As many of our friends and customers know, Dennis and I started Milestone Films shortly after our wedding in 1990. So, for more than 26 years we have been a team — with all that word implies: a romantic duo, a yoked pair pulling mightily to move our enterprise along, a merry band of players (sports or theater, you pick), parents, and allies.
Dennis has previously blogged about his “other love,” filmmaker Shirley Clarke. Over the last 8+ years, he has worked tirelessly to research the work and life of this brilliant artist — along with restoring her groundbreaking and transgressive feature films and a bonanza of amazing shorts (now available as The Magic Box). As a film fan, I have cheered on and supported his efforts (okay, I may have occasionally raised an eyebrow at the costs of his encyclopedic endeavor) and as a wife I was glad that my competition was cinematic rather than sinful.
Now, Dennis has a new sweetheart — glorious ballerina Anna Pavlova, star of Lois Weber’s 1916 epic, The Dumb Girl of Portici. I believe he has amassed some two dozen books on Her Loveliness, as well as other assorted ephemera. And if I have to have a rival, I am glad she was such a transcendent artist that Australian chefs created a luscious dessert in her honor. I’m not chopped liver, but I have yet to inspire a meringue and fruit extravaganza.
And Dennis too has a rival — and a living one at that. Like Dennis, my side guy, Bernie Sanders is brilliant, Jewish, moral, strong, passionate, articulate, and balding. I worked for the Sanders campaign, ran for Freeholder (a county-wide board) to insure he got a column on the primary ballot, and even represented Bernie as a member of the credentials committee at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July. And while I can joke about lovely ladies Clarke and Pavlova, I find I cannot be funny or glib about Bernie. My experience at the Democratic Convention was probably the most painful I had experienced since the death of my father.
But as difficult as I found Bernie Sanders’ defeat in Philadelphia, the election of Donald Trump has been a thousand times more devastating, heartbreaking, disappointing and frightening.
On the night of the Presidential election, Dennis and I were in Pittsburgh for the annual convention of the Association of Moving Image Archivists. Since he had a presentation the next morning, we had gone to sleep around midnight, guessing but not entirely sure of the outcome. At 2:30 AM our son called from his college dorm room, terribly upset. And whether it because he couldn’t fix things for our kid or because he was half asleep, Dennis fainted, hitting his head on a granite sink surround. Long story short: hotel security called the EMTs and we ended up in an ambulance to Mercy Hospital where Dennis’s head wound was glued and he was given a clean bill of health.
And strangely, this surreal night was actually a great reminder for me of what is most important. Because while I may be unable to change the course of our country (although I tried!), I do have allies, partisans, comrades with whom I can try to face the coming days — foremost, my husband/partner, Dennis and our son, Adam.
It was also inspiring to be among the great members of AMIA — folks who have dedicated their lives and careers to preserving precious records of the past and who are idealistic, quirky, and wonderful.
At Milestone, Dennis and I have tried to choose films that are great cinema, enjoyable entertainment and exciting history, but that also reflect our own ethics, politics, and values. So, come what may, we will keep pulling at that harness together to advance our company and all that we hope it represents and preserves.
And we want you to know that you, our friends, colleagues, and customers are part of that effort. So, “Vive la résistance!”
And while we are at it, “Long live cinema!”
For release October 17, 2016
Mary Pickford Foundation and Milestone Films end distribution partnership
Milestone Film & Video, Inc. thanks Mary Pickford Foundation for the opportunity to distribute the films in the library of the Mary Pickford Foundation for the past twenty years.
All inquiries concerning the Mary Pickford collection should now be directed to Elaina Archer of Mary Pickford Foundation at 310-339-3921.
Okay, it's not what you think. I'm still happily married to Amy after 26 years and we still love being together and working together.
But today, my eight years on Project Shirley came to a conclusion. Amy liked to call Shirley Clarke the other woman in my life. I never met her, but through her diaries, stories from her daughter Wendy and from all her family still around, I got to know Shirley better than any director I've ever worked on or worked for. Her films have utterly fascinated us. Twenty years after her death, they still remain ahead of their time. When the world finally catches up to Shirley Clarke, she will be placed way up there in that cinematic canon that has far too few women. Especially courageous women who didn't care about conventions of their time.
So what did I finish today? Collected from those eight years are nearly eight hours of absolute fabulousness – an Oscar®-winning documentary (Robert Frost), a lost children's film (Christopher and Me), the incredible Pennebaker and Clarke-led Brussels Loops, her complete output of short films (dance, experimental, industrial and narrative), and dozens of unknown and/or unfinished work that will boggle the mind. Project Shirley has involved dozens of archives (with special gratitude to Maxine, Mary, and Amy at the Wisconsin Center for Film & Television), hundreds of deeds of generosity from esteemed archivists and lab technicians, countless composers, librarians, professors, and of course, Wendy, to guide me through hundreds and hundreds of questions. Not to mention the amazing, creative people we've met who worked with or knew Shirley. (Martha Clarke, your Angel Reapers is magnificent and we'll never forget it!) We have no regrets.
Through it all, I've held materials in my hand that would thrill any cinephile. One-of-a-kind 16mm prints that haven't seen the light of day since the 1950s, prints of films that were never screened, personal letters, diaries, an original button from the 1967 Portrait of Jason premiere (gifted to me by the darling Max), and dozens of items that bugged my eyes out. However, perhaps the coolest thing ever, was Wendy shipping me the family photo albums. Imagine having in your hands, the actual physical history of a great director from literally day one. These are photo albums that Shirley and Wendy kept for nearly a century. The photo of Shirley's wedding day (above) came from one album. Needless to say, I spent the entire week scanning them, took a great deal of time going over them with Shirley's niece Liza and other Shirley experts, and then sending the back as soon as I could!
So when will you all get to see these amazing discoveries? I've just sent the hard drive to our authoring and compression lab, the wonderful Luminous 7. There will be some weeks of them doing their magic to make sure they look their best when they are shown on your TV or up onscreen. We'll have to proof them a number of times disc by disc. (Both Blu-ray and DVD.) Our former intern now professional artist Lauren Caddick will be designing the cover and the brochure. Then it's all on to CDA in North Carolina (and Germany) to put it all together and get them ready to ship to our offices and our sub-distributor Oscilloscope will get them to the right retailers. Soon, Amy and I will be announcing the release date The Magic Box: The Films of Shirley Clarke, Project Shirley Volume 4. We hope to have them out before the end of the year.
So, am I really done with Shirley Clarke? Don't kid yourself. Definitely not. The WCFTR and Milestone digitized a huge number of Shirley's video output from the late 1960s through the 1980s and I'd like to help get them seen. Our friend Larry Kardish is also writing her biography and we'll be around if he needs us. We're also working with Immy Humes on a documentary on Shirley. Both projects will astonish the cinema world and give another boost to the rebirth of Shirley Clarke in history. And who knows? Perhaps Fred Wiseman will license The Cool World to us one day. (I hope so!) But for now, The Magic Box is our final treat; a brilliant gem that we have polished as much as we could. Is it the latest Star Trek? Of course not! But then, like Shirley, it's not about mass consumption and meeting expectations. That's too bleeping boring!!!
Shirley Clarke in 1919
Thank you Tanya Goldman for the fascinating interview with Lionel Rogosin's son Michael regarding his work on restoring his father's amazing legacy and creating one of his own with amazing documentaries about each of Lionel's films. Lionel and Michael Rogosin's films are distributed by Milestone.
An Interview with Michael Rogosin by Tanya Goldman.
Michael Rogosin and his son Elliott with Martin Scorsese.
Michael Rogosin has been working tirelessly to support the legacy of his father, groundbreaking filmmaker Lionel Rogosin, best known for his landmark nonfiction films On The Bowery (1956) and Come Back Africa (1959), both available from Milestone Films. Since 2004, Michael has painstakingly researched the production of each of his father’s films, producing an accompanying documentary for each in the process.
Michael’s newest film—currently in its final stages—is a film that explores the rarely seen Woodcutters of the Deep South (1973). Below Michael speaks with Tanya Goldman about his father’s career and the context of this important film production.
To fund his project, Michael has turned to Kickstarter. Please visit this link for more information:
Tanya Goldman (TG): Can you describe the state of your father's career after the release and his adhoc distribution of antinuclear armament film Good Times Wonderful Times (1964)? I believe he toured the United States with the film and screened the film on numerous college campuses. As I understand, his difficulties distributing Good Times were one of the main reasons that led to his decision to found [independent distribution company] Impact Films.
Michael Rogosin (MR): Good Times was completed in 1964; shot and edited in London. When my father returned to the U.S. from his travels in making the film, he realized he was in trouble because it was a very expensive film to make, and there was literally no possibility for major distribution. At the time, no one in the U.S. would show an anti-war, anti-nuclear film. He was finally invited to the Venice Film Festival in 1965 and then got a slot at the Carnegie Hall Cinema in New York City in 1966. Then that was it. My father was under great financial pressure and, with the brewing war in Vietnam and my father’s concern about the possibility of an atomic war, he was desperate to get Good Times shown. The Bleecker Street Cinema [which he owned at the time] didn’t provide any consistent and regular income. There was also an attempt, with Jonas Mekas and Shirley Clarke, to start a chain of Bleecker Street-type cinemas but that never took off.
I don’t know the exact way that Impact Films started but it was certainly, at the beginning, a way to get Good Times shown. Since conventional theatrical screenings were impossible for this type of film, he assembled a small team of people and they pursued alternative possibilities—which, at the time, were largely college campuses. On campuses, the screenings were quite a success; one can say part of the growing anti-war movement, considering that a great number of students saw and were affected by the film. My father had described this period of his life as being extremely difficult but, also, exhilarating. I would add that there were also political activities and films being shown at Bleecker Street. But Good Times and Bleecker Street truly took over his creative life at this time, so that he was unable to make any other films for quite some time.
TG: What brought your father to his next string of projects—what we might deem his “American race trilogy”— Black Roots, Black Fantasy, and Woodcutters of the Deep South?
MR: My father had always been concerned or, should I say, obsessed, by racism and anti-Semitism in America. He made Come Back Africa because coming out of WWII, the apartheid legislation in South Africa was intolerable to him. Nonetheless, he was also very preoccupied with the fate of the black population in America.
The only support he could find to make these types of films was, ironically, from Swedish television and he was able to assemble a small budget for Black Roots [the first film in the trilogy] with support from Sweden and a little more from British Television (Channel 4). They were also funded by any small donations my father could get.
So, with that, he was able to make what he considered the first installment of his trilogy, though these works were never presented as one until now. In presenting these films together—with the addition of my films—we are trying to fill in and connect the points that these three films provoke.
TG: Yes, these films seem to have taken on a renewed relevance here in the United States given recent events. Now, can you tell me a bit about more about the backstory of Woodcutters.
MR: Working Together [Michael’s documentary on the film] will explain how my father got involved with the woodcutters organizing efforts and its connections to Come Back Africa. He learned of the woodworkers from Rev. Francis Walters. Francis had been the assistant to anti-apartheid minister Michael Scott, who had helped my father (along with Father Huddleston) film in the church quarters in Sophiatown, South Africa, in 1957-58. Francis Walters was invited to the first screening of Come Back Africa at the United Nations in New York City in 1960. Walters later remembered the film and called my father in 1972. My father immediately jumped at the opportunity to get involved.
TG: With [his more well-known works] On The Bowery and Come Back Africa, your father strove to immerse himself in his surroundings and closely collaborate with the films' participants. Was this the case with Woodcutters too?
MR: The methods in the new films were different from On The Bowery and Come Back Africa as my father had very small budgets—even in comparison to these earlier works. They were also very different from Good Times [an archival compilation film]. The three films of the trilogy all have slightly different backgrounds…
For Black Roots, you can say that my father’s method of knowing the people in his films intimately was largely the way he worked. From his efforts in the civil rights movement, he already was very close to several of the people in the film, particularly to Flo Kennedy, who was one of the most important black civil rights and feminist lawyers of the time. We explore who these people were in my documentary and their connection to my father. The other people in the film were people in the same movement, and they all considered my father as part of their group. So, yes, I would say that he did use his method of extreme empathy for the people in the film and collaboration, but in a different way from his earlier works. He was also spending a lot of time with the participants outside of shooting.
Black Fantasy, a sequel of sorts to Black Roots, deals with the psychological effects of racism on sexuality. Jim Collier is featured in Black Roots and became the main character in Black Fantasy. Jim had an intimate relationship with my father. There are some extraordinary authentic moments in this film, which were totally taboo at that time but, because of my father’s friendship with the participants, were totally natural.
TG: As is the case with many of your father's films—and many progressive nonfiction works of this era—these films found greater acceptance abroad, correct?
MR: Besides being shown on European television, and in several rare occasions as part of retrospectives and festivals, these films have hardly been shown anywhere!
TG: What are you envisioning the final shape of your accompanying documentary, Working Together, to take? Will this be different from your earlier films?
MR: Working Together will complete what I call my “Lionel Rogosin Film Cycle,” which is a film about each of my father`s films. The first three documentaries I completed on my father’s films [those for On The Bowery; Come Back, Africa; and Good Times] had a certain unity of style, where my father tells a good part of the stories and methods first hand through interviews. However, in these new films, we don’t have this material [Lionel Rogosin passed away in 2000] so I use other methods. Plus, my way of making films has changed over time and is, of course, responsive to the materials we can gather.
Bitter Sweet Stories, my documentary on Black Roots [included with the Milestone edition of Come Back, Africa], was—besides recounting my father’s work and filmmaking process—a series of portraits about the people in the film. In all my films, I situate where my father was in his creative process and the social and political aspects of the films as well.
Toeing the Line, my documentary about Black Fantasy, is complete and waiting for its final release, when all the restorations of my father’s films are completed. It is different in style from the other documentaries I’ve worked on. Collier, who was the main character in the original film, is the main character in my documentary many years later.
In Working Together— based on a rough test edit review of the materials I have now—we will go very far into subjects that are only implied in the original film. These have also become clearer as I researched my father’s notes and diaries about what happened to the Civil Rights Movement. So it will be a complex film that will cover a lot of ground. Our goal is quite ambitious because the idea that the oppressed can provoke change by working together across all kinds of barriers remains explosive even today—especially considering what is going on in America now. As such, I feel my father’s films remain extremely vibrant and necessary today. I’m guessing this project will be a 60-90 minute film, done on a very tiny budget!
TG: Do you have plans in place yet to screen Woodcutters?
MR: Yes; all my father’s films with my documentaries will be released on Milestone Films. I would also say that the goal is to do a major worldwide retrospective of all the films and my docs and the photography collection at major venues such as the Pompidou Museum (Beaubourg ), MOMA, and these types of museums/institutions.
TG: After the completion of Woodcutters, your father shot Arab-Israeli Dialogue (1974) and two other shorts [Oysters Are In Season and How Do You Like Them Bananas?], which are outliers among his oeuvre given their comedic tone. What has it been like researching these films?
MR: Working Together is the final documentary in the cycle. I have completed works on both Arab-Israeli Dialogue and the two shorts. Both of these films are also finished, but unreleased, as I plan to have them accompany the original films on a DVD/BluRay release. They are also both very different from the other documentaries as they are more personal. I actually appear in these films and take the viewer through these stories.
Because I completed these projects first, there is the influence of these more personal films in the footage shot for Working Together. I am in this documentary too, but not as the person who takes viewers through the film; I am a secondary character. Bob Zellner—the legendary Civil Rights activist who appeared in the original film—is the person that leads us through Working Together.
TG: I've often puzzled over the decision behind your father's two comedic shorts, they are just so different from his earlier works. Do you think this was at all motivated by his frustrations in distributing his activist works?
MR: Yes, you could say that, but he also had other creative aspects that he never explored. He had quite a good sense of humor! However, it is clear to me that he was totally driven by the questions of humanity and a concern for the oppressed.
TG: Thank you for your time. Is there anything else you'd like to add?
I would add that, after finishing the project, the goal is to have all the films restored and released on DVD/BluRay. I also hope to incite institutions and collaborate to hold larger retrospectives of my father’s work.
After Working Together is finished, I plan to finish a very personal project, a film that covers my father’s life and work but also explores our extraordinary family and my relationship with my father. It covers a lot. It is already three hours long…and I expect it to be around 6-7 hours when finished! Since it will be so long, it may be broken up into some sort of series. I’m tentatively calling it You Never Know.
Lastly, I find that people want to put a label on the documentaries on films that I am making and label them as “making of featurettes.” To me, any subject working with the tools of cinema can make cinema; these tools can be used in any way to make an effective film. So that is why I prefer to call my films “films on films.” They certainly cover the production history of each project but I also try to transcend that by producing works that add to the original works and say something of their own.
The photo below was from a lovely and wonderful evening at MoMA to promote Scott Eyman's DeMille book back in 2010. What made it special -- as most all great nights Amy and I have had at MoMA -- was our host, Charles Silver, standing on the right. He was in charge of MoMA's Film Study Center for, well, it seemed like forever. When I first came to NYC and worked for Kino back in 1984, nobody in the film world knew who I was -- I was just a lackey when it comes down to it. But that didn't matter to Charles. On my first visit to MoMA's library, he took a lot of time to help me find what I needed and I had to make a large number of photocopies. I can't remember what the price was going to be, but it was going to be considerable based on my $13,000 a year salary. And I can't say I made an enormous impression on him as I was notably shy and nervous. Whatever the reason, when I went to pay, Charles simply smiled and said there was no charge. A very humble, kind person, Charles treated everybody with a wonderful generosity, never expected anything in return. He did it all for his love for film and his joy in helping others. Charles just died and it's the end of a very gracious and noble life. There'll be dozens more tributes to him because everybody who met him felt the same way I do. It's a shame that Rodin's not around to sculpt a statue of Charles to be put in MoMA's courtyard, but I do hope that MoMA's Film Study Center is named after him one day. It would be a very fitting tribute.
Oh, by the way, the evening this photo was taken, we discovered after 26 years of friendship that Charles and I had the same family doctor growing up -- Dr. Finkelstein from Newark -- who we were both very fond of. I don't know why, but that, along with a shared love of the Rangers, was important to us. Farewell, Charles.