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SXSW '09 Interview: "MINE" Director Geralyn Pezanoski

by William Goss

The "MINE" Pitch: "MINE is a feature-length, independent documentary about the essential bond between humans and animals, set against the backdrop of one of the worst natural disasters in modern U.S. history: Hurricane Katrina. This gripping, character-driven story follows New Orleans residents as they attempt the daunting task of trying to reunite with their pets who have been adopted by families all over the country, and chronicles the custody battles that arise when two families love the same pet. Who determines the fate of the animals - and the people - involved? A compelling meditation on race, class and the power of compassion, MINE examines how we treat animals as an extension of how we view and treat each other."

Describe your movie using the smallest number of words possible.
A profound story about the bond between humans and animals, and the power of that bond to ameliorate human suffering.

Is this your first trip to SXSW? Got any other film festival experience?
This will be my first time to SXSW. I'm so excited. I'm a newbie, please be gentle with me!

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?
A litigator. The thrill of the argument...

Not including your backyard and your dad's Handycam, how did you get your real "start" in filmmaking?
When I was 13, I helped my best friend’s nerdy brother make a horror film. I was supposed to act but I couldn’t scream. In hindsight, it may have been because our monster was my friend’s pug… but at any rate I got “demoted” to camera. It’s funny, I actually forgot about that until just now. But my legit "start" came as a producer of commercial and independent film projects in the Bay Area.

Do you feel any differently about your film now that you know it's on "the festival circuit?"
Well, when we submitted MINE to SXSW, we had really just arrived at a rough cut and had only shown a couple of people. I was happy with the film but totally unprepared for what a favorable response would mean. Janet said she loved it and I suddenly found myself with only six weeks to finish my first feature-length documentary! I can’t wait to watch people watching this film that we’ve worked so hard on for the past three and a half years.

Of all the Muppets, which one do you most relate to?
Is Grover a Muppet?

During production, did you ever find yourself thinking ahead to film festivals, paying customers, good & bad reviews, etc?
Oh, no. Some days, I thought we'd never finish.

How did this film get rolling at the beginning? Give us a brief history from writing to production to post to just last night.
This whole journey started for me when I volunteered to film this amazing animal rescue effort that was happening in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast after Katrina. I spent the next few months creating a series of fundraising PSAs for the Humane Society of Louisiana. While there, I decided to foster and later adopted a boxer mix named Nola.

Some months later, I learned about the custody battles developing over the rescued pets. It was a story I knew I had to explore. So we spent the next three years following pets and their people from New Orleans to California to Florida to Canada. We documented the stories of a handful of extraordinary Katrina victims committed to finding their animals even years after the disaster, as well as those of rescue workers and new adoptive guardians, who, like me, decided to take in these “Katrina pets” and care for them as their own.

We picture locked about two weeks ago and are really happy with the way it’s turned out. Our world premiere is less than two weeks from today and we're almost done with our online and sound mix -- let's just say it's a nail biter!

If you could share one massive lesson that you learned while making this movie, what would it be?
Pick a script with two dudes in a car; women take forever to get ready! Making this film is the hardest and most rewarding thing I've ever done. There were many times when I wanted to quit and the only things keeping me in it were my financial investment in the film, and the responsibility I felt toward the people who had shared their stories with me. There were definitely days when the debt was the ONLY thing keeping me in.

There’s a huge lesson in there somewhere… Some days it feels like OMG, I’ll never do this again, how could I have been so irresponsible?! But most days my take away is that my debt must be good because it forced me to create something I might have otherwise given up on. I've never been one to let lack of money or anything else stop me from pursuing something that feels right…

Did you watch any movies in pre-production and yell “This! I want something JUST like this …only different.”?
I felt serious pangs of doc envy when I saw a 20-minute clip of Trouble the Water in New Orleans last year. The footage they had from during and after the storm was just so compelling. I wanted to make a movie that powerful.

What actor would you cast as a live-action Homer Simpson?
Danny McBride. No one does funny like that man.

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?
My crew and I want to do a March of the Penguins with blue whales where we live in submarines for months and follow their migration.

Name an actor in your film that’s absolutely destined for the big time. And why, of course.
Malvin. You'll know why when you see MINE.

Finish this sentence: If I weren't a filmmaker, I'd almost definitely be...
...a chocolatier! I'm seriously considering it for my next life...

Who’s an actor you’d kill a small dog to work with?
Does it have to be a dog? I mean…

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!"?
Ha. I honestly can't even imagine that sentiment.

Honestly, how important are film critics nowadays?
I think critics are still totally relevant, though since there are so many now I think their influence is changing. I myself turn to tools like metacritic that are based on an aggregate, rather than looking to a single source.

You’re told that your next movie must have one “product placement” on board, but you can pick the product. What would it be?
That’s easy – Slankets.

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?
A steamy scene under the cover of a Slanket -- brilliant! We'll increase our product placement revenue…

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?
I didn't know that was an issue. I think it's what ever feels right. In choosing that credit for myself, I didn't think it was a negation of the invaluable contribution of my team - rather an acknowledgement that ultimately this was the film I wanted to make.

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?
MINE should definitely be at the top of everyone's list, but I hope people will go see several films because there are so many great ones this year! MINE is a gripping story that follows Katrina victims as they attempt to reunite with their pets who have been adopted by families all over the country, and chronicles the custody battles that arise when two families love the same pet. There are themes everyone can relate to, so its appeal is really universal. The film also presents a unique perspective on one of the most important events in our nation's recent history, and it keeps people talking for a while afterwards. It’s heart wrenching and thought provoking but also really sweet and hopeful. The stories just stay with you.

---

Geralyn Pezanoskis MINE will play as part of the 2009 South By Southwest's "Documentary Competition" slate. For more information, click here or visit the official website.


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=2701
originally posted: 03/07/09 13:31:58
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