I am not adding a single ounce of hyperbole when I say that John Sayles is one of the finest filmmakers in history. He, along with life partner Maggie Renzi, a handful of my all-time favorite movies, and each one of them feels like a completely separate entity. He bounces between genres with ease, taking the notion of "storyteller" and infusing it into his scripts, and his directorial style.
Each of his films feel like chapters of a much larger story that we're only getting pieces of. The epic "Lone Star," the ahead-of-its-time film "The Brother From Another Planet," the heart-rending "Matewan," the underrated "Limbo," the beautiful fable "The Secret of Roan Inish," and the fascinating "Eight Men Out" are all film classics. His first film, "Return of the Secaucus 7" and the deeply angry and powerful "City of Hope" are both screening at BendFilm with the filmmaker in attendance.
Sayles was educated at the prestigious Williams College in Massachusetts, but that isn't where his love of filmmaking was born. "At the time I was there, Williams didn't have a theater program, much less a film program," says Sayles. "Mostly, I got to see a lot of movies. There was a professor in the English department who had a film appreciation class where we watched a lot of good movies."
Sayles elaborates: "I started as a fiction writer and screenwriter, but then I became interested in storytelling in time, the way it is in movies. There's a rhythm to it that compliments the rhythm of fiction."
Sayles' last few movies have been released through indie production labels, making his audience smaller. He says he's moved between indie and studio films so much that he doesn't have a preference which type of film he is making. "I'd like to stay making films period," says Sayles. "It's getting really, really hard. I don't know if I'll get to direct another thing. The last couple movies were self-financed and self-distributed. That world is just shrinking if you want to work with professional actors and a professional crew."
His most recent film, "Go For Sisters," cost about a million dollars. "We shot it in 18 days and there were 61 locations," explains Sayles. "That's not easy to pull off every time. Then we couldn't find a distributor for it. It doesn't matter whether it's a studio movie or an independent movie, it's hard to get a directing job. So many of the actors I know are in a situation where they said yes to a project and then it falls apart. The money falls through or the star gets bitchy and then they cancel the movie. With the few studio movies I've done, I pretty much had control over the movie and a little bit more money to work with. But making an independent movie with all the money you need would be great. I've got three or four of them written but the funding is very difficult."
When I said to him, I couldn't believe a filmmaker of his talent could have so much trouble financing a movie, he replied: "Robert Altman had this point in his career. The more records you've had without going platinum, it actually gets harder to raise money. If your last five movies haven't made a whole lot of money, you're probably less likely to get an investor than somebody who's never made a movie at all."
Someone like Sayles shouldn't have this much trouble finding the funding for a movie. He is a genius, and cinema without his unique voice would be much worse in the long run. This is why we can't have nice things.
John Sayles and Maggie Renzi
"Return of the Secaucus 7" screening:
Saturday, Oct. 8 3:30pm, Tower Theatre
"City of Hope" screening:
Sunday, Oct. 9. 10:30amMcMenamins Old St. Francis School
Check bendfilm.org for pricing and more info.