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Faces of the Festival:<br>Bette Gordon

With her new movie, Handsome Harry, a reprise of her 1984 Variety, and a star turn in doc Blank City, director Bette Gordon is on full display at TFF 2009.

Bette Gordon
is everywhere at TFF 2009: her 1984 feature, Variety, is screening today in the Restored & Rediscovered section; her new narrative Handsome Harry is making waves throughout the Festival; and she is featured in Blank City, Celine Danhier's doc honoring ‘80s New York filmmaking. Find out what makes this fascinating filmmaker tick.

What makes Handsome Harry and Variety Tribeca Must-Sees?

Variety is already becoming a classic. It has New York in it, but it’s the New York we don’t see anymore, so the locations we shot are very much part of the character of the movie: Yankee stadium, Fulton Fish Market, Times Square before Giuliani cleaned it up, South Street. These are places that have historical significance, but have been commercialized. Also, Variety was a seminal film in that it looked at desire and pornography from a woman’s point of view. It left a mark on the culture that has persisted since 1984.

Handsome Harry also continues my interest in sexuality and gender, but it looks at male sexuality—something we don’t often see—and the raw emotions of the characters. It’s also about the search for truth, which is something we all need to think about in our lives. It’s our duty as citizens to search for personal truth, and also for truth in a larger sense.

What’s the craziest thing that happened while making one of your films?

In Variety, being thrown out of a porn store because they thought I was a prostitute.

What are your hopes/fears/wishes regarding Tribeca?

I think screening a movie at the Tribeca Film Festival is important because I helped create the neighborhood as it is today. When I moved here in 1981, the streets were empty, and it was like a backlot on a Hollywood movie set if you imagined what New York looked like. You could walk the streets, smell the smells of the factories, and hear the crickets and foghorns. It had the feeling of a secret place, with great locations and huge spaces that didn’t cost a lot of money. And everyone knew each other on the streets—there were like two bars, one restaurant, and a small deli, and that was it.

I always love the very first screening of a movie—I love the experience, and not only for films I have made. It’s so special to be in a theater when the lights go down and that first image appears on the screen, that feeling right before the movie starts. I love the collective experience of watching movies together.

If you could have dinner with any filmmaker (alive or dead)—who would you want it to be?

Oh my God. There are so many—it’s hard to choose just one. I’ve met Bertolucci and Fassbinder. Jean Luc Godard, I’ve met and interviewed myself. I would like to have dinner with my friend who I think is here in New York right now—Atom Egoyan. His work is thrilling. I see everything he does, and I always feel inspired by him.

Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love really knocked me out. I watch it periodically every few months.

Oh, and Catherine Breillat—she did Romance and a number of films. She made The Last Mistress with Asia Argento—I’d like to meet her. I met Breillat before, and I find her very inspiring as a director.

What piece of art (film/book/music/what-have-you) do you recommend to your friends?

Sophie Calle has a show right now at the Paula Cooper Gallery—she’s a conceptual artist. It’s called Take Care of Yourself. She got a breakup email from a boyfriend, and she sent it to 107 women all over the world, and asked them to interpret/analyze the letter. It’s really funny and poignant, and there are interviews and videos with all these women, including psychics, psychologists, Laurie Anderson, Catherine DeNeuve. All these women wanted to respond, since she’s such a well-known international artist.

As for movies, I love The Beat That My Heart Skipped, by Jacques Audiard.

And the book The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga

Can you talk about the music in the film? I know it’s a crucial part of the movie.

There’s a scene in the movie that flashes back to five young guys sitting in a club like Birdland. (It’s called the Five Spot, which was really a club.) That moment in time is etched in their faces forever and ever. The movie started there in my head when I read that scene. I used it as the centerpiece of the film and moved out from there. What was important in the scene were the faces, and also the music. The music was this transcendent amazing jazz of a musician like Miles Davis; it helped us to chart the path of what the music would be in the film. The composer Anton Sanko used a raw and moving melody to push the story forward—it’s an emotional and gripping score. The music connects the current reality of Harry with his past.

Are you seeing other movies at the Festival?

I haven’t had too much time, but I would really like to see The Eclipse. Aidan Quinn is in that one too [he’s also in Handsome Harry], so I’m interested.

I’d also like to see Barry Levinson’s Poliwood. I love him as a director, and I find the influence of Hollywood on politics (and vice versa) fascinating.

And I hear I am in Blank City, and I know a lot of my friends are in it too. I remember doing the interview, so I’d like to see how that turned out.

Variety screens today, Wednesday, at 5:00. Check out the Rush Tickets policy.

Handsome Harry screens throughout the Festival. Tickets are still available.

Blank City screens throughout the Festival. Check out the Rush Tickets policy.

Read more Faces of the Festival, including one with Handsome Harry star Jamey Sheridan.


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