“There’s a fair amount of debate over which you should see first,” filmmaker Morgan Neville told the crowd at an International Documentary Association screening of his latest doc, “They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead,” about the making of Orson Welles’ final, previously unfinished film.
The documentary and a completed version of Welles’ movie, “The Other Side of the Wind,” are both available to watch on Netflix, though Neville said, “they were not meant to come out together.”
The “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” director began working with the new producers of “Wind” four years ago, when they thought they were going to get the previously unseen footage (which had been locked in a vault for decades due to legal disputes) in just a few weeks. They would finish “Wind,” and Neville would make a documentary about the making of the film. But then those “few weeks” turned into years, until Neville finally received the footage while in the middle of making “Neighbor.”
“It just became this insane process of them making the feature film, me making the documentary,” he said. “The film itself, the thing that hit me…the film is by far the most avant-garde film of his career.”
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While he’s now seen the finished product, he knows he won’t be able to watch it the same way as everyone else. “I found it fascinating, but I was seeing it through such a unique prism that I don’t think I’ll be able to see it [objectively] for years.”
Neville’s goal for his own project was to give audiences a glimpse at Welles’ mindset in the final years of his life, which Neville calls “the least understood period.” Welles had been living in Europe for decades, and was viewed as a has-been in Hollywood because, Neville says, “nobody saw the work he was doing in that time.”
The film isn’t a biography — “Orson lived a huge life, and there’s no way to do that in less than 20 hours,” Neville said — and instead borrows its structure from Welles’ own “F for Fake.” “It’s the real documentary Orson made in his life,” Neville said, adding, “It’s about fakery and fakers and ultimately the truth.”
But as for the truth of Welles’ final film, don’t sweat the details.
“It’s Orson,” Neville said. “Truth is the fool’s journey when it comes to Orson.”
Both “They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead” and “The Other Side of the Wind” are available to stream on Netflix.
The IDA Documentary Screening Series brings some of the year’s most acclaimed documentary films to the IDA community and members of industry guilds and organizations. Films selected for the Series receive exclusive access to an audience of tastemakers and doc lovers during the important Awards campaigning season from September through November. For more information about the series, and a complete schedule, visit IDA.