Godfather of bootstrap cinema

THESSALONIKI – Original do-it-yourselfer, the «Godfather of Boot-Strap Cinema» John Sayles is one of the guests of honor at the 48th Thessaloniki International Film Festival, an event that prides itself on presenting and promoting independent cinema from around the world. Sayles is also an idealist and an activist, with a history of social and political commentary running through his entire body of work. «Cinema is a part of political dialogue,» says Sayles. Festival director Despina Mouzaki introduced 57-year-old Sayles at an open press conference on Tuesday as «a director whose every film is a political statement. He created the road for a personal genre of cinema that concerns all of us. He is an artist with a humanistic outlook, political ideals and a deep love for the art of cinema.» Sayles was in Thessaloniki with his partner and producer Maggie Renzi, and actors David Strathairn and Chris Cooper (with whom he has worked on several films) to present his latest film «Honeydripper» and to receive an honorary Golden Alexander award for his contribution to cinema, presented within the context of an extensive tribute to his work. One of the most important independent filmmakers of our times, especially in the United States, Sayles writes, directs and often acts in his own work. Another reason the director of «The Return of Secaucus 7,» «Lianna,» «Lone Star,» «Limbo,» «Casa de los babys» and «Honeydripper» has been able to make as many movies as he has on a fluctuating budget, he explained, with a nod to Cooper and Strathairn, is that he is able to get good actors to work on minimum union wages. «Of course,» he says, «the problem with that is that you cannot keep asking your friends to work on your films.» Yet indie films have their own share of problems to deal with, explains Sayles, widespread distribution being one of the biggest. «The disheartening thing is when a film like ‘City of Hope,’ probably one of my best-reviewed films, bombs at the box office. The good thing is movies have a longer life because now they exist on DVD and VHS. A movie is not alive when it’s being written about, it’s alive when it’s being seen.» Cooper, who attended the festival’s screening of «City of Hope» – a 1991 urban drama that zooms in on the lives of a group of people living in an apartment block slated for demolition to make way for a major commercial development – said that seeing the film again helped him understand it better. «John is ahead of his time,» said the award-winning actor. «I was fascinated by how well developed the screenplay was.» Strathairn received something different from watching the film again: «I realized that some things never change and that when something happens in a small corner of the planet, it reverberates around the world.» Later on Tuesday, Festival president Georges Corraface presented Sayles with a Golden Alexander at the Olympion Cinema, saying: «In about a 100 years, 200 years, when historians are looking back at the 21st century, they are going to discover your films and they are going to get a lot of precious information. At the same time they are going to enjoy your films. If you or your posse [Renzi, Strathairn and Cooper] did not exist, we would have to invent you!» «It’s so nice to get these kind words and this award here in the cradle of democracy. It reminds me that democracy and independence are ideals that you have to earn every day. I am also very glad that you honored my co-conspirators in these movies, because as much as I am considered an auteur, I have never made a movie alone,» said Sayles in his acceptance speech, before inviting Renzi to add a few words. «I want to thank you on behalf of my friends for the friendship you have offered us. I think you can imagine the good time we’ve been having. These are four of our best friends [Strathairn, Cooper and their partners]. We’ve enjoyed Greece in the sort of holiday we will be talking about when we’re very old,» she said. The ceremony was followed by a screening of «Matewan,» a powerful 1987 drama about the unionization of coalminers in West Virginia in 1920. The film was also Cooper’s first appearance on the screen. «I made this film during the Reagan years, just to remind people about certain things,» Sayles told the audience after the screening. «Because one of the first things he did as a president was close down the union that made sure airplanes landed safely.» He also said that as a writer he was participating in the ongoing Writers Guild of America strike that has raged on since November 5 on the East and West coasts of the country, bringing a number of television shows and other studio projects to a halt. «I am a writer and I am on strike!» said Sayles, raising his fist. The inspiring filmmaker also offered a word of advice to his Greek counterparts: «Don’t make your dreams too small.» John Sayles will be delivering a master class at the John Cassavetes Theater tomorrow at 11 a.m.