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VIFF '09 Interview - Punching The Clown director Gregory Viens

Punching The Clown - At VIFF '09
by Jason Whyte

“A misunderstood comedian comes to LA and becomes more misunderstood.” Director Gregory Viens on the film “Punching The Clown” which screens at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Do you have any other festival experience with “Punching The Clown”?

Yes, Punching the Clown won the Audience Award at the 2009 Slamdance Film Festival, the Jury Award at the Chicago International Movies and Music Festival, and the Best Music Award at Gen Art New York.

Could you give me a little look into your and what led you to the desire to want to make film?

It’s a very personal comedy, based on stories from my filmmaking partner Henry Phillips’ life.

Growing up, you were no doubt asked the eternal question “When I grow up I want to be a …” Finish this sentence, please!

A struggling filmmaker on the North Amercian festival circuit.

How did this project come to fruition? If you could, please provide me with a rundown of your involvement.

We wanted to tell this story for 12 years. We ultimately decided to produce it ourselves.

What was the biggest challenge in the production of the movie, be it principal photography or post-production?

Getting the tone right was the most difficult challenge. We were lucky to have complete creative control over all aspects of the film, which allowed us to achieve our vision.

Tell me about the technical side of the film; your relation to the film’s cinematographer, what the film was shot on and why it was decided to be photographed this way.

The cinematographer was asked to keep the camera unobtrusive. The idea was to create a somewhat objective effect.

Talk a bit about the experiences (festival or non-festival) that you have had with the film. Have you had any interesting audience stories or questions that have arisen at screenings?

People at festivals really seem to connect with the humor of the film, which is a great relief for Henry and for me. Many people want to know how we wrote the dialog, how we worked with actors and where the stories of the film come from.

Who would you say your biggest inspirations are in the film world (directors, actors, cinematographers, etc)? Did you have inspirations from filmmakers for this film in particular?

As a director, I am influenced by filmmakers as diverse as John Cassavetes, Woody Allen, Agnes Varda, Francois Truffaut, Roman Polanski, Jacques Audiard, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Fernando Meirelles, Nanni Moretti, Francois Ozon, Mike Leigh, David Chase, David Milch, Ed Burns and David Simon, to name just a few.

If you weren’t in this profession, what other career do you think you would be interested in?

I dream of a music career, playing the piano.

Please tell me some filmmakers or talent that you would love to work with, even if money was no object.

I would love to work with Mike Leigh who is, in my opinion, one of the most truthful filmmakers in the world. In the US, David Simon and Ed Burns who created “The Wire” are of the same caliber, in my mind, and I would love to collaborate.

How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?

It’s always important, but the definition of a critic has changed in the past few years since Youtube! The definition of media has changed also.

If your film could play in any movie theatre in the world, which one would you choose?

The theatre is not important.

What would you say to someone on the street to see your film instead of the latest blockbuster playing at the local megaplex?


No doubt there are a lot of aspiring filmmakers at film festivals who are out there curious about making a film of their own. Do you have any advice that you could provide for those looking to get a start?

Do it yourself.

And finally…what is your all time favorite motion picture, and why?

Any filmmaker who answers this question with a single film title is either humoring you or needs to see more movies. I’ll humor you and say “City of God” by Fernando Meirelles.

Be sure to follow instant happenings of VIFF on my Twitter at!

This is one of the many films playing at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival. For more information on the film’s screenings, showtimes and update information, point your browser to – Jason Whyte,

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originally posted: 10/12/09 19:01:47
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