Posted: 6/27/11

Margaret Brown is a longtime favorite of T/F, having come here two times with great work, and along the way becoming a trusted colleague.

The Order of Myths (2008) is a landmark film, a work that defines what is possible in a genre too often limited by artificial constrictions. Here Margaret was able to tell a panoramic story about Mobile, Alabama with the intimacy of a native daughter. At the same time she had the independent spirit and moxie to complete it without being beholden to the community's approval. She captures and celebrates the traditions of the city in all its rich pageantry -- the cinematography and sound design are exceptional -- while still asking penetrating questions whether those traditions had outlived their usefulness. In TOOM, we are treated to a rare mix of journalism and artistry.

In Be Here to Love Me (T/F 2005, premiered at Toronto 2004), her earlier film, Margaret accomplished a similarly unusual blend. In this case, she elevated the traditional "rock-doc" that's so often seen into something poetic and moving and evocative. Rather than just leading us through the chronology of songwriter Townes Van Zandt's life, Be Here to Love Me seeks to capture the spirit of an enduring music, invoking the romance of a beautiful dreamer while showing the wreckage he left behind.

This is why we’re itching to see her upcoming film “The Great Invisible” which scored the Whole Foods Market and Silverdocs Grant for Works in Progress (along with fellow T/F alum Ian Cheney (King Corn) for his film “Bluespace”. The film will show the fallout of the BP oil spill on Gulf communities, an overwhelming topic that we trust she’ll handle with her usual aplomb. She is also broadening her scope (and going to the dark side!) by creating a narrative feature. T/F director David Wilson talked with her before she moved to New Orleans

Margaret Brown: I want to make an updated version of Peter Pan. I love that book

T/F: Live or animated?

Live

T/F: Wow, bold.

Yes it will be a doc set in Williamsburg, in my building

T/F: Are you Wendy?

I’m Peter.

T/F: Ah, of course.

This is not going in the interview.

T/F: That's true. So, the last time that T/F audiences saw you, The Order of Myths had just recently premiered at Sundance . . . what's happened with the film since then?

I've traveled with it all over the U.S., and some of Europe. And as you know, Paul Sturtz started a program with the Sundance Institute that sent directors around with their films for greater outreach, and OOM was the pilot doc for that.

T/F: Right .

It also went on to win a Peabody and an (Independent) Spirit award and some others.

The Order of Myths (2008) trailer

T/F: On a personal level, did the film's reception reach your expectations? Did you have expectations?

Well I never knew that it would get outside Mobile. I hoped it would. So when it got into Sundance in competition Iwas happy but also nervous since the film was so personal. I think since the film showed on PBS it had a pretty wide audience, in some ways wider than the Townes film, so I was very pleased with that. But in terms of what was most interesting, it was most interesting to travel with the film and show it in different communities and talk about how the issues in the film pertained to that particular community. The feedback section (or talkback)? on the PBS site is great. I was really impressed with their web component. I'm already thinking about how I'm going to use the web for the next film.

T/F: Yeah, that seems to be one aspect of the attempt at "cross platform media" that's actually working really well. (the PBS site)

At this stage on the last one i was not thinking about that at all. Or to this degree. I think because of the type of film it is - about the spill.

T/F: I'm interested in the ways that it feels like more and more these days filmmakers are being called on to be promoters and publicists and web designers and distributors . . . and to think about all those things while they're in production or even pre-production.

It kind of doesn't bother me. I like to think about all aspects of what I'm producing. I don't like the publicity part though. At all. I like thinking about outreach though. Ways to reach people. But then I'd hope to have partners that would do the actual promotion and publicity. Does that make sense?

T/F: Yeah, that makes total sense. I was thinking about this kind of stuff the other night in the context of video games - which are far more financially successful right now than movies. Maybe we should all be figuring out ways to make nonfiction video games?

Hmm. How would that work Mr. Wllson?

T/F: Well, I'm working on that.

Choose your own Blair witch? Wait, that is not a doc.

T/F: Haha. But maybe The Thin Blue Line? Ok, another question . . .How does it feel right now to be a director with two very successful docs under your belt working on new projects? Are things any easier for you than they were 3 years ago? or 7 years ago?

I certainly feel more confident, so in that way its easier -- I think that is the main difference. I used to be terrified in a very pure way to interview people.

T/F: Did anything change in your interview style? Or have you simply gotten more confident?

I don't think my style has changed particularly. I just hang out with my subjects as much as possible to get to know them. It's weird, i think my whole personality kind of shifted to do this job. i think I used to be a lot shyer.

T/F: Do you write out questions ever?

Sometimes. it depends. Sometimes sometimes it makes people nervous when you have questions, you have to gauge them. Usually i just follow them around. Sitdowns i try to avoid. But sometimes they are unavoidable.

T/F: Right. you used them more on Be Here To Love Me, even though you found really stylish and wonderful ways to stage them. Were you intimidated by any of your interviewees on Be Here to Love Me?

YES. that was terrifying at first. My first interview was the Flatlanders. They are so witty, and they kind of teased me the whole interview. Butch Hancock especially. I think my face was red the whole time Kris Kristofferson was scary going in but he was such a nice guy that he made me feel comfortable.

Townes Van Zandt

T/F: I'm really curious about the new film, but I want to touch on Order of Myths first . . . I'm hoping you'll talk a bit here about your process in finding the story on Order of Myths. I think it's really fascinating.

I actually made the film in less than a year, but it wasn't the film I thought I was going to make. I went down south to research a movie about a runaway Mardi Gras queen (Order of Myths was going to be a narrative at one point) loosely based on my mom. And then when I started interviewing people I found that Southerners are complicated, visually entertaining creatures. Not only that, I realized that there was a story happening on screen that was different than what people were saying... like...they would say one thing but the camera would say another. particularly on matters of race and class. And that interested me.

T/F: How did you see that? I mean, were you watching dailies and being like "Hold on . . . " Or was it there in the room while you were shooting?

It was there in the room pre-main shoot. and yes, when we were shooting as well. We shot 370 hours though, it was exhausting going through all that footage.

T/F: But how much of that was shot before you had your main story in mind?

A lot.

T/F: There must have been tons of interesting dead ends, right?

It”s funny, we didn't really know we had a movie until after Mardi Gras ended. TONS of dead ends.

T/F: What was one of your favorites that didn't make the final film?

I was interviewing Stefannie Lucas, the African-American Mardi Gras queen, and she was sitting with her grandparents and her grandfather just happened to mention that he was descended off the Clothilde slave ship ....which the white Mardi Gras queen's ancestors had very famously illegally brought to America as the last slave ship to ever come to America. The dp and i looked at each other and we knew we had a film. My favorite thing that did not make the film was the LGBT Mardi Gras. It was so great, but it did not quite fit. and also people were really nervous about being outed on their job. So not everyone would sign releases within the Sundance time frame.

Steffanie Lucas in “The Order of Myths”

T/F: So, tell me about this new project of yours? I know it was a quick start - did you just jump on a plane and head to the Gulf?

Its a documentary about the (Deepwater Horizon) Oil Spill, inspired by my dad sending me daily documentation of our house on Mobile bay, and how it is affected by the oil. I just kept getting madder and madder and had to go down for myself and see what was going on. {Ed. note: The spill, which began April 20, 2010, gushed almost 5 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico before being capped three months later.} As for how it started, I basically was encouraged by Jason Orans [award-winning indie film producer] to go to the Peabody awards with a proposal and budget in hand which is what I did and it worked! I got a good amount of development money, enough to shoot the "before" of the story with a kickass crew, and hire Geoff Richman (The Order of Myths, The Cove, Murderball, Sicko) to edit with me.

T/F: Oh wow, nice! That's like the thing that everybody says to do (have your next project ready), but it's good to hear that it actually worked. How receptive were people down there to having you around?

Well, they are scared and don't trust outsiders, but since i grew up there (and had just made another movie there) I think people were fairly receptive.

T/F: Did your accent get a little thicker?

Hahaha. i think it may, darlin.

T/F: Oh, I bet you call those fisherman "darlin" too!

Please!

T/F: So, any timeline for this new project?

I’m not sure yet. Soon-ish.....

“Be Here to Love Me” (2004)

 
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