NYC is known as a mecca for the creative and talented, so it’s no surprise that award winning filmmaker Bert Shapiro decided to explore the lives of eight artists living there. The documentary ‘Speaking for Myself’ reveals rare insights and portraits of a dancer, a concert pianist, an actress, a Noh performer, a multi-instrumentalist, a tabla virtuoso, an organist and a singing poet.
Moviehole had the chance to ask the immensely talented Shapiro about the moving film, and found out why he chose to capture the unseen New York.
”Speaking for Myself” tells the story of 8 artists living in New York City. Why did you choose to feature the artists that you did?
Essentially I was looking for: Passion, willingness to go for “the very best I can do” in the highly competitive creative city that NYC is. I was also drawn to total dedication, no “flim flam” and complete honesty.
The film explores the life of a tabla virtuoso, organist, Noh performer, a Broadway actor, and more. How did you go about finding the artists that were featured and how did you begin telling their stories?
I originally set out to make a film about the “unseen NYC” and spent more than 2 years wandering the streets with a camera, seeking unexpected sights and events. I accumulated many hours of this unusual footage. Once I started editing, however, I began to realize that I’d end up with a more satisfying, personal and meaningful result if I used this material as a background/foundation to a film about how artists survive in Manhattan.
I had been connected to artist/friends for many years and when I started interviewing I was “passed on” to others that had real-world stories, were articulate, and had unique things to say.
I also wanted to help dispel the common myths about the “romantic lives” of artists often portrayed by Hollywood and the popular media. Looking back on it, I regret not including a painter, architect and opera singer/producer. Yet these are individuals I’d like to eventually feature in a separate film.
What struck you most about how the artists in the film viewed New York?
They were tough, uncompromising in quality standards and competitive.
You’re a seasoned filmmaker, who has been granted numerous accolades and critical acclaim, how does this film differ from your previous work?
Until the Elliott Sharp film, my focus had mainly been on people who work with their “Eye and Hand” (series name).
The starting point of ‘Speaking for Myself” was to move onto a larger canvas and also raise the production standards of my work.
Working alone up to ‘Speaking for Myself” was fun (an essential component for me), but I found that I could not continue as a “one man band”.
Also, because of my background in educational publishing, I felt the need to help correct the misrepresentation and trivialization of artists and their work that is frequently presented in our schools.
You worked in the educational publishing industry for most of your life, what led you down the path of documentary filmmaking?
Drawing on years of working with creative people, I realized that I can’t dance, sing, write or paint, so I needed to find a medium for expressing my own interests and passions.
The film is set to screen in NYC at on Tuesday, March 13th, 6:00PM
Anthology Film Archives 32 Second Avenue & 2nd Street, New York City
For more information about Bert Shapiro and his films: www.pheasantseye.com