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Jonathan Demme on Some of His Favorite Things

Last year, we published part of the Pink Monkey Magazine’s interview inaugural feature interview with the legendary local director, Jonathan Demme. Demme died this week, and we saw it fitting to pull out a few more words of wisdom from that interview. RIP, JD <3

Are you worried at all about the future of filmmaking?

No. I think there’s so many more terrific films being made now than at any other time in history. More and more people are doing it. By now there are no more secrets about what’s a good look for a film. Anyone can look at anything; even shitty movies have great looks now [laughs]. So you can make these things if you’ve got the story and characters and stuff.
And also I love the YouTube revolution, where people make a movie for nothing and put it on a medium where it’s going to make nothing. Just for the sheer joy of storytelling through film. There’s an awful lot of crap, and there’s also great things that happen. You can make amazing discoveries.

And yeah, the independent, foreign films, documentaries, it’s just such a great eruption.

And yeah, as long as I’ve got a camera I’m going to want to shoot. But the thing is, you get really well paid if you do a studio movie, and yes, you can have your final cut and stuff, but you’re getting well paid — but in addition to making the movie, which is what you’re really being paid for, what I see and hear about is more and more of a sense that the studio owns you. And because they pay you so well, at the end of the day you must see it their way. And that could be about content in the movie or the nature of the ad campaign. Anything. Stuff where filmmakers used to be just partnered. Directors, producers, whether they’re successful yet or not. You were partnered with the distributors. You came in. You talked around a table. Your ideas were heard. And together you fashioned stuff. Now you’re not really welcome there anymore. Again, I’m sure there’s certain directors who somehow manage to keep that great control.

Do you have a favorite theater?

I have to say the Jacob Burns Film Center because their programming is great, including letting me program there. And I also love the whole zeitgeist behind the Jacob Burns Film Center. When you buy a ticket there, you are supporting the Burns’s efforts to send volunteers into the local schools and help kids in underfinanced school districts learn about animation and stuff. So that’s a win-win-win over there. I also love Film Forum in the city. And I love IFC. And I love the Ziegfeld, which died two weeks ago or three weeks ago. I can’t believe the Ziegfeld is gone. But I’ve kind of learned not to fall in love with movie theaters because all the ones I’ve loved over the years have closed. And you have to kind of thank god for the multiplex.

Do you have any kind of routine that helps you stay creative?

Yeah, my morning routine is to go out with my dogs into the woods and drink coffee and procrastinate about doing all the important things that I want to do that day.

Any books that you feel like anyone, but especially 20-somethings, should read?

There’s a book I’m reading right now that I’m loving. It’s called You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine. The descriptions of what’s on television are amazing. But it’s a great, great writing style and then you look at the picture of the author [Alexandra Kleeman] and I think she’s like 26 or something.

In your interview with Rolling Stone in 1994, you talked about your three greatest convictions, and they were, “helping people having a hard time is less a duty than a pleasure,” “bigotry is more the result of ignorance than evil,” and “goodness is deep in the American grain,” and I’m wondering if you still feel that way.

I do. That’s why I’m not upset about Donald Trump. Sometimes it takes the greatest negative provocation to ring out the best in us, and I see that happening again. And especially on these issues. Let’s do fight it out about immigration. Let’s do fight it out about Islamophobia and racism and institutionalized sexism. Let’s really get it on. In the same way things exploded in the late ’60s, which I was very much front and center for. So this is a good thing. I have confidence in the outcome.
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Nyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is sponsored by Sun River Health.

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