Telluride 46

The 46th Telluride Film Festival held in the photogenic mountains of southwest Colorado started off appropriately with Mark Cousins’ fascinating documentary on women directors “Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema”. 273 minutes of excerpts from over 14 hours were shown (with intermission). Much of the program focused on little-known international directors.

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Mark Cousins (left) holding a long. long sheet with listings of all the films in his documentary (c) Ed Scheid

Bonuses for me were having my 2 favorite actresses in the program. Scenes of two early Liv Ullmann films I never saw were excerpted and Jane Fonda narrated parts. Cousins said he loved watching Jane’s “beautiful right hand” move while narrating – like a conductor. I saw TCM host Alicia Malone at another screening who told me TCM has purchased the entire documentary.

Renee Zellweger had a Tribute along with “Judy”, in which she portrays Judy Garland late in career performing in London. Zellweger was sensational as Judy, charismatic performing on stage and also heartbreaking as Garland deals with insecurities, addiction and the pain of not being able to provide a home for her youngest children. I and other festival goers couldn’t imagine a better performance this year.

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Renee Zellweger at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

A future post will cover the Tribute and Zellweger’s comments on her career and her decision to take a multi-year break.

The Opening Night Feed which closes off the main street for food and drink had a Wizard of Oz design relating to “Judy” including a faux yellow brick road, poppies, and miniature hot air balloons.

Another tribute was to Adam Driver with 2 films. One was “Marriage Story”, about the breakup between a playwright (Driver) and actress (Scarlett Johansson). The other was “The Report” a gripping film with Driver impressive as the Senate staffer heading the investigation of the CIA’s torture policies after 9/11. Annette Bening gives a standout supporting performance as Senator Dianne Feinstein. Daniel Jones, the staffer Driver portrays, appeared with Driver in a post-screening Q&A.

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Adam Driver at Telluride (c) Ed Sched

The best of the 16 films I saw at Telluride was “A Hidden Life”, one of Terrence Malick’s (“The Tree of Life”, “Badlands”) finest. This emotionally powerful and masterfully photographed film is about an Austrian farmer (August Diehl) who refuses to take a loyalty oath to Hitler. Valerie Pachner portrays his devoted wife.

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August Diehl (“An Inner Life”) at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

Adam Sandler is very good as a scheming diamond merchant continually driven to escalating gambles in “Uncut Gems” directed by the Safdie Brothers. Some disliked the extremely loud soundtrack, but I felt it reflected the feverish state of Sandler’s character.

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Adam Sandler at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

Antonio Banderas who received the Best Actor prize at Cannes was exceptional and quite affecting in Pedro Almodovar’s “Pain and Glory” portraying a director based on Almodovar. This is one of Almodovar’s finest, showing the main character in physical and emotional pain looking back on his life and confronting people from his past.

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Antonio Banderas at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

The Korean Palme d’Or winner “Parasite” depicts a poor family deviously insinuating themselves into a rich household. This film, directed by Bong Joon-ho (“Snowpiercer”) is entertainingly twisted, but lacks the depth of last year’s Palme winner “Shoplifters”.

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Bong Joon-ho at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

”Portrait of a Lady on Fire”, which received the Best Screenplay award at Cannes was absorbing and masterfully filmed by director/writer Celine Sciamma  An artist (Noemie Merlant) arrives to paint a portrait of a young woman (a superlative Adele Haenel) for a prospective husband. Artist and subject become drawn to each other.

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Adele Haenel at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

“Lyrebird” was an intriguing film set in Post-WW2 Holland. A Jewish veteran investigates whether a failed painter was collaborator or something more devious. Guy Pearce plays the suspect with flair.

The highlight of the Festival for me was seeing Martin Scorsese speak about Agnes Varda before a showing of her last film, the marvelous “Varda by Agnes” which covers her remarkable and long career with Varda’s unique humor and insights.

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Martin Scorsese at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

I saw 2 other documentaries. “The Human Factor” from Dror Moreh (“The Gatekeepers”) was an engrossing behind the scenes view of the years of Middle East peace talks.

“Tell Me who I Am” was a very poignant look at the bond between twins. When Alex was 18, he was in a coma from a motorcycle accident. When he woke, he recognized his identical twin Marcus, but remembered nothing else. Marcus helped Alex rebuild his life, for a time hiding some painful events.

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Alex and Marcus Lewis at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

Both brothers were in Telluride. Marcus spoke of how both were hugged at Telluride, laughing “we don’t do that in Britain”.

“Waves” was a well-acted drama about an Africa-American family. The more intense first half about a promising student-athlete (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) whose life is falling apart was superior to the next part dealing with his sister’s (Taylor Russell) reactions.

2 foreign films were vivid representations of different eras. “Beanpole” was a harrowing look at 2 female army veterans struggling in post-WW2 Russia. In “Verdict”, an abused and desperate Filipino wife fights back through the country’s currently over-crowded justice system.

In the title role of “The Assistant”, Julia Garner (“Ozark”) gives a notable performance as a young woman working for a film executive. The film becomes chilling as, going about her mundane daily duties, the assistant discovers the sordid behavior of her boss.

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Julia Garner at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones who appeared in Redmayne’s Oscar-winning “The Theory of Everything” were at Telluride with “The Aeronauts” about explorations in hot air balloons.

Jonathan Pryce came with “The Two Popes”. This film about the relation between the current Pope (Pryce) and the previous Pope (Anthony Hopkins) who resigned received strong audience buzz.

Edward Norton and Willem Dafoe were in town with “Motherless Brooklyn” which Norton also directed and co-wrote. Norton portrays a detective with Tourette Syndrome attempting to solve the murder of his mentor. This film noir received a mixed audience reception.

More details of the films will appear in future blogs.

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Telluride 45: “Watergate-Or, How We Learned to Stop an Out-of-Control President”

The Telluride Film Festival often opens with the screening of  a long work. The documentary “Watergate-Or, How We Learned to Stop an Out-of-Control President”, was absorbing throughout its over 4-hour length, and from the title, still relevant. The film was made for the History Channel.

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Director Charles Ferguson (“No End In Sight”, “Inside Job”) said that when he started making the film five years ago, he thought it would be relaxing to make a documentary where the good guys win. The intervening presidential election made things more serious.

Ferguson described “Watergate” as a “very wild ride even if you know” the ending. There were 3500 hours of tape recordings taking place from 1971-1973. The documentary rigorously follows some fascinating facts. The White House tapes talk of a “Jewish conspiracy“ and blackmail photos are discussed. Relatively new reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein cover the Watergate events, because at first, it was believed the investigation was insignificant.

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Director Charles Ferguson at Telluride

The documentary reveals some amazing previously unknown details like Republican Senator Howard Baker being a mole for the White House before the depth on Nixon’s involvement was revealed. (“The Devin Nunes of today” joked an audience member at intermission.)

Afterward former Watergate prosecutors Jill Wine-Banks and Richard Ben-Veniste, former Congresswoman Elizabeth A. Holtzman and journalist Leslie Stahl gave their insights on the era.

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Elizabeth Holtzman and Leslie Stahl at Telluride

Elizabeth Holtzman was one of the House Judiciary Committee members who recommended three articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon. Holtzman said that during the Watergate era the “system worked”. She spoke of the ”courage of the press” and that “Hopeful” was “where we were” after Watergate. She added that today “we find ourselves” with “no check on tyranny”.

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Leslie Stahl at Telluride

Leslie Stahl who covered Watergate correctly described the documentary as “riveting”. She added that the results were “strangely positive” as “we healed”. She believes ”Journalism reached its peak at Watergate, becoming braver and braver” as the Nixon administration “tried to undermine” democracy.

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Richard Ben-Veniste at Telluride

Richard Ben-Veniste said the system “worked, almost didn’t work” before the “smoking gun” of the taped conversation was revealed and with “substandard Republican support” when “factionalism and party loyalty” were chosen “over loyalty to country.” He added that “an aroused public” compelled the Republicans to choose “country over party”.

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Jill Wine-Banks at Telluride

Jill Wine-Banks said Watergate shows a “process that can work”. She said that today, media has “different facts” and that in the Watergate era, we “agreed on facts” with “different interpretations”. She has a “fear (of) what is happening” with the attacks on the press. She added that what Donald Trump is doing is a “threat” and we must “take this on and get rid of the threat to democracy”.

Director Charles Ferguson said that completing “Watergate-Or, How We Learned to Stop an Out-of-Control President.” was the “hardest” filmmaking “I’ve ever done”. He added that the documentary shows that the “relative power of a small number of people” who “could do what was right” was “not entirely lost.”

Telluride 45: “Cold War”

“Cold War” is a masterwork from director Pawel Pawlikowski (“Ida’) who co-wrote the screenplay. Pawlikowski was chosen Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival. The film follows a tempestuous relationship between a musician and singer in post-WW2 Europe.

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Tomasz Kot (center) in “Cold War”

In 1949 Poland, Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) , a piano player, works for the government in searching for folk-singers. Throughout the film, Pawlikowski composes striking black & white images in a square format that give “Cold War” the look of a period film. He creates a memorable scene from the folk costumes. Wiktor is drawn to Zula (Joanna Kulig), a singer.

Kot and Zula give forceful performances and have an intense chemistry together as their characters become attracted to each other.

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Government interference leads the couple to Paris and beyond and their relationship becomes increasingly volatile. Their wide-ranging story is enthralling with some riveting visuals. Kulig’s dance sequence in Paris to “Rock Around the Clock” is mesmerizing.

After the film screened at the Telluride Film Festival, Pawel Pawlikowski said that “Cold War” was dedicated to his parents. Their relationship lasted 40 years and was described by Pawlikowski as “complicated, hectic” and passing through “other countries, other partners”. The characters Wiktor and Zula have the names of his parents.

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Pawel Pawlikowski at Telluride

He called music the “glue in the story”, a love story passing through music history. He said that music, including jazz tunes, has a continual presence in the film.

Telluride 45: “Shoplifters”

“Shoplifters” from Japanese director/writer Hirokazu Kore-eda stood out at the Telluride Film Festival. This film received the Palme d’Or, the top prize at Cannes. As with his earlier works like “Like Father, Like Son” (2013) and “Our Little Sister” (2015), in “Shoplifters”, Kore-eda examines a family unit with deep emotional sensitivity.

A father Osamu (Lily Franky) uses his son Shota (Jyo Kairi) as a shoplifter for their impoverished family unit. Returning home after a store theft, they see a forlorn young girl Juri (Miyu Sasaki) alone and hungry and they decide to take her home to give her food.

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Lily Franky and Jyo Kairi in “Shoplifters”

After noticing that the girl is bruised, she is “adopted” into the family that includes wife (Sakura Ando), older sister (Mayu Matsuoka) and grandmother (Kirin Kiki). The group lives off of the old woman’s pension.

The film vividly creates the crowded, cluttered living quarters of the family. There is an affectionate rapport between the members of the group. All of the actors give sensitive, nuanced performances. Kore-eda’s films contain some of the most impressively natural performances from children.

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Sakura Ando, Mayu MatSuoka, Lily Franky in “Shoplifters”

Young Juri is instructed into shoplifting and joins Shota in petty thievery. Osamu says that shoplifting is the only activity he can teach the children.

As the actual connections between the family group members are gradually revealed, “Shoplifters” becomes extremely moving and remains an intriguing consideration on what makes up a family.

Telluride 45: “Roma” and Tribute to Alfonso Cuarón

One of the 3 Tributes at the Telluride was to Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón, who received the Oscar for Best Director for “Gravity” (2013). Cuarón’s latest film “Roma” which recently was chosen Best Film of the Year by both the NY and LA Film Critics was screened. The film is showing on Netflix.

Cuarón said he grew to “understanding the technical aspect” of filmmaking, and with this “familiarity” knew what to ask. He described himself as “broke” before his first film “Sólo con Tu Pareja” (1991) was shown at Toronto. This showing led to a film development project with Sydney Pollack that was cancelled. Cuarón then directed “The Little Princess” (1995) in Hollywood which received 2 Oscar nominations.

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Alfonso Cuarón at Telluride

He described his next film, a modern-day “Great Expectations” (1998) as “What I should not do”. He added, “I forgot I was a writer”. He did not participate in the screenplay. He said “I lost 3 years … (of) creative life… very sad.” Cuarón’s next film “Y Tu Mamá También” (2001), which he co-wrote was a Mexican road film and an international success, leading to “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (2004) and “Children of Men” (2006).

For “Gravity”, Cuarón said “All credit goes to Sandra (Bullock) and George (Clooney)”. He said that the stunts and needed movement of the actors were “gruesome and very difficult”. He said he was “used to improvise” and “had to find the flow” for “Gravity” to “made it easy” for the actors posed “in the weirdest position” for a film set in outer space.

For “Roma”, based on his life growing up and cared for by an indigenous maid. He wanted to film “where events took place”, using “furniture from home and relatives” for the film to look as real as possible. He said that the maid “loved me” and was taken for granted.

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Yalitza Aparicio (left) in “Roma”

For the first time, he considered the complexities of her situation during a time “ridden by class”. He added she “raised me” adding “more present, some think than my biological mother”.

Cuarón said in making the film, the last thing he wanted to do was consider the sexual life of his mother.

“Roma” is masterfully directed with vivid black and white images. The cinematography is by Cuarón. The title comes from the area of Mexico City where the central family lives.

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“Roma”


Cuarón gives his film an immersive view of life in Mexico City in the early 1970s. The film has a strong use of details like a too-large car regularly scraping the walls of the garage where the floor has pieces of dog excrement.

Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), the maid lives with her employer family, taking care of the children with whom she has a warm relationship. She participates in family activities like watching TV together. After the marriage between the parents break up, the father moves away and the mother (Marina de Tavira) depends even more on Cleo.

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Marina de Tavira and Yalitza Aparicio at Telluride

The film has many visually striking sequences. A memorable scene includes a panoramic shot of a crowded city street when the family goes to a movie. Later, while Cleo is shopping, a large-scale protest turns violent.

“Roma” becomes an absorbing autobiographical view of Cuarón’s extended family and Cleo’s devotion.

Telluride 45: Orson Welles’ “The Other Side of the Wind” and its Restoration

A major event at Telluride was a restoration of Orson Welles’ “The Other Side of the Wind”, 48 years after filming. Welles shot the film between 1970-1975, and ran out of financing before a final edit could be completed before Welles died in 1985. Director Peter Bogdanovich (“The Last Picture Show”) who appears in the film was among those speaking after the film about working with Welles and the restoration.

“The Other Side of the Wind” is an extremely intriguing cinematic view of Welles’ impressions of the changing Hollywood of the 1970s and his own role in it. John Huston is charismatic, marvelous as Jake Hannaford an aging director making a film with several delays. Huston gives his character a macho swagger and an often sarcastic wit.  

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Welles satirizes the youth-oriented films of the era, having Hannaford’s film described as a “dirty picture” with “naked ladies”. Hannaford is called an “old guy trying to get with it”. Hannaford leaves the studio with his entourage for a 70th birthday party given by an actress (Lilli Palmer). Hannaford’s associates include actors from earlier Welles films like a hard-edged Mercedes McCambridge (“Touch of Evil”) and Paul Stewart (“Citizen Kane”). Film students accompany Hannaford, shooting him through different viewfinders.

Reflecting their real-life relationship Peter Bogdanovich plays a former journalist who interviewed the director who has now become a director himself, hot at the boxoffice.  

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John Huston, Orson Welles, Peter Bogdanovich

Welles adds humor to the party scenes as guests pontificate and over-analyze about moviemaking. Young directors of the era like Dennis Hopper, Claude Chabrol, Henry Jaglom and Paul Mazursky appear as guests spotted at the party scenes.

Welles remained a master of framing for the camera, with distinctive use of angles, lights and shadows. Keeping current for the time, one scene has psychedelic colors.

Party guests attempt to view Hannaford’s latest film with a series of interruptions. In the film a woman (Oja Kodar) is pursued by a man. Both end up naked. Kodar, who was Welles’ companion at the time is listed as co-screenwriter with Welles. Hannaford is described as “making it up as it goes along.”

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Oja Kodar in “The Other Side of the Wind”

“The Other Side of the Wind” is now showing on Netflix.

After the film, Peter Bogdanovich described it as a “sad movie, …the end of everything. He added that Welles ”made a lot of sad movies” and that “artistry” was “his antidote”. He felt “sad Orson’s not here,… like nobody else”.

Joe McBride who acted in the film said ’48 years have gone by”. He described “Other Side” as a ”dense, rich film” and that Welles could “pack so much into every film”. McBride spoke of the fragmentation of Welles’ filmmaking. He said when Welles was asked when people involved with the film would meet Lilli Palmer who was portraying the party host, he replied that all of her scenes had been shot in Paris.

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Orson Welles, Peter Bogdanovich, Oja Kodar, cinematographer Gary Graver during the making of “The Other Side of the Wind (2018)

John Huston’s lead performance was described by Bogdanovich as “demonic, extraordinary, very contemporary”. McBride said Huston’s character was an attack on the macho Hemingway cult.

Bogdanovich said that in 1961, he was asked to organize a retrospective of Welles at the Museum of Modern Art. Seven years later, he got a call from Welles who told him “You have written the truest words about me in English”. Bogdanovich took over a large part in “The Other Side of the Wind” when comedian/impressionist Rich Little, cast in the role, displeased Welles.

McBride said the “18 hour work days” were “so much fun…full of laughter”. Bogdanovich said Welles was “wonderful with actors, not the crew”, saying “if they must eat, not linger.” Welles enjoyed Fritos, joking “you don’t gain weight if nobody sees you eating”.

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Peter Bogdanovich at Telluride

Frank Marshall, now a major film producer (Indiana Jones films) was a production accountant on “The Other Side of the Wind”, said Welles fired him “every other day”.  He added that Welles told funny stories and would burst into song.

Bogdanovich aid that seeing the last scenes of the film reminded him of the Shakespearean line “our revels now are ended”, adding “it’s as touching”.

After a screening of a short film called “A Final Cut for Orson: 40 years in the Making”, a discussion included Frank Marshall. The restoration procedure was described as a “treasure hunt”, using Orson’s notes. Welles shot on different types of film. Everything was scanned with new technology. This complete type of restoration could not have been done 10 years ago. 

Telluride 45: Robert Redford and “The Old Man & the Gun”

“The Old Man & the Gun” is inspired by the true story of Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford), a man who robbed banks, was jailed, and escaped 17 times. The film shows his keeping up the illegal activities because as he says, “You find something you like”. A bank teller describes Tucker as “sort of a gentleman”.

Tucker and his cohorts (Danny Glover and Tom Waits) are described as “The Over the Hill Gang”. Detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck) is in a bank while it is robbed by Tucker and begins the pursuit of him.

Tucker and Jewell (Sissy Spacek) become drawn to each other after he stops to look at her stalled car as a way to elude police. Redford and Spacek have a strong on-screen chemistry. All the actors are in peak form in this lively and very enjoyable film.

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Robert Redford at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

At a Q&A at Telluride, Robert Redford said he read an article on the true story of the bank robber that “struck a nerve”, He enjoyed the way that the man continued “being happy” by robbing banks. Redford made himself the producer because his clout could get the film made.

Redford added he had a “happy friendship” with David Lowery with whom he made “Pete’s Dragon” in 2016 and thought he would be perfect to direct story of the happy robber. Redford said wanted to support Lowery and protect him from interference.

Of his co-stars, Redford said Sissy Spacek was someone whose work he “admired for a long time.” Redford called Casey Affleck an “interesting guy” who brought a nice edge and growth to his performance as the detective pursuing Redford’s character.

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Casey Affleck at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

Redford described the relationship between Casey Affleck’s detective and his bank robber character as “hunter and prey” with a “mutual admiration and odd respect” between the two that added “another dimension” to the film.

Director David Lowery who also worked with Casey Affleck on “A Ghost Story” and “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” said he wrote many drafts of the screenplay to keep the film from being journalistic and find the essence of the story.

Lowery sought to find the “archetype behind what’s personal”. He added that the story of a man who “loves what he’s doing and can’t quit” is a “metaphor for a filmmaker.” He said he wanted to ‘make a movie about people who are happy”.

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Sissy Spacek at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

Sissy Spacek said that working with Redford had always been on her “Bucket List”. When she heard him say that “The Old Man & the Gun” would be his last appearance as an actor, she felt “I better get in line”. She described her character as “lonely” and that Redford’s character “made her laugh”, “but he didn’t want her sucked in” to his robbery plans.

The diner where Redford’s and Spacek’s characters visit is the same diner seen in “Killing of a Sacred Deer”.

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Robert Redford at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

On his announcement that “The Old Man & the Gun” would be his last film as an actor, Robert Redford said “Never say never”, adding that after a “long career” and “approaching 82”, “moving to director and producer” is “appealing”.