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SxSW 2017 Interview: THE UNTOLD TALES OF ARMISTEAD MAUPIN director Jennifer Kroot

by Jason Whyte

"THE UNTOLD TALES OF ARMISTEAD MAUPIN is a documentary portrait of the writer, Armistead Maupin. Maupin is best known for his TALES OF THE CITY novels. First published in 1976 as a daily column in the San Francisco Chronicle, Armistead's humorous, witty, and poignant TALES depicted the interwoven lives of gay, straight and trans characters. Armistead's own tales are actually stranger than fiction because he went from being a vehemently conservative aristocrat in the deep south to an proudly out San Franciscan, whose open heart inspires compassion and togetherness." Director Jennifer Kroot on THE UNTOLD TALES OF ARMISTEAD MAUPIN which screens at the 2017 South By Southwest Conference.

I hear you are back at SxSW this year! Tell me about what you have had here in the past, and your favorite parts of the city!

I was at SXSW in 2009 with my first documentary film IT CAME FROM KUCHAR, about the legendary underground filmmaking twins, who inspired John Waters and many others.

I enjoy watching the bats fly in at dusk. I understand that Austin has the largest urban bat colony in the world. It's very cool to see them fill up the sky.

So how did you get into this movie making business?

When I was in high school I enjoyed finding cult, independent and unusual films, and it inspired me to make films. I went to film school at SFSU and then SFAI. I studied with George Kuchar at SFAI, and still admire so much of his work.

In 2003 I made an underground, LGBT, science fiction satire called SIRENS OF THE 23RD CENTURY. It premiered at Frameline in San Francisco. In 2009 I made a feature documentary, IT CAME FROM KUCHAR which premiered at SXSW. In 2014 I premiered another documentary film TO BE TAKEI at Sundance. The film is about the actor and activist, George Takei, best known for his role as Mr. Sulu in the original Star Trek. I'm back at SXSW with my third doc, and fourth feature length film, THE UNTOLD TALES OF ARMISTEAD MAUPIN.

How did this project come together for you?

I am a big fan of Armistead's work. One day my husband mentioned that there was no independent documentary about him and asked, "Wouldn't he make a great subject?" After reading about Armistead's intensely conservative upbringing, I felt compelled to connect the dots of how he had transformed his life from vehement conservative to open hearted LGBT author. I asked a friend for an introduction to Armistead. I was hoping that I wouldn't like him, because I didn't want to do all the work of another portrait documentary, but I really liked him!

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you? What's your poison?

I am a tea drinker, and I did consume quite a bit during the making of this film. Once I start a film project, I feel like I am carrying a giant, psychic puzzle around. It's always hanging over me, and hard for me to focus on anything else. I know that I won't be able to relax until it's finished. I also always want to see the finished film, so I have to keep going. I try to do a lot of exercise while I'm working on a project. It helps me think.

What was your biggest challenge with this project, and the moment that was the most rewarding to you?

I like to create documentaries with nonlinear structures. I feel like this helps explore the universal themes within a portrait. In this case, it's about a man becoming his true authentic self and searching for family. It's challenging to create a solid deconstructed structure, but very satisfying when it works. It was extremely rewarding to be invited to premiere at SXSW.

I would love to know about the visual design of the movie and how it was shot!

We used three cameras, the FS7, C300 and a Red. There's tons of archival footage from various time periods and places and we found some amazing 8mm and 16mm footage of 1970s gay life in San Francisco. Mixing these formats together, we created a collage feel, and then united this look through bold color correction.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie here in Austin?

I love listening to audiences laugh and cry at the points where I always laughed and cried while making the film. It's fun to anticipate their reactions.

After the film screens at SxSW, where is the film going to show next?

We have a number of film festivals lined up next, including a European premiere at BFI Flare in London. We hope to secure distribution soon.

If you could show your movie in any theater outside of Austin, where would you screen it and why?

I love screening my films at The Castro Theater in San Francisco. It's a glorious, old movie palace that holds 1400 people. I have screened all my other films there at Frameline, so hopefully this one too. It's incredibly powerful to watch your own film with a captivated audience that large and it's magical to feel the theater laugh and cry.

What would you say to someone who was being disruptive during a movie, even if it was one of your own shows?

In asking people not to fiddle with their device during screenings, I try to be polite but firm. I was a teacher for a while, so I use that voice. I love that the Alamo Draft House has a strict policy about no devices. I think that's great!

We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or get into the industry somehow. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business?

It's usually a long haul, so don't expect overnight success. It's important to be obsessed, because you have to envision the entire project, and convince people to work with you and/or give you money. You have to be fully committed.

And finally, what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival?

I have seen many cool movies at festivals. I would like to mention one of my favorite films that happened to premiere at SXSW, in 2010. It's a documentary called THE PEOPLE VS. GEORGE LUCAS. It is for total Star Wars geeks and goes over in great detail all the ways that George Lucas continues to devastate Star Wars fans by changing the original film, or making more terrible films. I'm a big science fiction fan and it really spoke to me. I think it's a genius concept too, and incredibly funny. I was hoping they would come out with a new one since there are new Star Wars films again.

We hope you enjoyed this SxSW filmmaker interview as part of our coverage of SxSW 2017. To see the entire series click on the Live Report sidebar on your right. We will have interviews posted all throughout the festival so be sure to visit us often for more coverage!

This is one of the many films screening at the 2017 SXSW Conference in Austin, Texas taking place March 10-18. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to or use the SxSW GO App for Android and iOS.

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte

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originally posted: 03/18/17 01:25:18
last updated: 03/18/17 01:34:54
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