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Rydell To Be Honored At California Independent Film Festival

Golden Pond’ Director to Be Honored
By Independent News

Director Mark Rydell will be in the spotlight at the California Independent Film Festival on Fri., April 17.

Rydell will be presented with the 2009 Golden Slate Award for excellence in directing. The ceremony, along with the screening of the film, “On Golden Pond,” will take place at the Vine Cinema in Livermore. The event begins at 8 p.m.

Prior to the festivities at the Vine Cinema, there will be a VIP reception on April 17, 5 p.m. at the Crooked Vine Winery in Livermore.

Rydell was nominated for an Oscar for his direction of “On Golden Pond.” The movie won three Academy Awards: Best Actor, Henry Fonda; Best Actress, Katharine Hepburn; and Best Adapted Screenplay. Rydell said it was a privilege to work with Fonda and Hepburn.

Over the years, his pictures have been nominated for thirty-nine Academy Awards. Asked which film was his favorite, Rydell replied, “I have never made a picture I’m not proud of.”

He came to producing after careers in music and acting. Rydell began his career as a musician, during which he said he wanted to be the conductor, then became an actor and wanted to director. “I was inclined to lead,” he said.

He describes the director as the father of the film, a person who creates a nutritious environment where people can thrive.” He added, “I’ve always been a good-natured father figure.”

The directing profession has changed. Years ago, Rydell explained directors were hired by studios, handed a script, actors and a film crew and told to shoot. “The director was an employee.” Now, a director basically becomes the author of the film, the originator, finding the material, funding and getting it filmed.

The current downturn in the economy has had an impact on moving making, said Rydell. “It is much harder to obtain money to create a movie, unless there is a star attached. It is harder to make marginal films that are special or based on an original idea. Studios are much more careful with their money.”

That’s why independent films are important. He pointed out that independent films are nominated for the most awards. The filmmakers tend to be more daring. “There is no way a studio would have financed ‘Slumdog Millionaire.’”

Technology has had an impact. It has improved certain kinds of filmmaking where dazzling special effects are pursued rather than a substantive story. “Films of real substance that try to address real issues have a great deal of trouble being financed. That wasn’t always true. When films were less expensive to make, studios were more daring.”

“As a director, an artist has the responsibility to tell the truth to large audiences. What other profession allows you to lock people in a darkroom for several hours and tell a story from your point of view?” he asked. He hopes that people are moved or provoked into thinking about issues after seeing one of his films.

Rydell’s credits include The Reivers (1969), The Cowboys (1972), Cinderella Liberty (1973), The Rose (1979), On Golden Pond (1981), The River (1984), For the Boys (1991) and Intersection (1994). In 2006, Rydell directed the movie Even Money which starred Kim Basinger, Forest Whitaker, and Danny DeVito.

Rydell said, “I had to get on my knees and beg to have ‘The Rose’ made, to be able to use Bette Midler in the starring role.” He said of Midler, “She is full of enormous energy. Her ability to reach into herself and the depths of her singing and performing are unparalleled. The studio wasn’t interested in casting Bette. I’ve made two pictures with her, and for both she was nominated for an Academy Award. Hollywood still doesn’t know what to do with her. There is no one like her in the world. She has an enormous talent that she rarely gets a chance to exhibit.”

When it came to “On Golden Pond,” Rydell was told no one wanted to see old people and hear about death and dying. “I had to be determined in order to raise the money.”

Rydell began his career in New York, where he roomed with James Dean. “It was a very passionate time, very idealistic. Marty Landau, Jimmy Dean and I were pounding the pavement looking for acting jobs. Even though we competed for roles, it was just magical,” he recalls. “I watched his struggle (Deans), which mirrored my own. His was a tragic death. In the movie I reveal what I thought was at the heart of his struggles.”

In an interview published on The Hollywood Review blog, Rydell described Dean, “as very handsome, very charismatic, very peculiar, a very unpredictable fellow. He was extremely seductive. I don’t mean just sexually, but after five minutes with Jimmy, you would want to give him everything that you owned. He was irresistible. But he was also very quirky and very difficult. He was passionate about everything. His ambition was a product, in my mind, of the rejection he felt as a child by the death of his mother and the indifference of his father. There was a part of Jimmy that felt worthless, therefore he had to be a high achiever to identify himself. So he pushed himself to excel in everything. That same drive also produced a recklessness in him that seemed to challenge the ordinary limits that we all face, and that’s what ultimately killed him.”

To those who would like to pursue a career in directing, Rydell says, “Study acting. That’s the raw material. Much like a conductor, a director should know the limits and range of every instrument in the orchestra, firsthand. It should be mandatory for every director to act, to experience acting, to know what it’s like to create behavior in front of 100 people with tape measures and lights and marks on the floor. Study literature, learn what’s worth making.”

He said he has been influenced by other directors. “Elia Kazan was an important person in my life. As his assistant, I learned a lot. I made a bunch of pictures with Sydney Pollack. It is important to study great directors, to learn from them.

When it comes to the actual process, Rydell declared, “You can’t make a picture by yourself. When you arrive on a set there are 80 people waiting for you to tell them what to do. You have to be prepared. They know when you are not. It usually takes years of preparation to prepare to make a film. The actual paid preparation time is about 4 to 6 months.” He said that prior to the beginning of filming, he discusses his ideas with the crew, to ensure everyone is on the same page. “I believe in craft and planning. There’s nothing like a good accident, but I don’t think art is an accident. Art is about choice.”

He added, “There is no such thing as a typical day of filming. It is a very arduous process.”
He continued, “I am very happy in my profession.”

Rydell is co-artistic director of the Actor’s Studio in Los Angeles with Martin Landau.

When it comes to deciding which movie to make, he declared, “I read material and wait for the hair on the back of my neck to stand up.”

Two films are in the works. One is an autobiography of Chet Baker, the other the story of Greta Garbo.

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3 thoughts on “Rydell To Be Honored At California Independent Film Festival

  1. This is a very important article. Mark Rydell directed two definitive moments in Bette’s life and he states what all of us feel. I couldn’t have said it better. What a wonderful man.

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