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Griffin Dunne on Joan Didion Doc’s Kickstarter Success: ‘We Were Flabbergasted’

Joan Didion isn’t just a literary lion. She’s also a crowdfunding star.

A new documentary about “The Year of Magical Thinking” author has more than doubled its $80,000 goal on Kickstarter — a result that co-director Griffin Dunne says is a testament to Didion’s enduring connection with her multi-generational readership.

“We were flabbergasted by the love and dollars and cents that came flooding in from all over the world,” said Dunne. “It was almost as if people wanted to thank Joan for everything she’s written. These are passionate fans who couldn’t wait for this to happen.”

Dunne, an actor best known for “After Hours” and “An American Werewolf in London,” is the son of Vanity Fair columnist Dominick Dunne and the nephew of Didion and her late husband, John Gregory Dunne.

Dunne said that Didion, whose spare, elliptical prose established her as one of the country’s foremost essayists and novelists, has been discovered by a younger group of readers after “The Year of Magical Thinking” and “Blue Nights” made her a preeminent chronicler of grief. Those last two books document the author’s attempts to make sense of the deaths of John Gregory Dunne and her daughter Quintana Roo, and became her best-selling works.

“At Q&A’s with Joan, there are lines around the block,” said Dunne. “Her readership has gotten younger and younger and those books have opened up whole new audiences to her.”

“People experienced those books as handbooks for grief,” he added. “It transcended generations. She articulated something we all feel when life deals us a bad hand.”

Entitled “We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live,” the film is co-directed by Susanne Rostock (“Sing Your Song”) and will feature interviews with Didion, as well as colleagues and contemporaries such as Patti Smith, Vanessa Redgrave, Vogue editor Anna Wintour, Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, producer Scott Rudin and New York Review of Books editor Robert Silvers. It emerged from a series of interviews Dunne did with Didion to promote the 2011 release of “Blue Nights.”

He has labored on the project for three years, self-funding the production costs throughout. Despite the project’s pedigree, Dunne said he had a hard time finding financing. He hopes that the $184,098 the documentary has raised on Kickstarter (from an $80,000 goal) will make the task easier when it comes to securing post-production backing and distribution.

“It was not an easy sell,” said Dunne. “People were respectful and said they were fans of Joan, but they didn’t see much of an audience. Well they do now.”

He plans to use the money for archival research and to conduct interviews in New York and Los Angeles, but more funding will eventually have to be raised to clear music rights and to cover other costs.

Dunne said his aunt embraced the Kickstarter campaign, recording a video plea for donors and offering up her trademark sunglasses to be auctioned, along with autographed copies of her books and a recipe collection.

At 79, Didion is no longer an enfant terrible of American letters, a fact that means time is of the essence.

“There’s a sense of urgency,” said Dunne. “The people we’re interviewing — Joan and her peers — are getting on in age. This project has been a calling for me, and I’ve been given an opportunity that no other filmmaker has because I’m related to her. The ball is in my court.”

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