Building on the success of the fifth edition, CineWomen continues showcasing video practice from around the world. As the ultimate mirror-medium of our times, video is all around us. Despite the proliferation of mainstream cinema, independent films continue to be made -radical, poetic, and dreamlike films, whose directors work on the edge of the mainstream film industry, never restricting themselves to any single field, yet inviting the eye and the mind to travel further. Cinema is no longer the monolithic system based on large capital investment: in the last decade the technological advances have dramatically changed the economic conditions of cinema production. Revolutions arise from obstinacy.
It is not by chance that today one of the protagonists of the digital revolution in cinema is a talented and courageous woman director, Elle Schneider, co-founder along with Joe Rubinstein of the Digital Bolex Project, who after developing a cult-camera harking back to 16mm film aesthetic -a significant leap towards the democratization of technology- is now promoting an application process for a grant for producers employing women in their camera troupes. Only eight percent of 2014’s top-grossing films were directed by women: it’s time to reverse this trend.
However, cinema is not only technology, but ideas, experimentation, and above all dialogue, networking, interaction. Creating and supporting a fertile ground for innovation and dialogue does not necessarily require compromise. Honoring the influence of women in video art and cinema, our womenartconnect.com editorial board is proud to present a selection of powerful and surreal visions from nine uncompromising outsiders.
In these pages you will encounter details on a new wave of filmmakers and video artists marching away from the Hollywood stereotype, with films like Customer Service by Aimee Graham; the visionary world of Karen Lima; Krusing America, an astonishing documentary by the talented Linda Kruse; the black atmospheres of Baby Sharks by Agathe Jobert and much more.
Lt. Colonel Victor Krus’ singular American odyssey is a fascinating story. Focusing on small, psychologically charged moments, Linda Kruse creates an exquisitely nuanced film which mixes dramatic and documentary techniques: from the first time we watched Krusing America we thought of Werner Herzog’s provoking cinema. We are pleased to present Linda Kruse for this year’s CineWomen Edition.
Linda, tell us about your trajectory as a filmmaker. What inspired you to express yourself in this medium?
First, I am incredibly flattered to be compared to Werner Herzog. As a child raised in Europe, growing up in Germany, I certainly know Herzog’s work so that is an amazing compliment. What inspired me to express myself through film is that I found that filmmaking is the best way for me to express myself overall. Being a visual person, film, television and now the internet allows me to not only convey my vision, it also allows my work to reach a larger audience.
I think it is very important and necessary to tell someone’s story correctly and I found the best way to do that is to just let them tell their stories in their own words. I saw first hand, that people are inherently good and that goodness made it important for me to show that in this film. The people that had the least, gave the most. This story touches the heart. KRUSING AMERICA is a story that resonates with a lot of people. It’s not just an American family’s journey – it is anyone and everyone’s journey.
KRUSING AMERICA certainly grew to be a much bigger project than I had initially imagined. It took me some time to figure out what would be the best way to tell this story, their story. I could have just told it from the perspective of the family, but in the end I wanted to do justice to the good people I met along the way. Those people that allowed me into their homes and into their lives.
We want to take a closer look at the genesis of Krusing America: was it important for you to make a personal film, something you knew a lot about?
Although I’ve always been fascinated by the people and why they do what they do and why they are, who they are…This story happened quite by accident actually, a happy accident at that. I overheard my brother speaking about this trip, in fact, they had been planning this for years. They had been living outside the United States stationed all over the world for the US Military and had been planning a 37 state – gigantic figure-8 around America when they retired. He wanted to see the country he defended but never lived. I thought it was an important story that needed to be told.
I wasn’t completely sure what kind of story it would be until I built a website and so many people, strangers, wanted to learn more and even offered to help. It seemed like a great opportunity to share a story that may seem personal at first but in the end it became a story everyone could relate to and one that needed to be told. Of course, I also thought the worst-case scenario would be I’d spend time with my family so that wasn’t such a bad reason either.
I know a lot about traveling and I’ve traveled the world. I was born in Vicenza, Italy to an American Military father and an Italian mom, and lived mostly in Germany as a child so I too had not spent a lot of time in the United States. KRUSING AMERICA was just as much a journey for me as much as it was for my brother and his family. In fact, telling and making the story of KRUSING AMERICA has turned out to be a far bigger journey than I had anticipated. And since it’s now winning so many awards, I guess the journey isn’t over… (26 Awards in 3 months as of Sept. 6, 2015)
Krusing America masterly weaves past and present. We have been deeply impressed with your original approach to narrative form, how did you develop the ‘script’ and structure of Krusing America?
I knew early on it couldn’t be one singular documentary, it was too big of a story to tell in an hour and a half – it need the time to develop. I also knew we needed to have a structure that would work best for a half hour documentary series or a half hour television series. Plus I love the idea that each state is like a different story, a smaller singular story and yet weaved together. They are truly little countries unto themselves with their own personality and characters.
Once I realized it was a much bigger story than just a story of a family, I wasn’t exactly sure which story I would tell. This story could go in 3 very different directions:
#1 I could tell the story of the family and their journey across America (which seemed too simple and obvious) or #2 to tell the story as a trip – highlighting the towns and how they traveled America or #3 I could tell the story of the people we met along the way.
Whichever direction I went, I knew I had to wait to decide on the story structure until the end. I needed to pull all the pieced together which also meant I to be patient, consistent and shoot all 3 versions in every single town we visited. It’s a longer more tedious process but it would allow me options and freedom to tell the right story in the end. And at the time I did not know which was the “right story to tell.
That also made for a lot more footage to work thru in the edit but it allowed me the flexibility to wait to tell the end to see which story would unfold and which version would be best. Each town was different and yet at the same time it was the same. I knew in order to have a format that carried from town to town; we had to shoot the same types of things in each town. I also realized early on that this was way bigger then just a singular documentary- I wanted to do it justice and so I worked toward making it a documentary series. It allowed KRUSING AMERICA to be bigger than just one film.
Each family member has a specific request for what they were looking for in each town:
- (The Father) Victor was looking for a strong sense of place/HISTORY and generations of families living in one place.
- (The Mother) Lori is very practical so LOCATION was important. Being close to a big city, airports, hospitals.
- (The Daughter) AnnaMarie loves people so a welcoming COMMUNITY was important.
- (The Son) Anthony is a boy so ACTIVITIES and having things to do was always on his mind.
- (The Creator) For me as I was searching for the ‘right’ place to film, I realized a town could be in a great location, have history, lots of people and things
to do but the thing that tied it together and made it worth watching was something I called THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS. Without this one element – I could not have created the collection of amazing towns and mini documentary episodes that I did.
And I knew I needed to stay true to the town and yet still make it consistent. So each town and act within the series tells of those 5 qualities that make up a great place to live. And although we focused on the United States, those qualities are consistent for people anywhere and everywhere. They are universal.
In the end, the structure for each episode looked like this:
Hometown Qualmes – Episode Breakdown: (30 minute episodes)
THE OPENING I FIRST IMPRESSION (1-2 minutes)
Each town makes some kind of first impression. Upon arriving in town, we see what the Krus Family sees. Listen to their thoughts. Feel what they feel. Does this town have Curb Appeal?
ACT 1 I LOCATION (4-5 minutes) Location is everything. Choosing towns near major cities provides more job possibilities and convenient big-city amenities, while keeping the charm of a small town.
ACT 2a/HISTORY (5-6 minutes) Having lived all over the world, the Krus Family is looking for a town with a strong sense of place and connection to family. Families that have remained for generations and help keep the town’s heritage alive.
ACT 2b/COMMUNITY (5-6 minutes) A welcoming and comfortable place for both new and old friends, these are the cornerstones that make a town a wonderful place to visit and a special place to live.
ACT 3/ACTIVITIES (6-8 minutes) America is made up of many wonderfully diverse and interesting things to do. Each town has specific activities that make it unique and enjoyable for everyone.
ACT 4 THE WRAP UP/THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS (2-4 minutes) In each town, we are reminded of the unexpected human connections that so often transform the experience of travel. These personal connections celebrate the gifts of kindness and warmth. They restore our trust in Mankind. Each unexpected gift leaves a lasting impression, beautifully realized in the people we meet along the way. The kindness of strangers is especially noticeable through the many people touching our lives as we continue KRUSING AMERICA.
The story of Krusing America is at once as small as a single life and as big as the universe: it touches on universal themes of family, love, and war. Your observational style proves to be fitting as a counterpart of the emotional roller coaster your characters live through. How did you develop your filmmaking style?
You are correct, my filmmaking style is very observational. I like to think it is also very simple. I want to show the best version of everyone I interview. I’ve always believed that the best stories are real stories and those stories should not be about me – it’s about them. The people I interview and the way I share their stories – they are not characters, they are real people with real lives, so I feel I have a responsibility as a filmmaker and as a human being to get it right – to tell the truth or rather to tell their truth.
Every project I have made seems to revolve around real people. I am fascinated by how and why people are the way they are. Good and bad, foibles and all. And in the end, I still just wanted them to shine. I want to make sure they are the best version of themselves on camera.
And I’ve found as a filmmaker, the best way to do that is let them just be themselves especially with KRUSING AMERICA. That is why I didn’t use a host. It certainly is harder as a director to allow people to be interviewed and try to get them to be normal on camera but there are ways that can bring out their personality and allow them to shine. I find that if you ask the right questions you will get the right answers. And those answers are real, honest, genuine, funny and surprising. Often times not what I would have expected.
For KRUSING AMERICA I really wanted the people in each town to be the host of each episode. It certainly can be harder to get those great interviews but I interviewed over 1600 people across America and I certainly became better as filmmaker and an interviewer in showing off the goodness, kindness, and humility of regular everyday people. It was not easy but I knew right away those interviews would be the spine – the backbone of this story, of this journey. And yes it is much harder but I do have a responsibility to them and in the end the outcome far outweighs the challenges.
Human experience is often the starting point of your artistic research. What draws you to a particular subject?
I am drawn to the fact that people are fascinating to me and their stories are yet to be told so finding a medium that will allow their stories to be expressed honestly and clearly with compassion. That is what draws me in and makes me want to be a better filmmaker and a better person.
There are 3 things that are the biggest factors that contribute to my artistic style:
First, I started traveling early in my life. Growing up in Europe, having family in 7-8 countries, I was riding trains and taking planes at a very early age. Travel taught me to watch, listen and learn. Secondly, sometimes it is easier to talk to strangers…the truth is I like to know why people are the way they are and why they do the things they do. And lastly, of course, since I’m half Italian, Italians are known to be storytellers…so combine all of that with a sense of wonder and that creates the framework for the work that I do today.
Krusing America is a very personal work. What do you hope viewers will take away from the film?
Not everyone is able to travel so I hope that KRUSING AMERICA allows people to see this part of the world from anywhere. More importantly I hope they will see what I saw: people are inherently good and they will help you more times than not. People are kind and genuine. And most people love where they live and if they think you are truly interested in their town, their lives, their world, they will share it with you. I want people to see the world through their eyes. One of the biggest compliments as when people would see the series, visit the location, then come back and say, “It was exactly as you showed it to me on screen!”
But I also hope it inspires viewers to not be afraid t take their own journey. There are always ways to see the world and everyone should. You do not have to go far and it may be very different from ours – small or large – it does not matter but I hope that it inspires people to go out and see the world. We are more alike than we think.
What was the most challenging thing about making this series?
When you are talking about somebody’s life I think it is important to make sure that you show it in a way that honors that world. So finding the right team that shares this vision was a daunting task but I felt a responsibility to the people I met along the way. Filmmaking is a collaborative business and the structure is nothing without the right crew implementing that vision.
So I think the hardest part in creating KRUSING AMERICA was finding the right creative team. Some of the biggest challenges were finding the right cinematographer and editor as well as the right people for sound and music as they are equally important to the story, structure, and image.
I knew I needed a cinematographer that was not only naturally good but could work independently with regular people and get along with kids. I also wanted the cameraperson to have an editing background with a strong sense of what might be interesting to viewers. I needed it to look and feel natural, as if you were passing by. I found all that is Tom Geagan and because of his work, this story has been told more vividly that I could have imagined.
I have a Masters Degree in editing and although I didn’t want to be an editor and I knew I needed to have that background in order to make the kinds of films I wanted to make. Just as important was finding an editor who could understand my plane and help pull all the pieces together. An editor who could work without being overwhelmed by the amount of footage yet still have a clear picture of my vision. The structure was actually created in the end with the help of my editor Julie Antepli – she knew exactly what I needed. (Side Fact: Julie is originally from Turkey. Although an American themed film, it was very much an international collaboration)
For me, music is just as important as the interviews. It needed to be original and specific to each location. Just like the story each theme song was weaved throughout the episode. My two composers, Danny Weinkauf and Carlos Platon Tornes worked diligently to create the themes and all the original music heard throughout the series. I think music is pivotal in telling a story. Music should move you, make you feel something more than you would with images alone. Music pulls at your heart and dares you to think bigger.
Each of those elements were challenging in creating KRUSING AMERICA. But I have learned when you find the right people, the music, the sound, the images, the structure, everything seems to fall into place and leave you with a sense of wonder.
We have previously mentioned Werner Herzog, who among international directors influenced your work?
Again, I am beyond humbled that you would compare me to Werner Herzog. I remember reading once that he said, “You must find purpose in what you do and love” – that is certainly something I aspire to do and I hope that it shows in my work. I cannot specifically say which international directors have influenced my work but I know that people and life certainly play a huge role in the filmmaker and person I am and the projects I like to create. I try to create films and stories with integrity that are both timeless and insightful.
15 years ago I created my production company: Atticus Productions, Inc. based on Atticus Finch, one of my favorite characters from the book “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, famously played by Gregory Peck in the movie version of the book. Doing what is right even if no one’s watching. Courageous, honest, empathetic; those are the kind of films I want to create. I want my work to reflect that and hope that it does.
“There is nothing wrong with hardships and obstacles but everything wrong with not trying”– Werner Herzog.
For more than half a century women have been discouraged from getting in filmmaking, however in the last decades there are signs that something is changing. What’s your view on the future of women in cinema?
Lately there has been a lot of talk about the lack of women in the film business and they have been discouraged from getting into filmmaking but people can only be discouraged from something if they let themselves be. It is because of those exact statements that I work harder. I think I’ve always been fearless. I grew up with a strong, independent mom, a military dad and 2 brothers, especially my older brother (Lt. Colonel Victor Krus of KRUSING AMERICA) I was never told I could not do something because I was girl and if it were true, well…I wasn’t listening.
However, in my life there have been specific times I can remember where a female filmmaker had an influence on me and in turn, my work. I have a Masters in Filmmaking with an emphasis on the silent film era and I was in awe of actress, producer, and writer Mary Pickford. She was the first woman in Hollywood to earn a million dollars a year at the age of 24. That was unheard of in 1916. She was known as a smart and aggressive businesswoman creating the film company United Artists with D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks. She then went on to help establish the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.
I was also fascinated by Lucille Ball’s story. She starred in “I Love Lucy” at the age of 40 and owned her own studio in the 1950’s. Typically, this was not something older women did. But my most influential female role model today would have to be Kathryn Bigelow – writer, producer, director of “Hurt Locker”, “Point Break”, and “Zero Dark Thirty”. She was the first woman to win the Director’s Guild of America Award for directing a feature film (The Hurt Locker). In 2010, she became the first woman in Oscar history to win the Best Director award which was presented to her by Barbara Streisand, the only woman ever to have won the Golden Globe for Best Director. Kathryn was also the first woman to win a BAFTA Award for Best Director.
Each of these women are strong, independent and had accomplished things that others, including men, had not done. So even though it has been said that the film industry is a male-dominated business, it has never occurred to me that a woman couldn’t do the same. If you are capable it should have nothing to do with gender and I feel more and more people are starting to realize that. It seems today that more filmmakers are realizing that certain people, personalities and even gender can bring more to a project. It is a collaborative business and the more you can collaborate with people of like mind, the better the project is for it. It has very little to do with gender. Not to mention, I am certainly motivated by being told I can’t do something – it makes me work harder and that kind of success is far more gratifying for me.