James Curtis Good Decisions Essay

In a Huffington Post essay published this weekend, actress Jamie Lee Curtis lauded Eliza Dushku’s decision to come forward and reveal her alleged molestation at the hands of True Lies stunt coordinator Joel Kramer when she was 12. Curtis, who co-starred with Dushku in the 1994 action comedy, says she only learned about the assault fairly recent. “She had shared that story with me privately a few years ago,” the actress said in the post, entitled “Truth and Lies.” “I was shocked and saddened then and still am today.” As stomach-turning as it might be to revisit the encounter, Curtis says discussing child sexual abuse in Hollywood is a necessity. “Eliza’s story has now awakened us from our denial slumber to a new, horrific reality,” the actress wrote. “The abuse of children.”

Part of the problem, Curtis opines, might lie in the unclear relationship between a child and his or her adult co-workers. “Are we really friends? Are we work mates? Children are not mature enough to recognize that subtle difference,” she notes. Every adult on the production, Curtis says, ultimately let Dushku down. Writes the actress, “All of us must take some responsibility that the loose and relaxed camaraderie that we share with our young performers has carried with it a misguided assumption that they are adults in an adult world, capable of making adult choices.”

Of course, Curtis says, the blame ultimately falls to abusers who take advantage of an industry that fails to fully protect child workers. The solution, she suggests, may lie in creating an environment where clear boundaries and oversight actually shield children from potential predators. Says Curtis, “I hope today that what can come from all of these exposures are new guidelines and safe spaces for people — regardless of age, gender, race or job — to share their concerns and truths and that all abusers will be held accountable.”

When told about Dushku’s account, initially posted to Facebook, Joel Kramer denied he had assaulted the then-tween actress or had ever been alone with her in a hotel room. Kramer has since been let go by his representation. In a statement to Deadline, Worldwide Production Agency president Richard Caleel said of the agency’s decision, “WPA has elected to part ways with Joel Kramer based on the allegations of misconduct now being reported. Such behavior is unacceptable and entirely at odds with the standards of conduct we demand of ourselves, and expect from our clients.”

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Joshua Oppenheimer

The Texan director’s feature debut, The Act of Killing (2012), and its follow-up, The Look of Silence (2014), explore the aftermath of massacres in Indonesia. Both were nominated for Oscars.

Salaam Cinema, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, 1995

For this film, Mohsen Makhmalbaf announces a casting call: thousands of people turn up and there’s a riot to get in. Each participant is channelling their worries and hopes into the desire to be in a film. He interacts with them in this dictatorial way, which makes the film ultimately about power and authority. He demands that people cry on command. One woman becomes so frustrated that she does start to cry, so he says OK, you’ve made it. And she’s so happy, but then there’s the disappointment as she realises this was her moment on screen. She thought there’d be a script and a real film to make afterwards. It’s a devastating, beautiful film.

Close Up, Abbas Kiarostami, 1990

A man pretends to be Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the director of Salaam Cinema. He insinuates himself into a family’s life out of loneliness, to make friends. At one point the family realise he’s not really the director and have him arrested. The film follows this man’s trial in an Iranian court, and then the real Mohsen Makhmalbaf meets the man and takes him to the family.

The impostor’s fragility ultimately embodies what it means to be poor and struggling in life, and through that you feel how sad it is that we live in a world where people are measured by wealth and power, and the cruelty that any human being could ever feel insignificant.

Gates of Heaven, Errol Morris, 1978

This was Errol Morris’s first film. He was taking his time with it so Werner Herzog promised “If you finish this film I will eat my shoe,” which he did. It’s about two families in California who run pet cemeteries, and it looks at humans’ relationships to their pets. It’s an odd mystery, a pet. We eat animals, we use them for labour, but then we keep them in our home as objects upon which we project love that we maybe lack elsewhere. Morris has these carefully crafted tableaux: there’s one continuous shot where a woman has a 15-minute lament, complaining about aspects of her life, and that’s where the film becomes something altogether greater and more mysterious.

Loss Is to Be Expected, Ulrich Seidl, 1992

This was made shortly after the fall of communism in eastern Europe and it looks at two communities on either side of the Czech-Austrian border. There’s an elderly man in Austria looking for a new wife, and he meets a lone single woman on the Czech side of the border.

There are these amazing scenes where they go on a date to a funfair and then to a sex museum. She’s much more sexually comfortable than he is, which is a source of incredible comedy. But it’s about desire and love and the fulfilling of our quotidian needs and the necessary, wilful blindness towards our deeper needs because ultimately, to contemplate those needs is to contemplate our own mortality.

The Hour of the Furnaces, Octavia Getino and Fernando e Solanas, 1968

This is a furious, angry film about neocolonialism in Argentina, and it’s the most devastating look at colonialism I’ve seen in nonfiction films. The sections about Argentina’s oligarchy, and the exploitation on which they thrived, are so poetically rendered that you relate to the horror of dictatorship purely through your emotions.

It was made secretly and was screened at illegal opposition meetings, in defiance of the authoritarian rule. People were arrested for screening it. I imagine that seeing it at the time you would come out feeling like you’d have to do something about the situation. There are sections of The Act of Killing where I surely had this film in the back of my head. KB

Lucy Walker: ‘The Up series showed me what the medium was capable of’

British director Lucy Walker has been Oscar-nominated twice, for Waste Land (2010) and The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom (2011). She is currently working on a follow-up to Buena Vista Social Club.

Hoop Dreams, Steve James, 1994

Hoop Dreams follows two very talented African American boys in Chicago who get a basketball scholarship to go to a prestigious, predominantly white high school. It follows them for five years and it’s a spectacular example of a longitudinal documentary where you get to glimpse the machinery of life. You get a real sense of time unfolding and the big forces that act on us. The twists and turns are subtle, nothing much happens, and yet it feels incredibly dramatic and compelling because it’s so well crafted and the characters are so beautifully rendered. I watched it repeatedly when I was making my first film, Devil’s Playground, because it follows young people through this pivotal period in their lives, and I was trying to understand how you could get so much narrative, emotion and character into a film. There’s a scene where the mum is icing a birthday cake for her son’s 16th birthday. It’s an interview, in the sense that the film-maker is asking her questions and she’s talking to camera, but it doesn’t feel like one, it’s so much more cinematic and compelling and the activity is so perfect.

Streetwise, Martin Bell, 1984

This film had its beginnings in a photojournalism assignment for Life magazine by the photographer Mary Ellen Mark about a group of street kids living in Seattle. She persuaded her husband, Martin Bell, to make a film about them. It’s just so intimate that it’s hard to believe the film-maker is actually in the room with these kids. It’s like he’s put on a cloak of invisibility. I could have chosen any number of cinema vérité masterpieces but for some reason this moves me. I’ve made quite a few films with young people and it’s fascinating because the plot of their lives is so close to the surface: one conversation can change the course of your life when you’re young in a way that is rare when you’re older – and you can capture that nano-second when the course of a life’s direction is altered. When you put a camera and a film crew into a room, the observer’s paradox is almost always true – you can’t capture life because you’re in the way of it. But these kids seem unaware of the camera and they’re behaving in a way that feels like life unfolding. The filmmaker is so present with them, you can’t help but understand what they’re going through, and to understand is to feel empathy and to want to help.

The Five Obstructions, Lars von Trier and Jørgen Leth, 2003

In this underrated film the iconoclastic Danish director Lars von Trier challenges experimental film-maker Jørgen Leth to remake one of his earlier films, The Perfect Human, five times, each time with a different creative constraint. The first “obstruction” imposed by von Trier, for example, was that the film had to be made in Cuba, using shots of no more than 12 frames. Another was that it had to be made as a cartoon. It’s basically these two creative egos going up against each other and it gives a fascinating insight into the film-making process, what goes on in a director’s head and how you cope with stress and constraint and challenge. It’s delicious and playful and there’s never a dull moment watching these two maestros needling each other.

The Gleaners and I, Agnès Varda, 2000

This film was made during the early days of the hand-held digital camera, when for the first time you could capture something high-quality enough to show on a big screen on a camera that would fit in your handbag. It’s an essay about the people who pick through other people’s leftovers, whether it be the remains of the harvest in the countryside, or in cities. It’s very casual, but Varda is so astute and the quality of the film-making is such that it becomes something very beautiful, a meditation on life. We’re having this golden age of documentary right now and it’s being driven by technology. In the past you would need to write a script first because the editing process was so laborious but now you can shoot a whole bunch of stuff and capture life in a way that you couldn’t before and this film, shot by a 72-year-old woman using a very low-key format, shows you just what level of artistry is possible.

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