The Tribune (SLO) - - Ticket - BY LIND­SEY BAHR As­so­ci­ated Press

To say film­maker Ava Duver­nay is a busy woman is an un­der­state­ment, but when Turner Clas­sic Movies called and asked her to curate the chan­nel’s “The Es­sen­tials” se­ries, she knew she had to make it work.

Usu­ally “The Es­sen­tials” is filmed across two or three days. But the only way it would fit in with Duver­nay’s sched­ule – which in­cluded edit­ing her “Cen­tral Park Five” Netflix minis­eries and prep­ping the DC film “New Gods” – was if she and TCM host Ben Mankiewicz ru­mi­nated about 17 films in one marathon day.

The new sea­son, which launches Satur­day, will in­clude widely known films like “West Side Story,” “Dog Day Af­ter­noon” and “Gandhi” as well as films that may not be as fa­mil­iar, like “Los­ing Ground.” The As­so­ci­ated Press got a front-row seat to the con­ver­sa­tions be­tween Duver­nay and TCM host Ben Mankiewicz at the tap­ing last month in Los An­ge­les.

It was a film lover’s dream tun­ing into the in-depth dia­logues be­tween the two cin­ema fiends. Their talk­ing con­tin­ued even af­ter the cam­eras stopped rolling, from the pro­nun­ci­a­tion of ac­tor John Cazale’s name to Queen Latifah’s at­tempt to make a film about singer Ethel Wa­ters and whether or not it was ap­pro­pri­ate to dis­cuss Lena Horne’s per­sonal affairs. The two didn’t shy away from talk­ing about films that may be prob­lem­atic now but were im­por­tant at the time ei­ther, like Vin­cente Min­nelli’s “Cabin in the Sky,” which was the first mu­si­cal to fea­ture a cast of all African Amer­i­cans.

There’s no deny­ing it was a long day, with a wardrobe change and ev­ery­thing, but it was worth it for both.

“It’s like we’re go­ing on a sec­ond date,” Duver­nay said as she walked onto the iconic liv­ing room set – where the fire is fake but the books are real – in her sec­ond out­fit of the day. “I’ve changed my clothes. You have, too.”

“And I didn’t even wait three days to call you,” Mankiewicz said.

Some of the films Mankiewicz had never seen be­fore Duver­nay put them on her list, like Haile Ger­ima’s “Ashes and Em­bers,” about a Viet­nam veteran re­turn­ing home, and Kath­leen Collins’ semi­au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal “Los­ing Ground,” both from 1982. Oth­ers he had seen be­fore, but said he ap­pre­ci­ates in a dif­fer­ent way af­ter his talks with Duver­nay, like “Dog Day Af­ter­noon,” “Harlan County U.S.A.” and “The Bat­tle of Al­giers,” which he now counts among his top 10 or 15 fa­vorite films.

In­deed, part of the rea­son for hav­ing a film­maker like Duver­nay col­lab­o­rate for the se­ries is be­cause of the unique per­spec­tive she’d bring as a black woman film­maker.

Duver­nay pro­grammed doc­u­men­taries, first fea­tures and im­por­tant films by black film­mak­ers like Julie Dash, who di­rected and pro­duced the ground­break­ing film “Daugh­ters of the Dust.” She also in­cluded works from fe­male di­rec­tors like the late Agnes Varda’s first film “La Point Courte” and Chan­tal Ak­er­man’s “The Meet­ings of Anna”; in­ter­na­tional films that had a pro­found ef­fect on her, like Satya­jit Ray’s de­but “Pather Pan­chali”; and im­por­tant land­marks in rep­re­sen­ta­tion, like “Sounder” and “Clau­dine.”

“Peo­ple who love movies ben­e­fit from think­ing glob­ally about film – glob­ally lit­er­ally and glob­ally fig­u­ra­tively,” Mankiewicz said. “In Amer­ica, we had a class sys­tem that kept more than half the peo­ple out of be­ing the lead­ing voice in mak­ing this art form, and Ava is prov­ing to be a con­duit for help­ing us un­lock that.”

In fact, in mak­ing her se­lec­tions, Duver­nay chose a num­ber of films that weren’t in the TCM li­brary at all, in­clud­ing both “Los­ing Ground” and “Ashes and Em­bers.”

Duver­nay said there wasn’t a deep bench of black film­mak­ers in the cat­a­log, but that TCM was “re­ally re­spon­sive in go­ing out and get­ting those li­censes” in or­der to air the films for a wide au­di­ence.

Duver­nay still re­calls the first movie that in­spired her to her even­tual path in film­mak­ing – “West Side Story.” It was her aunt that in­tro­duced it to her, and she can barely con­tain her in­fec­tious gid­di­ness while dis­cussing.

“It was such a sem­i­nal mo­ment for me,” Duver­nay said.

She’s hop­ing the films that she chose for “The Es­sen­tials” might have that same ef­fect on some­one else.

“To think that you could, hope­fully, at­tract new au­di­ences to TCM to watch some of this and to think that it could change peo­ple in the way it changed me was re­ally ex­cit­ing,” she said.

Duver­nay is look­ing for­ward to au­di­ences dis­cov­er­ing 1982’s “Los­ing Ground” and Kath­leen Collins in par­tic­u­lar, who she con­sid­ers on par with any of the white male con­tem­po­raries of the time, like, “a Woody Allen, per se.” The film was never re­leased be­yond screen­ings at film fes­ti­vals and Collins died in 1988 at 46.

“It was just a slice of life from her per­spec­tive and yet be­cause she was a woman and be­cause she was black it went nowhere,” Duver­nay said. “And now that film has been for­got­ten by so many – not even for­got­ten, it’s never been known.”

She con­tin­ued, “That’s one that es­pe­cially as a black woman film­maker, I feel so con­nected to want­ing to make sure peo­ple know her, know that she ex­isted, know what she said and what she put out in the world and to re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate that she just was.”

And Mankiewicz was more than happy to sit and lis­ten and learn.

“She was very ea­ger to talk about these movies which were very im­por­tant to her,” he said. “But the real ben­e­fi­cia­ries are TCM fans. We win in this deal.”


Di­rec­tor Ava Duver­nay is bring­ing 17 of her fa­vorite clas­sic films to Turner Clas­sic Movies’ “The Es­sen­tials” se­ries. At left is host Ben Mankiewicz.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.