Relaxed interviews with Filmmakers

Jonathan Rose talks with (3) filmmakers: Alfredo Montero, John Maloof,and Steve “Spaz” Williams during MIFF

Relaxed interviews with Filmmakers
Jonathan Rose

On Monday I had the pleasure of interviewing three (3) filmmakers: Alfredo Montero, writer/director of La Cueva (In Darkness We Fall), John Maloof, writer/director of Finding Vivian Maier, and the legendary Steve “Spaz” Williams, Academy Award nominee for The Mask, and Chief Animator on The Abyss, Terminator 2, and Jurassic Park. The latter graphics pioneer had been in Miami to thrill with a presentation on a brief history of CGI at Miami Beach Cinematheque on Sunday.

Probably the most relaxed interview was with Alfredo Montero, whom I first met on the Red Carpet at the opening of the Miami International Film Festival (MIFF) last Friday. I was standing next this an unassuming fellow when one of the amazing later staff of MIFF (more on later) asked him if he would like to appear on the Red Carpet. He declined, then, when I asked him (in Spanish) which film was his, he said “La Cueva.” Alfredo added that he had not slept for more than thirty (30) hours because he had traveled from the tiny island of Formentera, --by land, sea, and air—before alighting in Miami. When we entered the spectacular Olympia Theater, Alfredo marveled, as I continue to do each time I pass through those precious portals.

At that time I asked Alfredo whether he was going to stay for the film; he said that he had seen the original Spanish version 15 years earlier, and that he probably would not stay. I asked, “and the party afterward?” He said, party? Well, maybe I’ll have a beer. I saw him at the party later and said hello. Next I saw him as he was leaving Sunday’s party at the Epic after the second viewing of his film. We went back to The Standard in one of the cars provided by/for MIFF. I told him I would be interviewing him the next day.

So, when Alfredo and I spoke, we already knew each other—although I was not able to see his film (other than a 2-minute trailer), we had discussed La Cueva as well as his first film (about child predators) the previous night. His first film had been seen at the Montreal Film Festival. What I learned about La Cueva was that it had been shown in Sitges (a resort south of Barcelona); the film was 80 minutes long and fully funded by Alfredo and his family, who even cooked the meals and brought them to Alfredo and the actors—una pelicula familiar. Until it was picked up by Morena Films, one of the largest production companies in Spain. Then, a full 40 minutes was chopped from the film and more complicated scenes were written by Alfredo, many of them while in the cave with the actors—also, so he could feel the terror and bruising of navigating narrow passages of the cave.

The revised film has been seen in Rotterdam. Alfredo said there is an upcoming viewing in Malaga, and tells me he has been invited to a film fest in Korea. In summary, Alfredo said the first version was “what I could do (with my limited budget)” but that the current version (with the financial assistance of Morena Films) was “what I wanted/(dreamed) of doing.”

My interview with John Maloof was more succinct. I had spoken with him after seeing his film on Sunday afternoon to compliment him on his years of dedication to the work. Though he “found” the film, along with other boxes that he purchased in 2007, he did not begin looking for Vivian Maier until 2009—after her obituary appeared.

I took extensive notes while watching the documentary, since Vivian’s life was a mystery unfolding bit by bit. John’s skill and resourcefulness in assembling the film (along with two books about Vivian and her photographs) is impressive. By viewing the film, one leaves the theater with a more complete knowledge of “the nanny/photographer” than most of the families she served. I almost want to say that Maloof was aloof during my interview with him. But that is probably due to the pressure he was under to do another half-dozen interviews and still catch his flight back to Chicago that afternoon. His escort (each filmmaker was given one to navigate the interviews), Dana, did not rush me, but I was aware that John was much in demand. In fact. after interviews had begun, some of us were still awaiting John’s arrival. Dana and I joked that this could become a short film—Waiting for Aloof. At any rate, John answered my questions about what he had planned—“nothing really;” and what he planned to do with Vivian’s non-photographic effects—“nothing yet, they’re still in boxes in my closet.”

My third interview was with Steve “Spaz” Williams. Of course I could not resist asking how he was given the sobriquet, “Spaz.” Dressed in army camouflage fatigues, boots, and cap, the former hockey player and member of the Canadian Navy and greeted me with a strong, firm handshake. Spaz? “In the beginning,” he began, “we were a small group (7) of animators and engineers. Everyone was told to choose a unique e-mail handle. I chose ‘Spaz.’ Imagine my surprise when the credits rolled for The Abyss and my name appeared as Spaz Williams.”

Anyhow, it stuck. Spaz told me that Bugs Bunny was his inspiration for becoming an animator. He recalled being thrilled at meeting the legendary Chuck Jones, creator of the original Bugs Bunny (there have been several BBs over the years). Jones told him that his Bugs was a cross between Harpo Marx and Jack Benny. Spaz showed me a clip of a 1952 Jones cartoon with which he opened his presentation Sunday (sponsored by Kreative Kontent, his representative). Spaz is charmingly old-school in his love of animation. A legend and a nice guy.

When I was talking to Alfredo Montero earlier, I learned this was his first trip to the United States. I asked him about his experience at Miami International Airport (MIA). He said that the immigration officer asked him whether the purpose of his visit was for business or pleasure; he smiled and answered “to me they are both the same.” As an immigration attorney, I wondered how the officer responded to that. Alfredo said, “Everyone has been so friendly; there was a staff member from the film festival at the airport to greet me and I passed through very quickly.” He asked, “Is everyone here so friendly and supportive?” I replied, “Not everyone, but the MIFF staff and filmgoers are excited to have you here and want your stay to be outstanding.” “Asi es,” he concurred.


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