For twenty years independent filmmaker Richard P. Rogers tried to make a documentary about his own life and the privileged community in the Hamptons where he spent his summers as a youth. When he died from brain cancer in 2001, he left behind boxes and boxes of raw footage. The footage remained untouched until Roger’s widow, acclaimed photographer Susan Meiselas, asked his friend and former pupil Alexander Olch to complete her husband’s project. Rogers had been a mentor to Olch since they met at Harvard, where Olch was a student and Rogers a senior lecturer.
In THE WINDMILL MOVIE, Olch seamlessly blends reality and fiction to finish the film that Rogers could never quite pin down. The finished film combines together more than 300 hours of Rogers’ footage and information culled from his private journals with scripted narration by Olch and recreated scenes featuring professional actors. The finished work conveys both a filmmaker’s struggle to document his life and Roger’s thoughts on the greater meaning of privilege and the WASP culture into which he was born. Rogers’ friends and colleagues—including actors Wallace Shawn and Bob Balaban—also appear in the very personal film.
Highlights from the Q&A
THE LAST ASSIGNMENT:
Olch was in the process of making a documentary with Rogers when Rogers got ill, and all plans were put on hold. After Rogers passed away, Susan, Rogers' widow, asked Olch to come by and fix the Avid editor in their apartment. The project turned into an afternoon of looking at the footage still loaded in the machine, and Susan asked him to try and put together something from Rogers' tapes.
"Originally it was just me cutting together footage for their friends, but after a couple of weeks it seemed like there was more to the project than that. It took five years to find out what that was... As his student, I saw it as his last assignment."
SOME HELPFUL ADVICE:
"Robert Benton, the screenwriter of BONNIE AND CLYDE and a resident of Rogers' town in the Hamptons, gave me two pieces of advice. He said, 'Look, the most important film to make is the one about Dickie [Rogers], not Georgica [his summer home].' The second thing he said was: 'Sometimes the most important end of the pencil is the eraser.' That thought helped when cutting down 300 hours of footage to the essential story."
CHARMING AND FUNNY:
"As a student, I knew him [Rogers] to be the most charming and funny man I'd ever met. I took this project on faith that it would be easy to make a movie about this funny, charming man. But he didn't want his movie to be funny, and when people filming him captured that side of him, he would tell them to turn the camera off. So I was stuck with 300 hours of footage and my star is only in two hours of it and he's not that funny. I asked myself who his funniest friend was and brought in Wally [actor Wallace Shawn] to lighten the film up. We shot 40 hours of footage of him. But ultimately I realized that he [Rogers] was still so engaging it wasn't necessary."
BECOMING THE SUBJECT:
"Working in his loft on his equipment, in a way I kind of became [Rogers], personally, kind of assumed the aura about him. When Noni's [Rogers' girlfriend] is talking to me and the camera, she's talking to me like she would have talked to him."
INVENTION AND REALITY:
"I've known him longer through the footage than I did as a man alive and it's hard to tell what's invented and what is real. But that is part of the adventure."
If you missed THE WINDMILL MOVIE at BMFI, catch the broadcast premiere on HBO on Wednesday, October 28 at 8pm.
Keep an eye out for our other fabulous filmmaker appearances this fall! Next up we have NO BOUNDARIES, a locally-produced drama, which will be discussed by husband-wife filmmaking team Violet Mendoza and Jake Willing as well as members of the cast and crew on Tuesday, September 15 at 7:30pm.
Then catch Tony Zierra's fascinating documentary on the cost of making it in Hollywood, MY BIG BREAK, on Wednesday, September 23 at 7:30 pm, discussed by Zierra, producer Elizabeth Yoffe, and actor Chad Lindberg.