sidney Lumet” will premiere at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival on May 15. 

W&H: Please
give us your description of the film playing.

NB: “By Sidney Lumet” is a documentary film portrait of the work and life of one of the most
accomplished and influential directors in the history of cinema. His strongly
moral tales captured the dilemmas and concerns of a society struggling with
essentials — how does one behave to others and to oneself? Though spiritual and
ethical lessons are at the core of his work, they are not didactic.

His films
are both powerfully dramatic and wildly entertaining, for Mr. Lumet was first
and foremost a storyteller. In a rare, never-before-seen interview, we are
privileged to have Sidney Lumet tell his own story just a few years before his
death. With candor, humor and grace, he reveals what matters to him as an
artist and as a human being.

W&H: What
drew you to this story?

NB: I love trying to grasp and, if lucky, depict the creative
process. If I’m truly fortunate, I hope to penetrate deeply and get a sense of
one’s soul. Sidney Lumet is an iconic filmmaker and gave many interviews over
his lifetime, but the interview, shot by Daniel Anker in 2008, was deep and
broad and offered me an opportunity to distill from it what appeared to matter
most to Mr. Lumet. D.A. Pennebaker said it best: “Every artist wants to have a
chance to talk about what matters.”

W&H: What
was the biggest challenge in making the film?

NB: The interview I referred to was made over a 3-5 day period — 18 hours! It did not lend itself to a linear approach, nor a biographical
one. It was as if he were having a conversation with his viewers. But I still
needed a storyline. Finding that within his musings, anecdotes and memories
was a challenge. Likewise, I had no desire to use his films to simply
illustrate what he was saying — this was not show and tell. I wanted to use them
in a deeper, more organic way as part of his reflections and his worldview. It
was a challenge I adored!

W&H: What
do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theatre?

NB: More than anything, I want them to have a deep appreciation
for this artist and artists in general — the subtle, organic ways a person’s
life informs their work. I want them to respect Mr. Lumet’s discipline, his
work ethic and his excitement about his craft. I’d be especially gratified if
they grasp how deeply embedded his morality was, so that it informed almost
every film he made. He was honest and generous in both his work and, indeed, in
this interview, and we are the beneficiaries.

W&H: What
advice do you have for other female directors?

NB: Make movies that mean something to you. Make them personal
and let that passion drive you and the work. If so, you’ll not be tempted to
give up when the doors appear to shut.

W&H: What’s
the biggest misconception about you and your work?

NB: I’ve been fortunate to have directed and produced three documentaries
in six seemingly short years that have resonated with audiences. They were fundamentally
good subjects, great stories to tell, but they were also labor-intensive and
could not have been made without the collaboration of great partners, producers
and editors. None of this is easy — we all know this and respect the dedication
of the teams that are needed to make meaningful work. Directors get most of the
credit, and though I’m proud of the creative choices that drive my films, this is never accomplished alone.

W&H: How
did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.

NB: I was invited by Michael Kantor at American Masters to pursue
this project. They had funded the original interview with Mr. Lumet in 2008.
Unfortunately, due to many circumstances and the untimely death of Daniel Anker
last year, the film had not been made. I was thrilled to jump on board in a
co-production. Initial development came
through foundations and individuals and has been enhanced by the significant
support of RatPac Documentary Films and Matador.

W&H: Name your
favorite woman-directed film and why.

NB: Too
many to name! I hope to find more at Cannes!

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