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SXSW '06 Interview: 'Manhattan, Kansas' Director Tara Wray

By Scott Weinberg
Posted 03/10/06 21:49:49

The 'Manhattan, Kansas' Pitch: Manhattan, Kansas is a first-person documentary feature told from the POV of a daughter coping with her mentally unstable mother. It delves into the complicated ways people care for one another, and offers insight into the mind of a parent struggling for physical and emotional survival, and the effects this has on those who love her.

Describe your movie using the smallest number of words possible.
It's a documentary about a most unusual mother and child reunion.

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.
Yes. First time at any festival.

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 mountain climber.

Not including your backyard and your Dad’s Handycam, how did you get your real “start” in filmmaking?
By watching lots of movies and then jumping in to my own.

Do you feel any differently about your film now that you know it’s on “the festival circuit?”
Yes. It's a real thing now.

Of all the Muppets, which one do you most relate to?
Gonzo.

During production did you ever find yourself thinking ahead to film festivals, paying customers, good & bad reviews, etc?
No. I tried not to think about that stuff.

How did this film get rolling at the beginning? Give us a brief history from writing to production to post to just last night.
My mother and I had been estranged for a long time when I asked her if she wanted to be in a documentary I was making. She said yes. Then I hired Michel Negroponte and Randy Bell to shoot and produce. Then I hired Alan Oxman to help with editing and post production. Then I had barbeque last night.

If you could share one massive lesson that you learned while making this movie, what would it be?
Trust your guts and surround yourself with people who know what they're doing and are willing to help you out.

What films and filmmakers have acted as your inspirations, be they a lifelong love or a very specific scene composition? Did you watch any movies in pre-production and yell “This! I want something JUST like this …only different.”?
Ross McElwee.

What actor would you cast as a live-action Homer Simpson?
John Goodman.

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 say Grey Gardens but that's already being remade.

Name an actor in your film that’s absolutely destined for the big-time. And why, of course.
My film's a doc so I would say we're all destined for obscurity.

Finish this sentence: If I weren’t a filmmaker, I’d almost definitely be...
Bored with life.

Who’s an actor you’d kill a small dog to work with? (Don’t worry; nobody would know.)
None.

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!”
No. If I could make a living doing something that makes me happy - like making movies - then I'd know. As it stands now I still have a day job.

Honestly, how important are film critics nowadays?
Important.

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

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?
Only release an unrated version.

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 like it because I'm a director.

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?
Free cigarettes for all!

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Manhattan, Kansas, directed by Tara Wray, will premiere at the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival. Click here for festival information, and be sure to check out the official Manhattan, Kansas website.

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