Current Project

My Dinner with Haskell

“My Dinner With Haskell” is an exploration of the passions, ideas and convictions of acclaimed cinematographer, activist filmmaker and our dear friend Haskell Wexler. The through line of the film will be the lively debates and conversations with artists and activists that took place over meals. “My Dinner With Haskell” gives the audience a seat at the table to experience Haskell as we did.

Haskell Wexler was a cultural icon who inspired and nurtured many of today’s talented professionals. His impressive body of work spans both the Hollywood and documentary worlds. His activism was as much who he was as his legendary film career, although the two worlds rarely met.

Haskell was a passionate activist who never gave up hope that by his actions he could make the world a better place. Joan Churchill and Alan Barker spent ten years following Haskell. We wanted to show the man in all his vitality, pursuing his passions. He was never without his camera.

With our close access to Haskell, we followed him onto sets, on peace marches and Occupy LA protests. We see him at work, at film festivals, fighting to become president of his union. We learn about his generosity, his endless curiosity, and his empathy and deep commitment to human rights. But we also discover other things about the man…such as he knows every song that’s ever been sung on Broadway & he’s likely to burst out with a dirty limerick which he learned while in the Merchant Marines.

Throughout the film Jane Fonda and Haskell intersect. She gives him a life time achievement award at the beginning of the film and we’ve used her very funny speech to cover quickly Haskell’s amazing achievements all the while showing pictures from his entire life.  We also go to the Viennale with Haskell & Jane where they are honored. They both give moving statements about the devastation of war after a screening of “Coming Home.”  Then on the union election night when Haskell is waiting on the results, he is watching Jane give an extraordinary interview to Larry King about everything from her relationship with her father, to the travesty of American policy in both Vietnam and Iraq.  Haskell is moved by what she is saying and reminisces on their shared lives and films and problems of fatherhood. Jane Fonda has agreed to do the commentary for the film.

Since most of the people who intersect with Haskell are in the business of ‘taking pictures,’ the conversation often turns to issues confronting them. With D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus, Al Maysles, Hubert Sauper, Susan Meiselas and his filmmaking partners, Saul Landau and Kevin McKiernan, we explore the ethical dilemmas facing filmmakers and journalists when their subjects’ participation endangers their lives. 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’re privy to a terrifyingly graphic conversation about war with a young surgeon, Jonathan Kaplan.  He has lived his life on the front lines of many hotspots in the world and suffers from the experience, but is very articulate. We all went to a Peace March together.

Woven through the film are the stories of Haskell’s entanglement with the FBI for being a patriotic American (as he sees it).  There is a meeting with Mary Lampson (who co-directed the Weather ”Underground” film with Haskell and De Antonio).  They have not met since the 1970 confrontation with the government which tried to subpoena the footage they shot. Haskell got all his Hollywood friends to show up at a press conference and The FBI was forced to drop the case.  Haskell had been critical of the film because he did not agree with the violence the Underground espoused. There is a tearful reunion with Mary.

We’ve followed Haskell on a music video shoot where he tears up after a take because he is so moved by the song (about ‘hope’ which is what Haskell’s all about).

Haskell at Occupy LA: funny scene where he shoots the mainstream media and sees how much more vibrant the folks protesting are. He runs into Ron Kovic, the paralyzed veteran about whom the film “Born on the 4th of July” was based - which Kovic wrote and from which Jane Fonda based her film “Coming Home”…which Haskell shot.

We see Haskell teaching Inner City Film School students, asking each of them what their aspirations are.  He shows them a clip of Occupy LA that he’s put out on his website.  He encourages them to become story tellers but to stay true to their responsibilities as citizens.

We see Haskell in his own ‘shop’ which is filled with his grandson’s friends all working away at amazing graphics, designing light shows for the Rolling Stones concerts.  We meet his son, Jeff, a soundman who worked with Haskell on many films. Rita Taggart, his partner of thirty years, accompanies him on many of his adventures.

We have shot the film in a very participatory 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, silent director 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.

“My Dinner With Haskell” is our memoir of a remarkable man comprised of intimate vérité, interview, clips and his own media. The film will build a portrait of the man that we hope will inspire others the same way he inspired us.