I first became interested in Tony Kushner after hearing him deliver an amazing, inspiring one-minute speech.
In the early 1990s I had heard about a provocative, long new play called Angels in America, but unlike many, who saw it in its gestation in San Francisco, Los Angeles or London, or during its Broadway run in l993, I did not see Angels nor had I read or seen any of Kushner’s plays when I started this film in the fall of 2001.
I had, however, read a short essay Tony had written called “With a Little Help from My Friends,” from his book Thinking About the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness. In this essay, Tony expressed his heartfelt thanks to all the people who had helped him become the playwright he is, especially following the acclaim of Angels in America. I found the essay funny, generous, openhearted, politically astute and surprising, and I said to myself, “Who is this person? No one thinks this way. Schadenfreude rules.” I loved the spirit of his ideas and the personality behind the writing.
Shortly afterward I heard Tony speak at a college graduation. He was told he could speak, but for one minute. His speech was hilarious and serious, highly political, a tour de force that surprised and inspired us about the possibilities of a better world. In the four years of directing this film about Tony as an artist and activist, I find this typical of his impact on audiences.
His speech and essay stayed with me. Right after 9/11, I ran across an article in the Los Angeles Times that described the opening of a new Kushner play off-Broadway, Homebody/Kabul, his first since writing Angels. The subject of his play, Afghanistan, a place I knew, immediately sparked my interest in doing a film about Kushner and his work as a playwright and activist.
A leap of faith about the film propelled me over the next three years as I filmed and essentially “stalked” Tony all over the country: Chicago, Berkeley, Miami, Los Angeles, Texas, Louisiana, New York, Boston, Providence — wherever his plays and public engagements with high schools, colleges and local community groups took him.
I was particularly drawn to Tony’s interest in writing about — and often with blistering humor and seriousness — some of the major social and political issues of our time, issues such as war, race, class, the AIDS pandemic, gay and lesbian rights, genocide and the war on terrorism. And I was interested in exploring the influential forces of creativity and how Kushner grapples with large themes and is able to transform an audience through the unique intimacy of theater.
These years have been immensely active for Kushner with the production of new plays, books, master classes and community work. These projects and activities are the building blocks through which the movie’s audience, I hope, will come to understand not only Kushner’s artistry, but also the creative process in general, the power of theater to engage and move us, and the difference one person and artist can make in inspiring us to be actively involved with the moral and political issues of our times.
— Freida Lee Mock, filmmaker