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SXSW '05 Interview: 'Light from the East' Director Amy Grappell

by Scott Weinberg

The 'Light from the East' Pitch: August 1991: A troupe of American actors travels to Ukraine to participate in the first cultural exchange theatre project in Soviet history and find themselves trapped at the epicenter of a political revolution.

"A documentary where East meets West."

Will this be your first time at SXSW? Any other film festival experience?
In 1997, I produced, co-wrote and acted in the independent feature film Shady Grove, which premiered at SXSW and then did the International festival circuit

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?
A movie star.

How did you get started in filmmaking?
I was an actress and was frustrated with the material I was acting in. I wanted more of a voice as an artist to be involved in creating the overall work. I made my first short film at NYU.

How have things changed for you since your film was accepted into the festival?
Yes, we have been in high gear, working all hours to finish the film and prepare for our world premiere.

When you were shooting the film, did you have SXSW (or film festivals in general) in mind?
No, it was 1991 and we were at NYU film school. We were highly influenced by the Maysles and just wanted to make the next great verite documentary.

How did you get your film started? How did you go from script to finished product?
I was an actress and a film student at NYU. It was the Perestroika era, the cold war was ending and I was asked to take part in one of the first American/ Soviet cultural exchange theatre projects in history. My boyfriend was a film student as well and we decided to go together and bring a camera. Getting to a finished product was an act of will and continues to take a great deal of work and dedication. I think any independent film that gets to a finished product is a miracle of sorts. The dream has to be stronger then the obstacles and there are many.

What’s the one glaring lesson you learned while making this film?
Don’t shoot on Hi-8, it has drop out problems.

When you were in pre-production, did you find yourself watching other great movies in preparation?
Yes, the film was influenced by the Maysles and by the French New Wave director Jean Rouche’s film Chronicle of a Summer.

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?
Jean Luc Godard’s Alphaville, the modern version.

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.
Not sure I would kill to work with any actor. Mariana Sadowska, who sings much of the music in our film, is destined for great things.

The festival circuit: what could be improved? What's been your favorite part of the ride?
I think the quality of the work should be prioritized over stars appearing in films or industry connections. I love the experience of meeting other filmmakers from all over the world and getting to share the work.

Have you ‘made it’ yet? If not, at what point will you be able to say ‘yes’?
I will have made it when I don’t need a day job and I am established enough to be able to make films with the support of the industry. I’d like to have the ability to work with a network or studio on projects with a budget and/or distributor attached in advance

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?
No, I don’t use it.


Light from the East, directed by Amy Grappell, will premiere at the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival. Click here for more information.

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originally posted: 02/19/05 13:10:11
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