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SXSW '07 Interview: "Weaving Worlds" Director Bennie Klain

by Laura Kyle

The "Weaving Worlds" pitch: Navajo tales of how the west was spun, exploring the personal stories of Navajo weavers and their complex relationship with reservation traders.

Describe your movie using the smallest number of words possible.
Weaving Worlds highlights Navajo tales of how the West was spun. The documentary explores the personalities involved in the making and selling of Navajo rugs against a backdrop of increased globalization.

Is this your first trip to SXSW? Got any other film festival experience? If you’re a festival veteran, let us know your favorite and least-favorite parts of the ride.
I live in Austin, so I attend when I'm not shooting a film. I've had two other films premiere at Sundance but this is my first SXSW premiere. It's exciting, because the filmmaking community here is really tight. I hate going into a room full of people at events designed for networking. I get the most intimidating feeling from that. My favorite part is seeing the films.

Back when you were a little kid, and you were asked that inevitable question, your answer would always be “When I grow up I want to be a …” what?
I actually wanted to be a teacher, but found out I didn't have the patience for it. It doesn't make any sense because patience is definitely a virtue in filmmaking. It took us nearly four years to get this film made since we wrote our first grant. It was 100+ pages! (We didn't get the grant!)

Not including your backyard and your Dad’s Handycam, how did you get your real “start” in filmmaking?
I grew up on the Navajo reservation, so I didn't have access to the technology. I started out with a career in radio journalism. It actually helped me a lot in terms of writing and story structure. It taught me how to take information and structure it into stories. I also stumbled across the situation for my first documentary, which I co-produced, The Return of Navajo Boy. The rest is history.

Do you feel any differently about your film now that you know it’s on “the festival circuit?”
My film is driving me crazy right now because I'm in the final stages of post-production. I've seen it so many times I could recite it! I don't think I will see it any differently until I actually screen it before an audience. I'll let you know how it goes.

Of all the Muppets, which one do you most relate to?
The Muppets that played in the band. They were way cooler than all the other muppets. Miss Piggy annoyed me to no end.

During production did you ever find yourself thinking ahead to film festivals, paying customers, good & bad reviews, etc?
You don't have time to think about anything but production during production. Did that make sense?

How did this film get rolling at the beginning? Give us a brief history from writing to production to post to just last night.
A good friend of mine from Canada is a rug historian. She approached me after seeing my first doc and proposed a project about Navajo rug weavers that takes a look at the economic side of the craft. We wrote our first grant along with my two producers which was 100+ pages. (We didn't get the grant!) We wrote more grants over the next year that we didn't get and we finally hit the jackpot with Native American Public Telecommunications. They are awesome in that they believed in the project's potential and gave us money for research and development. That's really what got the ball rolling along with a couple of smaller humanities grants. Shooting was very difficult as our job was to find the story not knowing exactly what we wanted. It took two years to edit down eighty hours of footage into one hour. It's taking us longer than we expected to online edit. See what I mean about patience?

If you could share one massive lesson that you learned while making this movie, what would it be?
Do not go into a documentary project with pre-conceived notions. The participants need the space to tell their own stories.

What films and filmmakers have acted as your inspirations, be they a lifelong love or a very specific scene composition?
I really like The Bicycle Thief and also To Kill a Mockingbird. I also love the work of Zacharias Kunuk.

Did you watch any movies in pre-production and yell “This! I want something JUST like this …only different.”?
I got really excited about the hype surrounding An Inconvenient Truth. Weaving Worlds is about living a way of life that emphasizes sustainability. Hopefully we can ride Al Gore's coat tails for a bit and get people to see this movie. I'm also dying to see Sterlin Harjo's Four Sheets to the Wind. I've just written my first feature and like the reception and reviews he's getting. That's the kind of reception I want for my first feature Relocation.

What actor would you cast as a live-action Homer Simpson?
The guy who plays Al Bundy on "Married with Children."

Say you landed a big studio contract tomorrow, and they offered you a semi-huge budget to remake, adapt, or sequelize something. What projects would you tackle?
I would remake Death of a President and the new title would be The Birth of a President. It might help people understand why we are in the situation we are today as a country.

Name an actor in your film that’s absolutely destined for the big-
time. And why, of course.

I hope my film helps all Navajo weavers be destined for the big time. It's about time!

Finish this sentence: If I weren’t a filmmaker, I’d almost definitely be...
...still toiling in radio journalism.

Who’s an actor you’d kill a small dog to work with? (Don’t worry; nobody would know.)
Greg Kinnear. I loved him in "Talk Soup" and was surprised when he took on acting and did it very well. I have a role for him in my first feature that would turn the heads of possible investors if he was attached to the project.

Have you “made it” yet? If not, what would have to happen for you to be able to say “Yes, wow. I have totally made it!”
I'm at the end of a documentary project, so naturally I'm flat broke with no clue how to pay my bills next month. I will have totally made it when I get money for my next project. It's a very dysfunctional cycle.

Honestly, how important are film critics nowadays?
It's all subjective. They are not the be all, end all.

You’re told that your next movie must have one “product placement” on board, but you can pick the product. What would it be?
American Spirit cigarettes.

You’re contractually obligated to deliver an R-rated film to your producers. The MPAA says you have to delete a sex scene that’s absolutely integral to the film or you’re getting an NC-17. How do you handle it?
I'd do what they did to Dakota Fanning. Just show close-ups of the face.

What’s your take on the whole “a film by DIRECTOR” issue? Do you feel it’s tacky, because hundreds (or at least dozens) of people collaborate to make a film – or do you think it’s cool, because ultimately the director is the final word on pretty much everything?
In the film industry, the director is the public face of the film. She/he is product much like the film itself so it's a role you have to learn to inhabit. My producers are perfectly fine with it and that's all that matters.

In closing, we ask you to convince the average movie-watcher to choose your film instead of the trillion other options they have. How do you do it?
Al Gore's coat tails! No really, Weaving Worlds is a rare glimpse into a world that most people aren't aware exists. Right here in the U.S.! Imagine that.

Weaving Worlds, directed by Bennie Klain, will premiere at the 2007 SXSW film festival. For more information, click here. And check out for even more info!

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originally posted: 02/17/07 08:01:12
last updated: 03/07/07 09:42:11
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