My Dinner with Haskell
“My Dinner with Haskell” is a feature length documentary about the legendary cinematographer and inspirational activist filmmaker, Haskell Wexler, who we follow over a 2 year period as he interacts with the people & events in his life, using his influence to promote his message of social justice and hope, both within & outside of the Hollywood system.
Haskell Wexler is a cultural icon who has inspired and nurtured many of today’s talented professionals. His impressive body of work spans both the Hollywood and documentary worlds and at 87, he is still a passionate activist with an ongoing commitment to human rights.
Joan Churchill & her partner, Alan Barker, know how vital he is, actively engaged with many different concerns and they wanted to document the man as he is today, pursuing his passions. With their close access to Haskell and through his colleagues, the film will follow this busy, vital man whose activism is as much who he is as is his legendary film career. It will examine his work through clips & interviews & will show how his documentary roots informed his approach to shooting features; something quite revolutionary when he began – shooting on location, using a hand-held camera, shooting in cars instead of on process stages. He is keenly aware that his time is short and the filmmakers explore end of life issues with him, but the primary focus is on a man whose energy and passion exceed many who are half his age. He has run circles around us.
We have shot the film in a very casual manner, passing the camera around from person to person – since most of us hanging out with Haskell are shooters – so it is very experiential. This will not be the traditional doc with an invisible director not being heard asking questions from behind the camera. If the sound person had something to say, the camera would pan to him. The person behind the camera often speaks out. So everybody in the room becomes part of this interactive film.
Since most of the people who intersect with Haskell are in the business of ‘taking pictures,’ the conversation often turns to issues confronting filmmakers, and this subject is often front and center. We explore the dilemmas which filmmakers face when their subjects’ participation endangers them. We are exposed to discussions between equals about ‘reality’ and whether it’s possible to capture it, and how the camera affects the situation. We hear harrowing tales of shooting in dangerous situations but not even thinking about stopping, because it was important to document what was going on. We examine the ethical dilemmas facing filmmakers who put their subjects lives in danger.
We are on a journey with a man who has never stopped being an activist, who believes his work on his documentaries has kept him in touch with ordinary people which in turn has made him more committed to using his art to fight against the injustices they suffer. All this while being a celebrity, a two time Oscar winner, and a Hollywood legend.
Haskell Wexler’s feature credits read like the definitive history of American cinema: “America, America,” “The Loved One,” “Medium Cool,” “American Graffiti,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,””In the Heat of the Night,” “Bound for Glory”and “Coming Home.” Those in Holloywood know very little about his documentaries which are always issue-oriented.
It is most unusual, and all the more impressive, to find someone like Haskell Wexler who straddles both the Hollywood and documentary worlds and our interviews will be with people he has known, influenced and worked with over the years: George Lucas, Jane Fonda, Vilmos Zsigmond, John Sayles, Billy Crystal, Lou Adler, Daryl Hannah (niece), Jackson Brown, as well as associates from the documentary discipline – Pennebaker & Al Maysles – journalists and activists including Susan Meiseles, Pam Yates, Saul Landau and Barney Rosset.