Filmmakers Barbara Attie and Janet Goldwater share insights on the making of MAGGIE GROWLS, what it's like to be indies and where to find the best roast pork sandwich in Philadelphia.
Why did you make this film?
A lot of what Maggie Kuhn was doing was trying to remove the stigma from being old. She thought people should retire when they're ready, not at some arbitrary age. We are both in our 50s. That's not retirement age, but it's getting up there! We both came to documentary filmmaking about a decade ago so we really feel like our careers are just getting really exciting. We would hate to be told we were too old...to do anything.
If MAGGIE GROWLS were a feature film, which actor would you choose to play the role of Maggie Kuhn?
Janet: No-brainer - Susan Sarandon. She can go from young to old; she has the energy, the sex appeal and the outrage. She is petite but she has enormous presence. And most importantly, maybe she would like to back the film. In fact, why isn't it a feature film?
Barbara: Sally Field. She can do comedy and drama, go from spunky to frumpy (not that I'm saying Maggie was frumpy), young to old, and do characters that are strong, intelligent and capable of heroic deeds.
What do you hope to achieve with this film?
Lydia Bragger, director, Gray Panther's Media Watch
Women and old people are groups that have been condescended to historically, and Maggie Kuhn made it a lot harder not to take at least one old woman very seriously.
Good biography - and we hope this falls into that category - makes us look harder at ourselves, and at the way we think about others. One of the Gray Panthers' most important programs was Media Watch, where they monitored how seniors were portrayed on TV, and then they would bug broadcasters [to eliminate offensive portrayals of older people on television]. They eventually succeeded in getting the major networks to agree to treat seniors with the same respect they were being asked to show for minority groups. Maybe MAGGIE GROWLS will further that respect as well.
What were the greatest challenges you faced getting MAGGIE GROWLS made?
The biggest obstacle - no surprise - was funding. If you want to know how long it took to make MAGGIE GROWLS, let's just say that when we interviewed Ralph Nader, no one dreamed he would ever run for president. Funding for MAGGIE GROWLS came in fits and starts. After a few initial encouraging successes, we had a long drought before ITVS picked us up on our second Open Call application. So sometimes it was hard to stay on track, since we had to leave the project and work on other things. We actually finished several other documentaries while MAGGIE GROWLS was dormant.
The independent film business is a difficult one. What keeps you motivated?
A deep-seated desire for downward economic mobility. Plus, we have met some of the most amazing people, and get license to grill them to our hearts' content under the guise of an interview.
What do you think is the most inspirational food for making independent film?
When we travel for work, we like to follow Calvin Trillin's advice on finding local spots to eat. Never ask where the best place in town is; just walk up to some guy in a baseball cap and say, "Where do you eat?" But back here in Philly, we edited a few blocks from the Italian Market, and the best days were probably when we had roast pork, provolone and spinach on Italian rolls from Sarcone's on Ninth Street.
If you weren't a filmmaker, what kind of work do you think you'd be doing?
Janet: I taught and exhibited photography for a long time. So I like to think of myself as a still photographer, although at this point it is pretty occasional, and my darkroom would be pretty dusty if it weren't for my teenage daughter who uses it. But I have been working on a series of photos that is being published in a book about Little League that is coming out next year. I'd love to be doing more projects like that.
Barbara: I studied architecture for a few years. Frequent moving, three young children and too many people telling me that there were no jobs for architects (this was the late '70s) put that on hold. So when my kids were in school and I had to "do something with my life," I went to film school. But my interest in architecture may explain why I love the process of building documentaries in the editing room.
What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?
This is a hard question for us since we feel like we are still asking advice ourselves. But here is an attempt to sound like "eminences grises": Try to live in a city big enough to generate some work. For documentary makers, learn about the world first and about filmmaking second. No matter what kind of film you want to do, make sure you learn how to write. And, if you are not really curious and willing to ask a lot of questions and reveal your own ignorance, go into another field.