Backstage Interview | 86th Academy Awards

Documentary (Short Subject)

CATEGORY: Documentary (Short Subject)
INTERVIEW WITH: Malcolm Clarke and Nicholas Reed


Q.    So congratulations with this.  Fantastic film.  I actually saw it yesterday at the IDA, and you said that actually, unfortunately, the wonderful lady from the room number 6 died a week ago.  So could you please let us know about her last minutes and ‑‑ and obviously did she learn about the nomination, [inaudible].  Did she know about the nominated, the film was nominated?
A.    (Nicholas Reed)  Did she know? 
A.    (Malcolm Clarke)  Yes.  The answer to your question, did she know, is yes.  I actually didn't know that she knew, but she ‑‑ it's funny, because we were ‑‑ I was in New York last week at an Academy screening, and there was a question from the floor.  Someone said, how is she doing?  Of course, foolishly, I said she's doing great; because the three years that we have known her, she has been amazing.  And she's been completely healthy, and vital, and funny.  What I didn't know is she had just gone into the hospital two nights before that, Thursday night of last week, feeling a little sick; and the machine just stopped.  She didn't suffer.  She died quietly in her sleep, but she died at 8:00 o'clock on Sunday ‑‑ on Sunday morning.  So, it's been a very rough and strange surreal week for Nicholas and I, because we've been celebrating being nominated and also mourning our leading lady.
A.    (Nicholas Reed)  What's really beautiful, though, is that she passed away I think anyone would want to pass.  She lived in that same apartment up until a few days before she was feeling a little weak, and then she passed peacefully.  There was no pain.  So, she ‑‑ she ‑‑ and she passed in the same way she lived her life, which is just beautifully poetic. 

Q.    You and I spoke on the red carpet, but I forgot to ask you how you found her and how you decided to make a movie about her. 
A.    (Malcolm Clarke)  I almost didn't make this movie because I was so stupid.  I ‑‑ I was told about her three years before I met her, and for three years I refused to meet her; and the reason was not because I was ‑‑ I mean, it was really very simple.  I had made a Holocaust film 10 years ago.  It was actually nominated for an Academy Award, a film called PRISONER OF PARADISE.  I didn't want to make another Holocaust film.  I didn't want to go into that space again; because dealing with that material day after day, week after week is really rough.  And so I refused to meet this lady who my friend in New York said was quite remarkable.  Finally, I was in London on business, and she said you're there anyway, just go and have a cup of tea with her.  And I went and spent 45 minutes with Alice, and, well, that changed everything.  It changed ‑‑ certainly changed our lives.  And she was 107 at the time.  And I came back to Montreal, which is where I live; and I said to my crew, you are going to make a movie.  We are going to do it fast, because she was 107.  Everyone's going to do it for free, because we haven't got the time to raise any money; and that is what happened.  We made the film, and she lasted another 3 years, you know, and we ‑‑ and when she died, I think it's true to say that we genuinely believe that she was going go on for ‑‑ I actually said to the Academy screening in New York, I said, I believe that she is going to out‑ ‑‑ outlast us all, because she was so remarkable.  So, this is definitely a ‑‑ I mean, it's ‑‑ it's for her.

Q.    I'm really happy for you.  Well done. 
A.    (Malcolm Clarke)  Thank you.

Q.    Congratulations.  I wanted to know if you'd always ‑‑ if you always intended to produce a short film rather than a feature, and why short film is important to the documentary features industry. 
A.    (Malcolm Clarke)  Yeah.  There's some subjects that don't merit a feature film.  There's a ‑‑ there's a tendency in documentaries now to want to kind of inflate the subject and make it a 90‑minute film.  It's so inappropriate, because there are so many films that work best at a shorter length.  I mean, we ended ‑‑ we started wanting to make a 10‑ or 15‑minute film about Alice.  It was a labor of love that had no agenda.  We weren't thinking of releasing it.  We just wanted to memorialize this extraordinary woman.  It came in at 38 minutes, which is a completely stupid length because you can't sell it to anyone.  You can't put it on television because you need it to be 25 or 27 minutes, or one hour.  So it was neither one thing nor the other, but it was the right length for Alice because it absolutely captured the essence of who she was, and that's what we wanted to do. 

Q.    All right.  The documentary ‑‑ congratulations.  The documentary is amazing.  I wanted to ask you, there's so much ‑‑ I mean, she had over a century of material, and is any of that still on footage somewhere?  Are there ‑‑ there ‑‑ was your original piece cut to the 38 minutes, and you have footage that's not ‑‑ that you didn't show?  Is there anything else, basically? 
A.    (Malcolm Clarke)  Oh, yeah.  I mean, this is a lady who loved to talk, and she was extremely engaging, and she was extremely eager to talk to us.  So, yeah.  I mean, there's a lot of stuff that didn't make it into the film.  I'd like to think the best stuff made it into the film, but there is certainly a lot more material and a lot more we can probably learn from Alice.  But I ‑‑ as I say, the trick was to be reticent about ‑‑ I don't want to use everything, every single word out of her mouth.  I wanted to use what ‑‑ what most typified who she was and what her kind of view of the world was; and I think we got that.  But, absolutely, there's hours and hours of footage of Alice.

A.    (Nicholas Reed)  One of ‑‑ one of the things when you were shooting with her, because she's so naturally inquisitive is she would ask us about ourselves.  How does the camera work?  What does that button do?  She would take the camera from the cinematographer.  So the problem making the film is that she was wanting to do documentary on all of us, because what made her so beautiful is she was always, always interested in what everyone else was doing and always like a sponge, and that's what made her so vital. 

Q.    Thank you very much and congratulations.


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