Buck – My Interview with director, Cindy Meehl

Buck opens at the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville, TN this Friday, July 1.
I sat down with Cindy Meehl, director of Buck, inside the VIP Tent at the 2011 Nashville Film Festival this past April on a lovely Sunday afternoon.  What had originally been planned as a half an hour interview suddenly became a conversation that lasted over an hour.  Here is a bit of what she had to say regarding herself, her background and her documentary, Buck.
1) CH: How did you go from not making documentaries to making documentaries?
CM: Because I do have horses and I grew up riding horses.  I grew up taking copious amounts of lessons and thought I knew a lot and when someone exposed me to this type of horsemanship it was such an immediate epiphany.  It’s like you suddenly see the truth.  It’s so obvious because there’s always something that doesn’t sit right with you about people and maybe the way they are training kids and you see them training horses and there is a brutality about it.  There’s almost a dictatorship about it and this is much more of a partnership and I was so wowed by it…it’s really basically a common sense concept.  I had some troubled horses, but I kind of could manhandle into going over jumps.  I felt really sad because I thought that if I had known this then I would have had such an amazing time with that horse.  I thought that the group of people that followed him and the way that he teaches…really filters into your every day life.  There’s so much cross-over into raising kids or raising a family.  There’s a lot of leadership about what he’s teaching. 
2) CH: People in the film had epiphanies and started feeling bad for how they had treated their horses.  Did you have same reaction?
CM: I did, I really did.  I originally was exposed to it through [Buck’s] friend, Verne.  It was like changing your religion.  Suddenly I realized, somebody has a better way and I said, “I don’t think I ever knew anything about horses until now”.  After all the time I had put in on horses, that was a humbling moment.
3) CH: Then you went to Buck’s clinic?
CM: I went to one of Buck’s clinics after that and then I was really wowed.  I was still in such awe, “Why don’t people talk about this and teach it”?  He was really funny, you know?  I think that comes across a little bit in the movie.  He has a real dry wit so I was laughing a lot, yet intimidated because you’re so humbled because you realize, “I’ve got so far to learn to really communicate with a horse with that sensitivity”.  You’ll work at it your whole life.
4) CH: What have you learned from Buck to enrich your family and personal life?
CM: I think the thing about not whining about anything.  You really learn to just shut up about excuses.  I like people that do what they say they’re going to do and work hard at it.  I have two girls and I always wanted them to grow up and follow their dreams and you can’t rely on somebody else to make you happy.  You have to get out there and work.  Whatever you’re doing, if you put your heart and soul in it and you work hard you’re going to find your happiness there.  A lot of people depend on their mate or spouse to make them happy and those are the people that are the most miserable.
5) CH: There are repeat customers?  People continually go to Buck’s clinics?
CM: If you go to a clinic and you think, “I got it and I don’t need to come back” then you’re really not a candidate for this horsemanship.  If you understand it at all, what you understand is that you’ll never understand it all.  You’ll never master this.  You realize that animal sensitive that we all wish we had, you’re always striving for.  The people that really get it are the people that will come back.  It’s a real devotion.
6) CH: The lady with crazy horse…does that happen often at Buck’s clinics?
CM: He’s pretty blatant, up front with people.  People do cry sometimes because he’ll say things to you that maybe you don’t want to hear.  A lot of people will say “Ya, I just want him to chew me out because I need it”.  He doesn’t mince words.  He’s going to tell it like it is.  It’s a very humbling experience to go ride with him.  He will say things in a way that makes you think.
7) CH: How did the making of the movie happen? 
CM: After going to about 3 of [Buck’s] clinics…I was so moved by what he was doing and how inspiring he was.  Then I thought, “Somebody should do it now because he’s so good and I thought he’s the best out there…well why don’t I just do it?”  Because I hate to wait around when I have an idea and I just think it should be done.  So I went up and asked him at McGginis meadow ranch.  He was sitting at a table by himself and I just went up and asked him if he’d ever thought about doing it.  He said, “No.”  I said, “Would you like to?” and he said “Yes.”  I said, “Well I would like to do it” and he said “Okay” and he wrote his number on a little piece of paper which I kept.  I laugh; it was like a two minute conversation.  I had a camera crew out there about two months later.  I don’t think he or I ever envisioned that two and a half years later we’d still have a camera on him.
8) CH:  Would you do anything different about the filming process.
CM: I was learning as I went, you know, because honestly, in hindsight, when I started I realized how naïve I was.  I had a really good editor and team.  Toby Shimin is so amazing.  I have to give Toby a lot of credit.  One thing I would do different…I would fly to Wisconsin and get a sound byte from Smokey [Buck’s brother]. Because the question seriously that’s been asked at every single film festival after every screening, if I do a QA, it is “What happened to Smokey”. 
9) CH: How much directing Buck did you have to do?
CM: Oh no, you don’t direct Buck Brannaman.
10) CH: What was Sundance like?
CM: Sundance was a dream.  To me in my heart that’s where I wanted to premiere it seemed the natural thing to do to be out West.  It’s visually such a Western story.  So it was my dream come true.  And then beyond that to be able to sell it at Sundance was very amazing and gratifying.  It was rewarding because I had just poured my heart and soul into it.  It was a true passion project.  I also felt really strongly that I wanted to do a documentary…I thought in this particular time that people were so starving for some inspirational story and a hope story…and that was a real motive behind this as well.  This guy, he works his butt off and he never complains.  He’s in gale force winds, he’s in drenching rains and he will not bat an eye.  He’s so tough about that and he doesn’t believe in excuses.  A lot of people say, “Well, how did it turn out so good?” and I say “Because it’s Buck Brannaman”.  You kind of wouldn’t deliver him a half-ass movie.  It’s a lot about discovering your own humanity through the horse.   So you really have to start looking at “Why am I making excuses?  Why aren’t I just working harder?” There’s no room for excuses in his world.  His motto is “If it’s not working just change it.”  So if things weren’t working in this film I would change it or if I thought I didn’t have the footage I needed I would go get iit.

11) CH: Were the time lapse and landscaping shots important to you for the film?
CM: You have to have it to set the tone and give people breathing room…to let their mind rest.  I wanted it to be a really engaging film because otherwise people were going to just pass it by and that whole idea and message would never get out there.
12) CH: What kind of input did you have in the music of the film, especially regarding the song, “Just Breathe” by Eddie Vedder ?
CM: I was very involved.  A friend of mine knew someone doing a documentary on Pearl Jam and she got the film to their manager and the manager liked it.
13) CH: Do you get emotional during the screenings?
CM: There’s one scene at the very end where he’s cantering away in the film…that always makes me tear up.  There’s something about it that gets me every time.
14) CH: What is your favorite memory from filming?
CM: When he was roping.  He did that for 20 minutes and the rope did not touch the ground.  It sort of lets you know what a perfectionist he is that he can still do that today.
15) CH: What was it like interviewing Robert Redford for the film?
CM: He was amazing.  He’s so smart and so amazing and so articulate.  He thinks on his feet.  He’s almost intimidating.  He’s so awe-inspiring.  I was so impressed with him.  He’s phenomenal.  I came away with this huge respect for him.  That was a big highlight.  Talk about intimidating though, to suddenly never direct a movie and you’re sitting in front of Robert Redford asking him questions.
16) CH: So you were in fashion?
CM: I was, but that was in my 20’s it was a long time ago.  I designed clothing and sold it across the country.  It was more high end evening wear is what I specialized in. 
17) CH: What was the progression from fashion to docs?
CM: I was living in New York.  I got married when I was about 30 and moved out to Connecticut. And at that time I was kind of done with the fashion business.  It was a soul-searching moment and I thought, “I really don’t like this business and I don’t want to do it.”  I’m very much a “follow your heart and dreams” and at the time I thought that’s what I wanted to do, but after being in it for about 7 years, nothing is as glamorous as it sounds.  It’s all hard work so you’ve either got to live it or not.  So I just got married, went to Connecticut, had children, but I also was doing fine art.  So I started painting more…and was doing photography.  I was always doing something creative so it didn’t seem like such a huge jump.  
18) CH: What is your favorite documentary?
CM: I really liked Man on Wire.  I was living in New York when that happened and it was sort of a non-event.  It was like “Oh, some nut walked across a wire down there”, but when you realized what went on…it’s so phenomenal that he didn’t fall off.  And I think too why that was so powerful is that they never addressed 911…that little extra impact of not talking about 911 and it’s in everybody’s hearts…and the fact that they didn’t play on that at all and how can you not think about that almost throughout the thing on some level and that’s what made it to me so powerful it’s like here this guy is and he’s dancing between these structures that are so just mammoth and they don’t exist anymore and it’s because of the state of the world today.  It was so profound.
19) CH: Who is your favorite artist?
CM: Basquiat
CH: Who inspired you as a young woman in the fashion industry?
CM: Audrey Hepburn, Jacki O., Lagerfield, Donna Karen, Vivien Westwood.  I draw creative juices from everywhere.  I’m so visually inspired.  It does get hard for me to sometimes to pick a favorite because I draw from everything, visually…and things that have an emotional impact; usually, if it strikes me in an emotional way whether it’s a painting or a dress.   I would watch old movies a lot to get inspiration for clothes. 
20) CH: If you could keep 1 album for the rest of your live which would you choose?
CM: Norah Jones’ first album [Come Away With Me]
21) CH: What is your favorite film of all time?
CM: I like these old films like, The Philadelphia Story.  I like Out of Africa.  I liked the Hangover because it was hysterically funny.  All About Eve, Sunset Boulevard.
22) CH: Do you have a next project?
CM: I do.  I have a couple of things that we’re working on, but I don’t want to jinx them because nothing is started up per se.  Everybody asks you that, you get a successful film and it just seems the obvious thing to do.  “Oh, I guess I have to go do it again” and then you have to really look at your reasons…you have to do some soul searching.  I know one thing, if I don’t feel passionate about it from my own point of view …and also my criteria is that if it won’t help people…and inspire them…lift people up or give them tools to lift themselves up.  I feel very strongly about that.  I can guarantee you I won’t do anything that doesn’t do that.
Buck opens at the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville, TN this Friday, July 1.  The film is a hit with both horse people and non-horse people alike.  In response to the wide-range of audience that the film has touched Cindy says, ”I’m really happy about how people are responding.  That makes it all worth it.” A very special thanks to Cindy Meehl for being generous enough with her time to sit down for an interview during what I know was a very busy week for her. 
Be sure to watch Buck Brannaman’s appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman Also, check out Buck Brannaman’s website for, news, DVD’s, Books and clinic schedule at http://www.brannaman.com/
Buck, the film, has achieved a great amount of success for such a small film.  The film won the Audience Award at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and the 2011 Full Frame Awards.  The film won the Best Documentary award at the 2011 Provincetown International Film Festival and Crossroads Film Festival.  Buck also became the official selection at 2011 SXSW Film Festival, True/False Film Festival, 2011 Silverdocs, Documentary Fesitval, 2011 Seattle International Film Festival, Nantucket Film,m Festival, 2011 Independent Film Festival Boston and the 2011 Deauville American Film Festival.  


Super 8 ***

At what point does an homage become a rip-off?
Super 8 isn’t the best movie ever made.  It introduces no new ideas regarding sci-fi or aliens or monsters and neither does it break new ground regarding plot or special effects.  But Super 8 captures that feeling of being young.  And specifically, being young and pretending to be an adult.  For those of us that grew up on Goonies, E.T. and Stand By Me, Super 8 takes us back; drawing a very thin line between adulthood and childhood.  Sometimes it takes the children to teach the adults.  Sometimes it takes the children to save the day.  Super 8 takes the best thing about being young and reminds us what it’s like to be that way again.  You’ve heard it said and will hear it again that Super 8 is nostalgic.  Well, that’s true. There’s no agenda, there’s no hidden message.  There’s absolutely nothing behind this film except a director who is desperate to help us remember what it’s like to be a kid.
However, the film gets rocky when other added elements come into play and derail it a bit.  Super 8 is about the growing up of a young boy, Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), who has just lost his mother at a point in his life where it seems he needs her most.  The death of his mother seems to have created a chasm between himself and his father…or at least exposed it.  Here the film seems to impose upon us the tiny subplot of the two fathers, Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler) and Louis Dainard (Ron Eldard), of the main characters, Joe and Alice (Elle Fanning), Jackson and Louis overcome their very troubled and strained  relationship all in the name of their children.  There being a rather deep-seeded hatred between the two involving the death of Joe’s mother, this resolution feels rushed and unrealistic.
Also, the film tries to shoe-horn in this brow-furrowing storyline involving an alien. Whether accidental or on purpose, the alien looked strikingly similar to the Cloverfield monster, a film which Abrams produced.  This alien aspect of Super 8 also seemed a bit unoriginal.  All the alien wants to do is go home and when the alien touches a human an immediate understanding flows between the two of them.   We’ve seen this before, but this does not feel nostalgic at all.  It feels copied.  It goes from having a throwback, “Golden Age” feeling (wink, wink) to a paint-by-number scheme.  I can’t help but think about the line from Chasing Amy, “You’re a tracer”.  If the film were simply about the kids, then it would have been much better.  Abrams gave us hints and resemblances to older films close to the hearts of Super 8’s target audience, yet keeps in a bit of his own style.  However, with the alien sequence, he seemingly lifted straight from another source.
So the question becomes: At what point does an homage become a rip-off?  When it stops “inking” and starts “tracing”. 
For further Super 8 discussion you’ll want to check out the podcasts below:
FilmNerds Roundtable – where myself and several other film nerds discuss their thoughts on Super 8.
Cinematrimony – where my married friends, Matt and Francesca Scallici watch a movie together and discuss it.

Second Saturday Outdoor Cinema – Belcourt theatre

The Belcourt theatre’s annual Second Saturday Outdoor Cinema is upon us once again.  Every second Saturday throughout the months of June through September, the Belcourt sets up a projector in the parking lot at sunset and screens a film on the walls of the theatre itself..  All Second Saturday Outdoor Cinema screenings throughout the summer are free and open to the public.  Nashville residents bring chairs, blankets, snacks and enjoy the evening temperature and the fun atmosphere of Hillsboro Village while they watch a movie outdoors.  This summer long program gets kicked off this Saturday, June 11 with The Blues Brothers.  See below for the dates and times of all the movies screening at the Second Saturday Outdoor Cinema.
The Blues Brothers – June 11
Directed by John Landis in 1980, The Blues Brothers is a classic road trip comedy and stars John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as Jake & Elwood Blues as the go out on their “mission from God’ through various shenanigans and mishaps.  The film also has cameos from such blues legends as Ray Charles, James Brown and Aretha Franklin.  It will be a great experience watching this film outdoors with others.
Destry Rides Again – July 9
Destry Rides Again is a 1939 Western directed by George Marshall, who directed “The Railroad” segment of How the West Was Won.  Jimmy Stewart and Marlene Dietrich star in this Western about an unlawful town controlled by a corrupt mayor and saloon owner.
Wargames – August 13
Directed by John Badham in 1983, Wargames stars Matthew Broderick as a hacker that accidentally sets off a nuclear war scare when he hacks into a government war simulation.  The film also stars fellow 80’s regulars, Ally Sheedy and John Wood.  Check out FilmNerds front-man Matt Scalici’s great write-up of Wargames.
Psycho – September 10
Psycho was directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1960 and is one of the greatest films ever made.  If you see only one Second Saturday Outdoor Cinema film this year, make sure this is the one.  The Nashville September weather coupled with the fantastic audience involvement will create a terrific atmosphere in which to watch this film.
Come to the Belcourt theatre every second Saturday just before sunset and enjoy these rare film experiences.  Afterwards, stick around and enjoy the great night life in Hillsboro Village.

Tuesday’s with Terrence Malick – The Belcourt Theatre

Terrence Malick doesn’t make movies very often.  In fact, in his over 40 year career, Malick has only made 5 feature length films.  This coupled with a very artistic and unique style of filmmaking and cinematography has created an almost legendary status for him.  The Tree of Life is the reclusive director’s first film in 6 years.  The Belcourt theatre will begin a run of The Tree of Life starting Friday, June 24.  However, in typical Belcourt fashion, every Tuesday in the month of June the theatre will be screening all 5 Terrence Malick films in the order of which they were made.  They call it Tuesday’s with Terrence Malick.
June 7 – Badlands (1973)
Badlands is Malick’s first and one of his best reviewed films.  It debuted at the 1973 New York Film Festival alongside Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets.  Badlands is a crime drama that takes place in the 50’s and stars Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek. 
June 14 – Days of Heaven (1978)
Days of Heaven is a romance drama set in the early 1900’s about two lovers with no money looking for harvesting work.  Days of Heaven was nominated for Costume Design, Original Score (Ennio Morricone), Sound Mixing and won the Oscar for Best Cinematography.
June 21 – The Thin Red Line (1998)
The Thin Red Line is a World War II drama centered on a group of soldiers in C Company at the Battle of Mount Austen in Guadalcanal.  The film has a great cast which includes Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, Jim Caviezel, George Cloony and John Travolta among many others.  The fact that this is a war film does not take away from Malick’s ability to add incredibly artistic elements to the film, especially in the aspects of cinematography and free-floating, poetic narration.  The Thin Red Line was nominated for Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, Sound Mixing, Cinematography and Film Editing.
June 28 – The New World (2005)                                                               
The New World is Malick’s most recent work prior to Tree of Life.  The film stars Collin Farrell, Christopher Plummer and Christian Bale in a tale about Pocahontas, Captain John Smith and the founding of Jamestown, Virginia.  The New World was nominated for Best Cinematography.
June 24 – The Tree of Life (2011)
The Tree of Life premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and won the Palme d’Or, which is the highest prize at the festival.  So far, it is one of Malick’s highest reviewed films and stars Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, centering on a 1950’s Texas family. 
So, if one were so inclined, one would be able to view Terrence Malick’s entire body of work in just one month.  What better way to get acquainted with the brilliant director that is Terrence Malick than to see every single one of his films every Tuesday in the month of June with The Tree of Life beginning its run on Friday, June 24?

Reflections in a Violet Eye – Elizabeth Taylor

With the recent passing of the legendary Hollywood starlet and acting icon, Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011), the Belcourt theatre has put together a 2-month-long program called Reflections in a Violet Eye, devoted to the late Elizabeth Taylor.  The Belcourt pays tribute to Elizabeth Taylor with 6 weekend screenings of her greatest performances and films throughout the months of June and July.  Elizabeth Taylor received 6 Oscar Nominees for Best Actress and won 3.  She was also the recipient of the lifetime achievement award at the Academy Awards in 1992.  One of the great things about Elizabeth Taylor’s films is not only her performances, but also the performances of the great leading actors that she shared the screen with.  Reflections in a Violet Eye begins this Saturday, June 4 and will continue through the month of July.  All screenings are on Saturday and Sunday.
National Velvet – June 4-5
Directed by Clarence Brown (1944)
The program kicks off with a young Elizabeth Taylor who was just 12 years old in this film.
A Place In the Sun – June 11-12
Directed by George Stevens (1951)
A Place in the Sun was nominated for Best Picture and is one of the few films to win Best Director without taking home Best Picture.  Taylor earned a Best Actress nomination as did her costar, Montgomery Clift, who was nominated for Best Actor.
Father of the Bride – June 18-19
Directed by Vincente Minnelli (1950)
This film was nominated for Best Picture and Spencer Tracy earned a Best Actor nomination.
Cat On a Hot Tin Roof – June 25-25
Directed by Richard Brooks (1958)
Taylor is as stunning as ever in this adaptation of the Tennessee Williams play.  Taylor earned a Best Actress nomination and stands opposite Paul Newman who was nominated for Best Actor.  This film was nominated for both Best Picture and Best Director.
Suddenly, Last Summer – July 2-3
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (1959)
Elizabeth Taylor and Katherine Hepburn both received Best Actress nominations for their roles in this film.  Montgomery Clift also stars.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – July 9-10
Directed by Mike Nichols (1966)
Just 34 years old but made to look much older, Taylor please opposite Richard Burton and won the Oscar for Best Actress with her performance in this play adaptation about the deep troubles of a middle-aged couple becoming evident during a double date with a much younger couple.  This film was nominated for Best Picture and
BOOM! (1968) & Secret Ceremony (1968) – July 16-17 (Liz & Losey double feature)
Directed by Joseph Losey
Boom! stars Richard Burton, who in reality was romantically involved with Taylor, which caused a very public Hollywood scandal.  Secret Ceremony stars Mia Farrow and Robert Mitchum.  The program will close with this double feature.

Franklin Theatre Grand Opening

After a 4 year hiatus, the historic Franklin Theatre is now finally ready to open its doors once again.  Originally built in 1937, the Franklin Theatre, closed up shop in 2007 amid questions of whether it would ever open again.  Now, after a multi-million dollar renovation, the theatre officially reopens this Friday, June 3.  The theatre will also be the venue of regular concert events, musical theatre and plays.  The Grand Opening street party begins at 6:00 pm on Friday, June 3 in front of the theatre where there will also be an outside screening of The Wizard of Oz.
The Franklin Theatre’s first film screened since its re-opening will be Gone with the Wind, playing June 3-4, followed by Charlotte’s Web, Casablanca and The King’s Speech throughout the rest of the week.  Go to the theatre’s main website for more programming details regarding films, live concert and theatre events.
The Franklin Theatre is one of the last remaining small-house, old school, independent theatres left in the South.  We’re very lucky to have the 2 of them in the Nashville area, including cross town indie Belcourt theatre.  If you’re free this weekend, then you should check out the Franklin Theatre’s grand opening street party or one of the great films showing this week.