Di­rec­tor tells whole truth, noth­ing but truth

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Ran­dall King

AT a re­cent screen­ing of A.K.A. Doc Po­mus at the Full Frame Doc­u­men­tary Film Fes­ti­val in Durham, N.C., Will Hechter, the film’s co-di­rec­tor, looked around and no­ticed that the ma­jor­ity of his fel­low film­mak­ers tended to be in their early 20s.

In­deed, Hechter no­ticed he was of­ten the old­est guy in the room.

A.K.A. Doc Po­mus is his first di­rect­ing credit. Hechter is 66.

The Win­nipeg-born Hechter is best known as a lawyer. He grad­u­ated from Har­vard with a mas­ter of law in 1974 and has worked in crim­i­nal law as both a prose­cu­tor and de­fence coun­sel. Along the way, he also founded and pub­lished a mag­a­zine — Cana­dian Lawyer — and more re­cently took on man­ag­ing a Toronto in­vest­ment firm, Ex­cal­ibur Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment.

But he has also long nur­tured the film bug, dat­ing back to the late ’60s and early ’70s in Win­nipeg, when he used to pro­gram for­eign art films for the city’s first art-house cin­ema, Cin­ema 3, at the cor­ner of Sher­brook and El­lice.

“I al­ways wanted to, be­fore I pass on, make a few films,” Hechter says on the phone from Toronto.

He be­gan that phase of his ca­reer in earnest, pro­duc­ing the 2010 doc­u­men­tary Jews and Base­ball: An Amer­i­can Love Story, a Dustin Hoff­man­nar­rated film di­rected by Peter Miller.

“We got very lucky with that,” Hechter says. “It played every­where and PBS picked it up, so it’s still play­ing on PBS.”

(Look at the film’s IMDb pro­file and you can spot an­other clue to Hechter’s Man­i­toba her­itage. His pro­duc­tion com­pany is called Clear Lake His­tor­i­cal Pro­duc­tions.)

Hechter teamed with Miller in a more ac­tive ca­pac­ity on A.K.A. Doc Po­mus, a movie ex­am­in­ing the ca­reer of po­lio-af­flicted song­writer Jerome Felder, who con­trib­uted to some of the most pop­u­lar tunes of the ’50s and ’60s, in­clud­ing Save the Last Dance For Me, This Magic Mo­ment, Turn Me Loose and Sus­pi­cion.

“That’s what kind of mu­sic we lis­tened to all the time, that Brill Build­ing mu­sic,” Hechter says, re­fer­ring to the New York in­sti­tu­tion that housed famed song­writ­ing teams in­clud­ing Leiber and Stoller, Ca­role King and Gerry Gof­fin, and Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

“First I wanted to do a film on all the Brill Build­ing writ­ers, but I re­al­ized that was much too mas­sive,” Hechter says.

“So I then came across a book writ­ten on Doc Po­mus’s life by Alex Hal­ber­stadt, a bi­og­ra­phy that I just loved. What an in­cred­i­ble char­ac­ter and story! In­spi­ra­tional! Ev­ery­thing was there.”

In a more hands-on ca­pac­ity, Hechter found his ex­pe­ri­ence cross-ex­am­in­ing wit­nesses served him well do­ing in­ter­views with the film’s sub- jects, in­clud­ing Felder’s fam­ily and a mul­ti­tude of mu­si­cians.

“Per­haps it gives you more of an ease in talk­ing to peo­ple for the first time, much like you’re talk­ing to a wit­ness from the other side,” Hechter says. “It’s very im­por­tant to put peo­ple at ease.”

Find­ing the fund­ing for the film was not as ar­du­ous a process as it could have been. Hechter dis­cov­ered that since it had ed­u­ca­tional merit, it could be reg­is­tered as a non-profit char­ity.

“I never wanted to go to friends of mine and say, ‘I want you to in­vest in a film.’ That’s silly, be­cause most films don’t make any money. You would just have some an­gry friends,” he says.

“So what we were able to do was con­vince the Cana­dian govern­ment that th­ese films were ed­u­ca­tional, on the ac­com­plish­ments of Jews in so­ci­ety, whether they were in mu­sic, science, sports, and ev­ery­one said OK.

“So they gave us a char­i­ta­ble li­cence, and I re­ally wanted that li­cence, so per­sons I would ap­proach would know ex­actly what they’re get­ting into and they could get a tax re­ceipt.

“I have no in­vestors in the film; I have donors,” he says.

“The idea was to get the film shown as widely as pos­si­ble and then af­ter the film has had its ini­tial run at fes­ti­vals or on tele­vi­sion, we take it upon our­selves to dis­trib­ute th­ese films through­out li­braries in Canada and the U.S., and through­out schools, so it be­comes part of a li­brary col­lec­tion by way of a DVD.

“The film works as a trav­el­ling mu­seum. It’s al­ways there. And that is the idea.”

Hechter isn’t stop­ping with the Doc Po­mus doc, but for now, he is keep­ing his own coun­sel about his next pro­ject. He only says he’s not done be­ing a film­maker yet.

“It’s one way of keep­ing go­ing. You want to be in­volved,” he says. “It’s some­thing I was driven to do­ing.”

Above left, lawyer-turned-film­maker Will Hechter; above, Mort Shuman, left, and Doc Po­mus.

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