Bryn Mawr Film Institute is thrilled to welcome acclaimed author, film scholar, professor, and festival panelist, Annette Insdorf on Tuesday, August 21. Dr. Insdorf will sign copies of her new book, Contemporary Film Directors: Philip Kaufman, and introduce a screening of Kaufman’s Oscar-winning 1983 hit, The Right Stuff.
Based at Columbia University, where she is Director of Undergraduate Film Studies and teaches in the Graduate Film Program, Dr. Insdorf has written definitive works on filmmakers Francois Truffaut and Krzysztof Kieslowski as well as Indelible Shadows: Film and Holocaust. Parisian by birth, she has been honored by the French Ministry of Culture, the National Arts Club, the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York, and is a popular panel moderator and translator at film festivals around the world. You may have seen her in one of her many media appearances on programs such as 20/20, The Charlie Rose Show, and Good Morning America, as well as on CNN, The Sundance Channel, in Woody Allen: A Documentary on PBS’s American Masters series, and more.
Dr. Insdorf answered questions via email about her book, The Right Stuff, and her relationship with Kaufman.
Your new book, Contemporary Directors: Philip Kaufman, was published this year, the first on the director. What drew you to study Philip Kaufman? Why now?
I started writing my book around 2002, after having interviewed the wonderfully articulate Kaufman onstage a few times. Given that there was no book about his rich cinema—and that he was equally under-appreciated in academia and popular film criticism—I figured I had to write it.
It struck me that Kaufman was making sophisticated films for literate viewers—the kind of stylistically and philosophically juicy movies that I associate with the French New Wave. Henry and June was the first film to receive the NC-17 rating, which created controversy (both for the film and for the rating system). Kaufman courageously tackled the famously "macho" Henry Miller, but through the female perspective of Anais Nin.
Philip Kaufman and Annette Insdorf at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.
Youʼre an expert on Kaufman’s films. What is something interesting about the making of his 1983 classic The Right Stuff?
There was a script written by the great screenwriter William Goldman. But his adaptation of Tom Wolfe's book diminished the role of Chuck Yeager. Kaufman felt that Yeager was the embodiment of The Right Stuff, and wrote his own screenplay, whose first part is devoted to the laconic hero who broke the sound barrier. And he insisted on Sam Shepard for the role.
Youʼve moderated panels at film festivals around the world. Do you have a favorite festival?
Yes, the Telluride Film Festival, which takes place Labor Day weekend in the mountains of Colorado. I have a vivid memory of watching The Wanderers there in 1995, with Philip and Rose Kaufman beside me, as the audience cheered. It was outdoors, at night, against the Colorado sky...
What is one of your most memorable exchanges with a filmmaker?
It was with Kaufman! I was galvanized after seeing Henry and June in 1990: I contacted a mutual friend for Kaufman's address in order to send him a fan letter. He replied, quickly and generously, and we continued to correspond. I was gratified that he appreciated my book on Francois Truffaut.
Devin Wachs is the Public Relations Manager for Bryn Mawr Film Institute. She joined BMFI in 2005, following her graduation from Bryn Mawr College. If you send BMFI a message on Facebook or Twitter or are interested in onscreen sponsorships, she's the one who'll be in touch!