Director: Mark Wexler
Topic: A son turns the camera on his famous father, cinematographer Haskell Wexler, in an attempt to bridge the gulf in their difficult relationship, while at the same time creating a revealing biography.
Financier: Self-financed by the filmmaker
Budget: Under $500,000
Shooting format: Digital video, using Sony PD-150 and Sony DSR-570
Why it made the list: The elder Wexler, a tough, prickly, and often hurtful character, proves a fascinating and complex subject in this resonant portrait of a challenging father-son relationship. His attempts to direct the movie, and criticism of his son, who doggedly and slyly gets what he’s after, bring intriguing transparency to the process and the portrait.
Memorable scene: Late in the movie, the pair visit Mark’s mother, whom his father divorced after 33 years, at a long-term care facility for Alzheimer’s patients. Her condition overwhelms the elder Wexler, who embraces her and whispers tearfully to her that “We share things — secrets — that no one else can know.”
Distribution status: ThinkFilm plans a theatrical release in April.
On making the film: “My father is used to being in control, and he has a lot of good ideas, so he likes to express them constantly,” says Mark of his domineering subject, now 82. “I set out to make a larger film about fathers and sons, but then I realized the story was there between us.” (At one point, the two stalk each other around the elder’s Montecito estate, each pointing a shoulder-mounted camera.)
Included are interviews with Haskell’s film collaborators Milos Forman, Peter Bart, Conrad Hall, Jane Fonda and many others. “For more than two years, I didn’t know if I could distribute the film, because he refused to sign the release until he saw it,” says Mark.
He screened the final cut for his father in the editing room. His reaction? “He was very emotional, and then he praised it, and said, ‘If no one else saw the film, it would still be good for the two of us.’ He then signed the release, and said he would help with any publicity and promotion.”
Pic debuted at the Venice Film Festival, then played Toronto, where it inspired a bidding war for theatrical rights.