Documentary filmmaker, 87
I’ve made 43 documentaries so far. Maybe I should make three-minute movies so I can reach 50. That means people would watch them on mobile phones? Oh God, no. I think it’s horrible to watch a movie on a phone. It completely destroys the quality, the image, the sound.
Paris is a beautiful city. I’ve lived here the last 12 years but I go home to Maine, to my house there, every July and August. For a major city, Paris is very small and you can walk everywhere. I like the architecture and I like the different neighbourhoods. I go to the theatre a lot and the ballet a lot. There’s an interesting intellectual life here in which I participate to some small extent. And the food’s really good.
I have no idea why people are saying that now is a “golden age” for documentaries. A lot of the new movies I see, documentary and fiction, are terrible.
In Maine, I live in an old barn on top of a little hill, with a big blueberry field below. I go into the field with my children and grandchildren and pick blueberries. There’s nothing to do but ride my bike, pick blueberries with my children and grandchildren, and eat lobster.
I was very pleased The New York Times picked my movie In Jackson Heights  as one of the 25 best films of the 21st century. Often documentaries are considered not in the same class as fiction films, but the critics of the Times recognise that documentaries are also movies, and that’s nice.
I like my films to be seen by a wide audience, but in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter. I don’t want to dilute material to reach a wide audience. If you do that, it’s extremely condescending to the potential viewer because it’s based on the assumption that the viewer is not intelligent, sensitive or sophisticated. And that is a lot of bullshit.
My first thought when being shot at was to get out of the way of the bullets—I’m not stupid. Making Law and Order , we were riding around in a police car in Kansas City and answered a domestic violence call. A father and a son were shooting at each other. Our arrival immediately solved their dispute because they started to shoot at us. Not very accurately, fortunately.
Any marriage that endures requires work. Each has to be attentive to the other’s needs and interests. My wife is very supportive of my work, and I try to be supportive of hers.
I was 36 when I made my first film. A late bloomer. I did it because I didn’t like what I was doing. I’d gone to law school and was teaching law. I was bored out of my mind.
Making one of these movies is like parachuting into a new country. I got to spend six weeks in a welfare centre in New York [ Welfare, 1975], a couple of months in a juvenile court in Tennessee [ Juvenile Court, 1973], and ride around the countryside in West Germany near the Czech border in a tank [ Manoeuvre, 1979]. It may sound adolescent of me, but it’s fun to ride around in tanks, and the back of police cars [ Law and Order] or hang out with models in New York while I’m making a movie about a model agency [ Model, 1980]. I get a chance to observe and, to a certain extent, participate in other worlds and think about the experience in the following year when I’m trying to make a movie out of the material. It beats working for a living.
My mother would get home from work or shopping and imitate people. It was like having my own theatre at home. She only needed 20 seconds to get someone’s expressions and gestures down cold. She was very, very funny. That may have had some influence in me becoming a documentary filmmaker, having a master comedienne in the house showing me human behaviours.
Iamsomeone who neither likes to receive or give advice. I’m very wary of giving advice. My answer to young filmmakers asking for my advice is: marry rich.
If I have any regrets, I am certainly not going to tell you what they are. They’re private. Of course I have regrets. I’ve never met anyone who talks seriously or directly about their life who didn’t say they have regrets. As the cliché goes, I’m a private person, and you may find that strange in someone who shows aspects of other people’s private lives. It’s not strange, it’s paradoxical.
Stop working? Oh God, that would be horrible. I’ve seen too many people I know when they stop working get sick or they died. And I like to work. I don’t find it a strain. Apart from raising the money, the rest of it gives me a great deal of pleasure. As long as I’m physically and mentally up to it, I don’t see any reason to stop. In fact, working will keep me mentally and physically alert longer than if I stopped working.
My younger self would be surprised at the life I’ve made for myself. My older self is certainly surprised. It’s hard, but extremely interesting work. I’ve lucked out.
I’m a great fan of the Marx Brothers. Duck Soup  and A Day at the Races  I could watch endlessly and still laugh. I also like Wes Anderson’s movies and Paul Thomas Anderson, who made Boogie Nights —that is a great movie.
Would I let someone film me while I made a movie? Absolutely of course not. You knew the answer to that question before it was asked.