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SXSW '05 Interview: 'Mana: Beyond Belief' Directors Peter Friedman & Roger Manley

by Scott Weinberg

The 'Mana: Beyond Belief' Pitch: What do the American flag, a cherry blossom tree, a frozen tuna, and a Rembrandt painting have in common? All people, all over the world, value or venerate something. This particular universality across cultures - whether the object of value is religious, artistic, economic, historical, or personal, whether the believer is one person or a group - is the connective spine for the investigation of "power objects.

"Documentary on "Mana" - the power of objects."

Will this be your first time at SXSW? Any other film festival experience?
Peter: Yes, first time at SXSW. Lots of festival experience (former Sundance winner)

Roger: First time at SXSW. Other festival experience:

Oakland International Educational Film Festival -- First Place Golden Apple
Houston International Film Festival -- First Place Gold Award
CINE -- Golden Eagle Award
Philadelphia International Film Festival -- First Place Gold Award
Sinking Creek Film Celebration -- Honorable Mention
Columbus International Film Festival -- First Place Chris Award
AFI American Video Conference Awards -- First Place, Children's Instruction
American Film Festival -- Finalist
International Film Festival of New York -- Bronze Medal
American Library Association -- 1991 Selected Film for Young Adults
Washington, DC "Rosebud" Awards -- First Place, Best Feature Film
American Library Association Carnegie Medal for the Best Children's Film for 1998
IFP -- Finalist

When you were 14 years old, if someone asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, what would your answer have been?
Peter: A scientist.

Roger: Explorer / Paleontologist

How did you get started in filmmaking?
Peter: I was inspired by a teacher in college.

Roger: Through still photography and storytelling/writing.

How have things changed for you since your film was accepted into the festival?
Peter: Travel bills have gone up.

Roger: I now need a place to stay in Austin and money for the plane ticket!

When you were shooting the film, did you have SXSW (or film festivals in general) in mind?
Peter: No.

Roger: Not SXSW, but others, yes.

How did you get your film started? How did you go from script to finished product?
Peter: It's a collaboration between myself and Roger Manley, an old friend with a vastly different professional background than my own: folklore, outsider art, indigenous peoples, still photography.

Roger: It's a collaboration between myself and my friend Peter Friedman. He had a long-term interest in belief and I had a long-term interest in "things". ("Material culture" is the eleven-dollar term for it.) "Mana" is the Polynesian word for how things contain belief. Making this film allowed us to combine our interests in a single project. Voila!

What’s the one glaring lesson you learned while making this film?
Peter: "Mana" is universal, and belief is a fundamental building block of the human mind.

Roger: "Mana" is universal, and belief is a fundamental building block of the human mind.

When you were in pre-production, did you find yourself watching other great movies in preparation?
Peter: No.

Roger: No.

If a studio said ‘we love this, we love you, you can remake anything in our back catalogue for $40m’ – what film, if any, would you want to remake?
Peter: I might do this, so I'd rather not answer, because someone might steal the idea!

Roger: We are already discussing this possibility ourselves, so best not to discuss it publicly.

Two parter – name an actor you'd KILL to work with, and then name an actor in your own film that you really think is destined for great things.
Peter: Sean Penn is my favorite actor. I have no actors in my film, but I think Asia Argento is destined for great things as a director.

Roger: I'd kill to work with Dick Powell, but he's already dead. We have no actors in our current film, Mana: Beyond Belief, but I think Becky Stark and Jonny Elkes, who have acted in other films I wrote, are on their way to greatness.

The festival circuit: what could be improved? What's been your favorite part of the ride?
Peter: Festivals should be more selective and take more risks. They should drop their insistence on premieres, which hurt the careers of films they should be supporting. My favorite part is meeting the people who come to see my films.

Roger: I agree with Peter that the over-emphasis on premieres often limits the quality of films that should be available to all festivals. Festivals should be able to show whatever films their programmers or juries deem best or most appropriate for their audiences, period. After all, no museum curator asks "Has this painting ever shown at the National Gallery? If so, then we can't possibly show it at The Met." My favorite part is the encounters with other people I meet at the festivals. And, of course, seeing some good movies.

Have you ‘made it’ yet? If not, at what point will you be able to say ‘yes’?
Peter: Yes. but there's always more to do, creatively and career-wise.

Roger: I've made it in the sense that I've always been able to (creatively) whatever I really wanted to do, and I plan to continue being able to do that. Even if I haven't put in the kidney-shaped pool yet!

A film is made by many people, including the director (of course), but you'll often see movies that open with a credit that says “a film by…” – Did you use that credit in your film? If so, defend yourself! If not, what do you think of those who do?
Peter: I don't remember if I use that credit but I don't think people should use it. If I have I'm sorry, I can't defend it.

Roger: I don't use that credit line. A film is like a Ouija Board: the messages it spells result from the actions of many people's fingers pushing on the moving pointer.


Mana: Beyond Belief, directed by Peter Friedman & Roger Manley, will premiere at the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival. Click here for more information - or visit the official Mana: Beyond Belief website

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originally posted: 02/18/05 01:21:40
last updated: 02/22/05 16:57:49
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