Director David Gordon Green, a guest of the TLV International Student Film Festival, which runs until June 16 at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque (and was created and is run by students of the Tel Aviv University’s Department of Film and Television), is best known for Pineapple Express, the stoner comedy/thriller starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, and he’s fine with that.
Interviewed via Skype from his home in Austin, Texas, before his visit to Israel, Green said, “I was lucky with that one.
My other films haven’t been extraordinarily commercial. Pineapple Express was nice, it’s opened a lot of doors.”
Like most of Green’s films, Pineapple Express is not just one genre. His films are difficult to classify, often mixing comedy, drama, action, suspense and just about anything else you can name.
He is the rare director whose films have enjoyed popular success, become cult classics and garnered serious critical acclaim and awards from the top film festivals all over the world. Green won the Silver Bear, the Best Director Award at the Berlin Film Festival in 2013, for Prince Avalanche, the offbeat story of two road workers toiling in isolation, which stars Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch. His 2003 romantic comedy, All the Real Girls, won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2003.
His feature-film debut, George Washington, about a group of African-American teenagers in North Carolina who cope with a tragedy one summer, won the Discovery Award at the Toronto International Film Festival and the New York Film Critics Circle Best First Film Award, among many others. He traveled with George Washington to the Jerusalem Film Festival in 2000 and was looking forward to visiting Tel Aviv for the Student Film Festival.
“For me it’s just a chance to explore a culture I’m not overly familiar with. I love to be a stranger, I love to be a foreigner, to explore the corners of the world beyond the headlines. It’s nice to go and talk to people. It’s one of the great things about filmmaking. It gives me a reason to go places and to be nosy.”
Green’s upcoming film, Stronger, which he has recently completed filming, is a departure for him in that it is a fact-based drama. It is about Jeff Bauman, a survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing who lost both his legs in the attack. Bauman, who is played by Jake Gyllenhaal, was waiting for his girlfriend at the finish line of the marathon when the bombs exploded that killed three people and wounded more than 260 others. Bauman was a key witness in the trial of bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and wrote about his experience in the memoir, Stronger. Tatiana Maslany, the star of the television series Orphan Black, co-stars.
“The backdrop is the Boston Marathon bombing,” he said. “But it’s not about [the] manhunt. It’s about a guy who lost his legs in the bombing, and about his family... It’s a story that is relatable to situations that are happening all over the world. It’s about what happens after the headlines fade, and it’s kind of a love story. This guy was at the marathon to get his girlfriend back.”
For Green, making a movie about a real story, and one so fraught with drama and suffering, was both daunting and fascinating.
“A substantial portion of the cast play themselves. I utilized dozens of people from the actual events. It was a thrill, the unmatched authenticity and access people gave us. It was very emotional, but it carries a great deal of responsibility, when people are trusting you with their story. It was really intense.”
Although Green tried to stay as close as possible to the truth, he acknowledged that, “With every film you take creative liberties. I combined certain events and characters, but I did the best I could to tell the story.”
The movie will not be released until sometimes next year, Green said, in part because there will be a lengthy post-production period, in which Gyllenhaal’s legs will be digitally removed from the finished film.
While Green is in Tel Aviv, “I’m going to step away and leave it in the hands of my editor.”
Green is part of a community of maverick filmmakers who prefer to live in Austin rather than Los Angeles, among them Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez and Mike Judge. He grew up in a middle-class family in Little Rock, Arkansas, and went to lots of movies with his father.
“My dad was just a big movie buff, he would take me to movies,” said Green. “I was not the best athlete, I was just OK in school, but I was very motivated to put together a career, I had an ambition.”
Although initially, he was rejected from all the film schools he applied to, he eventually was accepted by the North Carolina School of the Arts, where he found himself drawn to writing, rather than the technical elements of film making.
“I thought I could get into film criticism.I had a great appreciation for the art form. You hire great people” to take care of the technical aspects. He likes to work with the same crew members, some of whom were his classmates at North Carolina, among them cinematographer Tim Orr, editor Colin Patton and production designer Richard A. Wright, as well as actor Danny McBride.
In addition to starring alongside James Franco and Natalie Portman in Green’s medieval quest comedy, Your Highness, McBride has appeared in several of the television shows Green has written and produced, among them Eastbound & Down and Vice Principals. Green, who really keeps busy – he is also the father of five-year-old twin boys – is at work on another television series, Red Oak, a coming-of-age comedy set in the ’80s.
Green said that he couldn’t remember exactly which of his movies would be shown at the Student Film Festival, but that he would be happy to talk about any of them.
“I’m proud of all my movies and can talk all day about them. I can roll with a lot of different things, I have a lot of fun going from genre to genre.” Filmmaking, he said, “is something you have in your head or your heart and you go for it. I don’t have the obvious genre or game... but I have a certain audacity and interest in things.”For more info on the festival visit www.taufilmfest.com.