Telluride 42: Ingrid on Ingrid

The smallest venue at the Telluride Film Festival is the Backlot, a room in what is usually the library. Backlot shows films about artists and their achievements. One selection that was irresistible to fans of classic cinema was “Ingrid Bergman – In Her Own Words”.

Diary entries (read in English by Alicia Vikander), interviews and home movies give remarkable insight into the life of the iconic Ingrid. Bergman first came to Hollywood to make a 1939 American version of her Swedish success “Intermezzo”.

Ingrid Bergman

Ingrid Bergman

A series of many acclaimed films followed including “Gaslight” (for which she received her first Oscar), “Casablanca”, and Hitchcocks’s “Notorious”. Bergman’s husband Petter Lindström, a Swedish doctor, and their daughter Pia followed her to the US. Pia provides her impressions on life as the daughter of a celebrated movie star and on the separations from her mother.

The film gives Ingrid’s intimate thoughts about her time in Hollywood as well as what led to her desire to make a film in Italy with neorealist director Roberto Rossellini, in conditions very different from the studio system.

The married Ingrid’s open affair with Rossellini created a major scandal which the film documents, including Bergman’s being denounced in the US Congress. Bergman and Rossellini had three children, Roberto, Isabella and Ingrid. All of them as well as Pia provide personal recollections of their times with their famous mother where her absences were acutely felt.

Ingrid Bergman in Paris 1957.

Ingrid Bergman in Paris 1957.

The film covers Bergman’s collaborations with Rossellini and her career after she resumed working for American studios. Liv Ullmann and Sigourney Weaver talk about their experiences acting with her.

Bergman’s children give some intriguing information on their mother including why there will never be a “Mommie Dearest” type book from any of them, and the surprising contents in her letters to a long-time friend.

By focusing on the personal side of Ingrid Bergman and her relationships with her children, this documentary gives a fascinating and full portrait of a great and enduring talent.

Telluride 42: “Spotlight” with the film’s actors and directors

“Spotlight” is a gripping film about the Boston Globe newspaper investigation of clerical sexual abuse in Boston that began in 2001, 20 to 30 years after the crimes had been perpetrated.

The Catholic Church was a dominant institution in Boston and most of the staff of the Globe were Irish Catholics. A new editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) comes into the paper. Unlike the other employees, Baron is Jewish.

Baron reads a Globe column saying the real truth on accusations of clerical abuse by Catholic priests in Boston may never be known. Documents have been legally sealed. Baron assigns Spotlight, the paper’s investigative unit, to explore the case. The Spotlight editor is Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton). The team includes Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James). The large cast is exceptional. The actors skillfully personalize their real life counterparts. Ruffalo portrays the most passionate of the reporters.

Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Brian d’Arcy James, Michael Keaton and John Slattery in “Spotlight”

Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Brian d’Arcy James, Michael Keaton and John Slattery in “Spotlight”

The reporters realize the enormity of the enormity of their assignment, as they will in effect be suing the Catholic Church. To add comparisons to “All the President’s Men”, another newspaper investigative case, a Globe editor is Ben Bradlee, Jr. (John Slattery, “Mad Men”), son of the Washington Post editor at the time of Watergate.

“Spotlight” is fascinating as it shows all of the difficult and time consuming work involved in an extensive newspaper investigation. A strength of the film is in showing the importance of teamwork in Spotlight.

Sacha interviews victims of the clerical abuse, years after the crimes occurred. The scenes detailing the painful physical and psychological abuse are extremely powerful. Victims feel betrayed by their Church which suppressed evidence of the crimes. One victim says “It takes a village to abuse me.”

(Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo in “Spotlight”

(Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo in “Spotlight”

Suspense builds as other members of the team determinedly fight to gain access to legal documents that have been sealed by the courts and to use contacts to uncover the truth. Aided by a slick lawyer (Billy Crudup), the Church uses all of its formidable influence to prevent any exposure of clerical abuse and its cover-up.

Director Tom McCarthy (“The Station Agent”), who co-wrote the screenplay, does a superb job orchestrating the different aspects of the newspaper investigation while keeping focus on the different personalities involved.

McCarthy appeared at an outdoor panel at the Telluride Film Festival with “Spotlight” actors Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams. The film was described as being experienced “through reporters connected to the community.”

Michael Keaton at Telluride   (c) Ed  Scheid

Michael Keaton at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

Michael Keaton said that he loved having the “license to make things up as a kid instead of being a good student.” Like the “Spotlight” character he plays, he described himself as a “newspaper junkie”, always interested in the papers, who enjoys the physical movement of reading “2-3 newspapers a day.”

In more resemblance to the film, Keaton said he was ½ Irish Catholic. He said he was ambivalent about appearing in a film with a subject of clerical abuse as he had a “fantastic Catholic School experience” and is “still friends” with his fellow students. He added that to “see faith crumble” was “hard.”

On acting, Keaton said he follows the belief of Spencer Tracy to be “as true as you can” and to “show up and tell the truth.” He recently re-watched “The Producers” and described its author/director Mel Brooks as a “genius.” The star of “Beetlejuice” said that comedy has always interested him. He added that it may be easy to “overlook how unbelievable a weapon comedy is…why I’ll always love” comedy.

Tom McCarthy  and Rachel McAdams  at Telluride  (c) Ed Scheid

Tom McCarthy and Rachel McAdams at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

Tom McCarthy said that Spotlight member Sacha Pfeiffer did the interviews with victims of clerical abuse because she was the most empathetic of the reporters. He described Rachel McAdams who portrays Sacha in “Spotlight” as a “great listener”.

Rachel McAdams described “Spotlight” as a film that questions faith. In preparation, she spent a lot of time with Sacha Pfeiffer whom she described as a “generous woman” who was “insistent” that “language not be sanitized.” She said that Sacha had close relationships with survivors of Boston clerical abuse that still exist today.

Telluride 42: Meryl Streep and “Suffragette”

“Suffragette” was a favorite selection at the Telluride Film Festival. It tells a powerful story of women driven to desperation to have their voices heard. Before the screening director Sarah Gavron (“Brick Lane”) said she had worked 6 years to get the film made. Meryl Streep who again portrays an historical figure, suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst, was also at Telluride. Gavron said she needed an iconic figure to play the iconic Pankhurst.

Meryl Streep at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

Meryl Streep at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

In 1912, Maud (Carey Mulligan, “Far From the Madding Crowd”) is working at a grueling job in a laundry with the unwanted attention of her superior. When making a delivery, she looks with sadness at the luxuries behind shop windows. She is shocked to see women breaking windows with stones and shouting “Votes for Women!.” One of her co-workers, Violet (Anne-Marie Duff), is among these suffragettes.

Violet introduces Maud to others in the suffrage movement including Edith (Helena Bonham Carter, “The King’s Speech”) who runs a pharmacy. The women demand the vote because they have no say in their lives. Like many women, Maud works longer hours than men for less pay. And laws always favored men over women. Maud joins the suffragettes, believing drastic change is the only way to improve her life. The women have turned to violence against property to have their voices noticed, they want “deeds not words”, believing “war is the only language men listen to.”

Anne-Marie Duff, Carey Mulligan and Helena Bonham Carter in "Suffragette"

Anne-Marie Duff, Carey Mulligan and Helena Bonham Carter in “Suffragette”

Gavron has staged the film with many vivid historical details. The screenplay by Abi Morgan (“The Iron Lady”) includes a variety of well-defined characters of different social classes. Mulligan is superb, showing Maud’s growing anger and determination. She leads a strong ensemble. In a very stirring scene, Streep as Pankhurst gives inspiration to a crowd of suffragettes meeting clandestinely. The women risk being battered and arrested by police, and brutal force-feeding in prison.

Brendan Gleeson (“Calvary”) is formidable as a police official attempting hidden surveillance of the women. The authorities treat the suffragettes with superiority and entitlement. Maud’s husband (Ben Whishaw, James Bond’s latest Q) becomes increasingly unsympathetic as her behavior becomes public, leading to a wrenching sequence.

Carey Mulligan in “Suffragette”

Carey Mulligan in “Suffragette”

“Suffragette” becomes very moving and emotionally intense as the women determinedly continue their struggle for change.

After the screening which received a standing ovation, Meryl Streep said that today, “the rights of women haven’t stopped being suppressed”. She added ”Great leaders” are needed “to move things along” as the fact that “women work longer” hours than men “for less” money has not changed. She added that she was “proud to be associated any way” with “Suffragette”.

She said she saw the impact of women not voting in her family. Streep thought there was “no smarted person” than her grandmother, the mother of 3, who would drag her husband off the golf course. But she couldn’t even run for dog catcher. She could only be on the school board.

Sarah Gavron and Meryl Streep at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

Sarah Gavron and Meryl Streep at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

Streep that that doing research for the film, she surprised to learn that the US counterparts to the British suffragettes were “well-behaved in comparison, that’s not how it usually comes out.”

Director Sarah Gavron said that ”Suffragette” had the first film crew to shoot in Parliament for a pivotal scene. An unlike the hostility shown by politicians in the film, she said that Prime Minister David “Cameron and his kids visited us.” Gavron added that ironically, Helena Bonham Carter who plays a prominent suffragette in the film is the great-granddaughter of H. H. Asquith, Prime Minister who “fought to keep women from voting.”

Gavron said the suffragettes faced continual “brutality from the state”. They would be released to their families, then put back in prison. Emily Davison, a pivotal figure in the movement who appears in the film, was force fed 49 times.

Streep said that one way to increase the female voice in the film industry is the awarding of grants to screenwriters over 40. She wondered why just “1% of the top 100 directors are women.” She added that “who directs, defines the film.”

Michael Keaton, Sarah Gavron and Meryl Streep at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

Michael Keaton, Sarah Gavron and Meryl Streep at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

Sarah Gavron and Meryl Streep later appeared at an outdoor panel at Telluride with representatives of other films. Gavron said the history of the suffragettes is untold and not part of school history lessons. She believes “Suffragette” offers a “perspective not seen before”. She said the filmmakers got a handle on the screenplay by making Maud the central character to give the film a working class perspective. Originally the character was a servant in the home of an aristocrat played by Romola Garai.

Streep said that she has “more license” and “creativity” when playing fictional characters than historical figures like Emmeline Pankhurst. She discovered that Mrs. Pankhurst, who would be arrested if caught by British authorities, traveled to America to raise funds. She was introduced in Hartford by the mother of Katharine Hepburn who was active in the US suffragist movement.

Streep described the British suffragettes as “strategically violent” to affect change. She said that in 1913, women could be in a legal marriage at age 12. She added that Margaret Thatcher, whom she received an Oscar for portraying in “The Iron Lady”, “couldn’t get a credit card in 1980 without her husband’s signature.”

Meryl Streep at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

Meryl Streep at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

“Suffragette” was described by Streep as a “modern story, really.” “The vote can still change lives”, she said, adding that by not voting we “waste it” if we “don’t realize we can still change” things with our vote.