by Richard Freudenheim and John Hess
from Jump Cut, no. 10-11, 1976, pp. 26-29
In the spring of 1973. Josh Hanig, Will Roberts, and Peter Sonenthal were all students in Julia Reichert and Jim Klein’s course, “Media and Social Change,” at Antioch College. As their final project in the course, the three men made a slide-tape on male socialization and identity. The slide-tape—a combination of slides and taped interviews—got such an enthusiastic response from the various people who saw it, that they decided to make it into a movie.
JOSH: We went to the Dean and some faculty at Antioch and proposed the project to them. We told them what we had in mind, said we needed sane money and worked out a tuition rebate, sort of a grant from Antioch of $2,500 which set us off; we had the money to start out and we just went ahead.
JOHN: Where did the rest of the money come from?
JOSH: Much was credit from the lab. My parents gave some money, because I had worked hard to get an extra quarter out of the way at Antioch so I figured that they had gotten a deal on my education and talked them into giving me some money. They were really enthusiastic about it too. I'm from a middle class background; not a lot of people are able to do that, go to their parents and ask for some money to start a film. It wasn't a lot of money, but they gave us some. We didn't initially go to Jim and Julia, but toward the end when we had much of the film done and we needed the money to go ahead and finish it but couldn't get funding, they went ahead and loaned us a substantial amount.
JOHN: What did the film cost?
JOSH: $12,000, which for a production like this was cheap. It was so cheap partly because Jim and Julia had an editing table; they had a Nagra sound recorder that we were able to use as much as we wanted. We hustled a camera from Wright State University. It’s a state university near Yellow Springs, near Antioch.
So without much experience, but with money and enthusiasm, Josh, Will and Peter set out to make MEN'S LIVES. A lot has happened since then. They made the film. It is a success although not above criticism (including their own). Will and Josh have moved to San Francisco to make more films and distribute New Day films. Will has just received a grant from the AFI to produce a film about men in the military. Peter dropped out of the project near the beginning and is now a student at Columbia. In the summer of 1975, while the film was playing to packed houses all over the Bay Area, we interviewed Josh Hanig in Berkeley. That long conversation was then edited down to its present length and form,
RICHARD: Josh, we know from what you have said so far that Julia Reichert and Jim Klein played an influential role in the production of MEN'S LIVES. Would you say some more about that?
JOSH: Indirectly the film grew out of a class we took with them called “Media for Political Change,” which they had taught two or three times at Antioch. After the class we decided to make the film, but I don't think that without Jim and Julia being really close by and providing a certain inspiration—that is, of knowing they had made GROWING UP FEMALE when they were. students and that they had done it without very much experience at all—we wouldn't have started unless we knew somebody could do that. Anyway, for the first year they weren't all that. involved—they were busy working on the Methadone film. But towards the end when we were trying to construct the film at the editing table, our inexperience caught up with us and we asked Jim to come in and work with us. In a matter of a couple of months he was able to really pull the film together, to give it flow and punch. Of course, from looking at his work you can see he’s one of the most skilled editors working in this country. They also gave us equipment, financial assistance and moral support.
RICHARD: I noticed a similarity between MEN'S LIVES and GROWING UP FEMALE. They both seem to follow the same formula: you look at children, the process of socialization, asking a question about what kinds of roles are available to women and sort of displaying a series of roles, all of which are oppressive.
JOSH: I first saw it right after it was made. The first time I saw it I wasn't very impressed with it.
RICHARD: Why is that?
JOSH: A lot of my friends were feminists and I had already been exposed to a lot of the things that were in the film and personally I didn't feel like I learned that much from it. Although as I looked at it in a different light, in terms of it being something geared to a very mass audience, I really saw how valuable it was. Since then I know Jim and Julia have criticisms of the film in terms of not presenting enough alternatives and not presenting women as strong and changing, but that was five years ago. That film was tremendously useful. We had the advantage of being able, to look at it and try to go beyond it. When we had a rough cut of MEN'S LIVES we sent it to the New Day meeting in June of last year (1974). We wanted then to look at the film to see if they wanted to take it or not. They thought it needed a lot of work and they thought the narration needed a personal touch. They wanted us to talk personally, because it was a big contradiction for us not to do that. So Julia (Reichert) brought it back with a lot of their criticisms and suggestions. And she worked with us on the narration, getting the wording right. She’s really good at that, at putting narration together. She worked with us very closely on the wording; we must have had 10 different cuts with 10 totally different narrations.
THE WOMEN'S MOVEMENT
RICHARD: What kind of changes in your life, as a man in America, does making the film represent, and what kind of changes has it brought about? What kind of changes did you go through?
JOSH: You mean prior to making it, what kind of changes did I, personally, go through?
RICHARD: You could have grown up in America, graduated from college and gone on into... whatever it is, straight through...
RICHARD: ...and been one of the people interviewed in the film and have said what they say. What kind of change happened to you, so that at a certain point you stopped and made a film about this?
JOSH: Well, personally, for me it’s been a pretty gradual kind of process. I can't really pinpoint it. In high school I was sort of a high school radical. From as far back as I can remember I was really revolted by all the things I encountered in school. I think a lot of it’s just a reaction to authority. I was revolted by all the stuff I saw around me and I wanted to change it but I didn't have any idea how. When I left home and was exposed to a lot of radical activity and meeting a lot of people who were socialists, I just gradually began to formulate an analysis of the society as a whole. And I fit into that all those things I encountered in high school, or in jobs that I had... how they fit into that sort of undefined rebellion. You know that’s the amazing thing when you start to realize that, you start to gain an analysis and you understand what makes you frustrated, what makes you alienated. In a sense it makes you more frustrated because you can see it, and can define it, and it’s so awesome you don't know what the hell to do about it. But in another sense it’s very encouraging, you know, I get a lot of support from that kind of analysis.
RICHARD: Why did you choose to make a film about men’s lives, about masculinity? Instead of, say, unemployment or finding a job in America, the educational system, or rebellion against authority? Why did you center on masculinity?
JOSH: I think that one of the reasons that I was attracted to it was that I saw more and more that women around me, through the women’s movement, had begun to personally identify their oppression. The women’s movement, in a sense, spoke to a really broad number of people that hadn't been spoken to before. People’s sexuality, in the whole society, is just an immense part of their whole being.
RICHARD: How did the women’s movement speak to you?
JOSH: It spoke to me, I guess, in the sense that, personally, I always had sexually had a hard time playing the kinds of games that were expected of me, in terms of being a man, having to make the first move towards women, or else just not having any kind of relationship with women at all. I always felt that pressure was a real burden I didn't like having, and I think I sort of identified that through the women’s movement as something that related to me personally.
RICHARD: How did you get from that to the film? and its relation to the women’s movement?
JOSH: Well, I think that the women’s movement when it first began to get a lot of publicity really threatened a lot of men, alienated a lot of men. I saw in it the seeds of something that really could liberate men from all the things we talked about in the film. Only it’s very difficult to pinpoint that when... you know, you can view it as women taking your job away from you, or women threatening your sexuality. You know, those kinds of things. If you see that the interest of the women’s movement, that the interest of the issues brought up by the women’s movement, are really in a sense in your interest, then I think personally it makes it a lot easier to change and fight.
RICHARD: Then how does the film relate to the women’s movement?
JOSH: Well, I guess in a few senses a lot of women in the audience who have seen the film have said to me that they never realized the pressures and anxieties that men went through. You know, the socialization of roles has been very clearly articulated as being oppressive to them; it hasn't been articulated as being oppressive to men. But that’s touchy because while men are in the position of being the oppressors of women, the majority of men are also in the position of being oppressed by that same system that oppresses women. So the masses of men have felt that their interests were aligned with the oppressors of women, with the Men who were the oppressors of women because they were men; rather than breaking it down into a class thing—see what I mean?
Certain parts of the women’s movement have mistakenly identified the source of their oppression as men. Of course, the mass media has picked up on this and used it as a divisive force—reducing the movement to a “battle of the sexes.” In relation to this MEN'S LIVES has helped by attempting to identify the enemy not as men per se, but as the class structure of society which is controlled and ruled by oppressive men. The film unquestionably stands in solidarity with the women’s movement.
RICHARD: So that one of the ways to show that the interests of feminism are also the interests of men is to reveal the kind of oppression that men are under?
JOSH: Right. In other words, if men can look at those things that socialize women into being oppressed and they see that these are the same forces that also oppress them, they see they have something in common with women rather than being pitted against them.
GETTING IT TOGETHER
JOHN: When you got the camera and decided to make a movie out of the slide tape, was the idea originally just to film the interviews you already had or was the idea to go from there to make something completely new?
JOSH: The idea was something completely new. We wanted to have a working class kind of perspective. We wanted to interview people while they were working, at their workplaces. We wanted an executive type who had made it according to American standards and we wanted someone who was working class and was always trying to reach “the American dream” and wasn't able to. We wanted to interview lots of kids to show the actual socialization process. We sort of had stereotypes, I guess, of people we wanted to interview. We didn't want stereotypes, but as I look back on it I think we saw them as stereotypes in a sense.
We pretty much wanted to stay away from “experts.” We thought one or two might work out. We talked to some, but they were complete assholes. So what, we would end up doing was thinking, “Where are the places we can go where we'll meet the kinds of people we want in the film?” We went to bars, to union halls, barber shops, fraternities, college campuses, schools, all over the place and on intuition we started talking to people. We met Gerald at a union hall. I saw in the paper that there was a strike, so we went over to the union hall, walked around, talked to some people who didn't have much to say. We were walking away discouraged and I said, “Goddamit, we've been doing this for months and can't find anybody who’s articulate about their work life.
Gerald was standing there, and I said, “Do you know anybody around here who would. be willing to do an interview? At first glance he didn't look that interesting to me. He said, “Yeh, what do you want to talk about?” Gerald had a real sense that he had a -------- to say to us, and he did. During the interview we were getting more and more excited as he was saying a lot of things we wanted him to say, that we thought were important.
JOHN: Did you formulate typical questions that. you wanted to ask most people? Was that part of writing the scenario?
JOSH: The way you formulate the question is really important. We found that if we were asking very loaded questions, if we were asking “Do you think...?” type questions, they would answer yes or no. We had to try to, get people to talk to us rather than just answer us. A lot depended on the people we interviewed. The people whom we tended to use in the film were pretty verbal people, so they were easier to interview.
JOHN: Do you think that gives a particular slant to the film? Many of the people you talked to had pretty well articulated raps about things. And one of the weaknesses we felt in some of the interviews, was that they had the rap and there wasn't any way of breaking through it. You could see that what they were saying wasn't what they really thought. I remember the school teacher with the $20,000 house. He was saying that he didn't have very many emotions, but he was sitting there wringing his hands. His face muscles were tightening. There was a lot of emotion right there that he wasn't letting through. But he had a rap that he gave about his life. I was curious why you didn't challenge somebody like that school teacher.
JOSH: Well, I think the one time we challenged somebody, it worked really well. It was the school teacher. He had just talked about emotions and given a very removed analysis of it. And Will asked him when he cried last. We caught him. He fidgeted, and fidgeted, and fidgeted, and then said, “I'm not a very emotional person. I don't cry.”
RICHARD: Were the preliminary interviews better for, your purposes than what people actually said on camera? Were they freer, more articulate? After the screening in San Francisco you said that both Joe and also Gerald had some resistance to actually being filmed.
JOSH: Yes, we had some problems with that. We found that some people actually changed their answers when they got on camera. I think that between the preliminary interviews and the time we shot, which was a few days or a week later, they had a chance to think about what they had said when we first talked to them, and maybe they didn't want to say on camera what they had said on tape.
People feel their personal lives are private and they're very concerned about what other people are going to think of them, of what their friends will think, of them and how they'll come across. They want to come across as feeling positive about their lives. It was clear, for example, from Gerald’s preliminary interviews that he was much less satisfied with his life than he appeared to be on the camera. Once he got on camera, he talked about being happy, and so on. We did two on-camera interviews with Gerald. In the preliminary round of interviews all he did was run down the bosses and the factory and how fucked up it was. Then when we interviewed him on camera the first time he toned that down a lot. We were dissatisfied with that interview when we saw the rushes, so we went back again. He got into it a little bit more then. We kept bringing him back to it, asking him time and again about his work until he started talking about it. We kept probing him.
RICHARD: Did you talk about your dissatisfaction with Gerald, or explain to him that you wanted the heavy stuff from the preliminary interviews?
JOSH: No, I think we did that more with the questioning.
RICHARD: The reason I'm asking is that the resistance you are talking about is part of the problem raised by the, film; that men resist displaying emotion, resist talking about the things which come out of their personal lives that they aren't happy about. I was wondering how you would feel about presenting some of that resistance in the film. For example you talked (in San Francisco) about calling Joe up and urging him to go on camera because he had said that he thought a man should do what he thinks is right. That whole process of coming to say something on tape, then resisting saying it on film and then finally agreeing to say it, would have been very poignant in the film. Another possibility I thought of was that it would have been interesting to have filmed that scene at the union hall with Gerald that you just described, you and Will going around asking people to do interviews and not finding anyone until you met Gerald. It would have been nice to know that you met Gerald on strike and to have known about the strike issues, though that would have meant staging things for the film.
JOSH:. Yeh, a lot of it was logistics. The strike was over by the time we did the on-camera interview. I always had the conception that when people made films they had control over their material, a very strong idea of what they wanted, and went about getting it by hook or by crook. I didn't realize you can't control circumstances and. events.
RICHARD: Restaging some of the things that happened as part of the process of making the film for the film itself would have meant getting yourselves into. The film in a different way than you were. The thing about Joe’s resistance, for instance...
JOSH: You mean having him talk about it, asking him about it on camera? To a certain extent we did do that. In the film he says he was afraid to do the interview because he was afraid of what people would think of him.
RICHARD: What about the barber, did you get to know him well? He did a lot of reporting and didn't talk too much about himself.
JOSH: Yes, we got to know him really well. Actually he did talk about himself a lot, but we didn't put it in the film because what he was saying was pretty depressing. It’s hard for me to say because I really don't want to talk about his life. He wanted to keep it personal. He went through a lot of changes while we were filming. I think that’s why he was in such a pensive state of mind while he was talking. He said a lot of things he said because he was forced to reexamine much of what he had accepted.
JOHN: What you are saying about the barber is an example of one of the key problems. In the film the barber gives the impression of being someone who really has it together, a really secure man who has worked in a barber shop for 26 years and feels good about it, a man who has this whole rap about the people who come in. In reality his actual life was quite different from that. One of the main things men do is develop raps, modes, superficial ways of acting in society all of which are designed primarily to hide what they really feel. It seems like it would have been instructive to break that down.
JOSH: The film is surfacey in that respect. But how do you reconcile that, when you want to make a film that will say a particular thing to people and you want to have control over what the film says? We wanted to have the barber as a positive figure. How do you deal with his contradictions, with all the problems in his life, as well as have him say all those positive things he says without having people come away even less optimistic than they do? In a sense what we are doing is very manipulative.
JOHN: This is speculative, but I wonder if it would have been more instructive to have replaced the barber’s rap about other people with a revelation of him? A lot of the things he: says were already said in the narration or by other people in the film. I think the male socialization is so much the building up of this barrier. I thought Gerald was the most interesting person in the film because he was the one person whose barrier begins to crack, and who I felt I got to know. When Gerald begins telling how fucked his life is, you get behind that barrier that we all put up and struggle with. The topics you bring up—the alienation, the expression of emotion—are important too, but the barriers that men put up, which are always in front of the viewer, are the most visible thing about the men you interviewed, wasn't analyzed.
JOSH: You use the word instructive. If we had put the personal stuff about the barber in the film, it would have been instructive, in the sense that people would have seen this man talking personally, emotionally, putting down his facade. That’s something very rare, but how does that revelation line up against the content of what that person says, taking into account that it is very depressing? What does that say to people? We didn't want people to come away feeling depressed personally. As he talks in the film as-it is, he’s doing something that most men don't do.
JOHN: It’s interesting that you say you didn't want the film to be depressing. Isn't what you are talking about depressing? The whole subject of the film—men’s lives—once you gain an analysis of what it is like to be a man in a capitalist society, there is something very depressing about it all.
JOSH: If people are depressed when they come away from the film, do you think it makes them confront what it is that makes them depressed?
JOHN: I'm not sure about that. But I see a contradiction in making un-depressing something which is in fact very depressing. It’s a little like the happy end on a feature film which up to that ending is tragic. Sometimes a depressing film can be very educational. A film like VIDAS SECAS shows what the lives of the peasants in the Brazilian Northeast are really like, it bores into that way of life and shows how depressing it really is. When you start talking about it, you see that it is a very educational film.
RICHARD: It seems like there is a difference between things that are personally depressing and things that are socially depressing. You don't want to make people personally depressed about their own lives. There was no context in the film for the barber’s personal story. Set in a much broader social context, with some analysis, it wouldn't have been just depressing. I can definitely see how somebody laying down their misery could be very counterproductive.
JOSH: You create a certain amount of pity for that particular person. You have to be very careful about that. I think the Gerald part was successful because you don't come away feeling pity for Gerald even though he did break through that barrier. You have a lot of respect for him for doing it, you have a lot of respect for the way he talked. I think with a lot of people you might produce the opposite reaction—“the poor guy.” That’s a complicated problem when you try to think about what makes people change. Over the last few years I've been affected a lot by the theory that a truly revolutionary film has to have an up ending: a collective solution to the problems, people feeling like they are struggling and changing all those things. Now I don't know if I'm completely ready to accept that notion. I haven't seen it done successfully very much. SALT OF THE EARTH to a certain extent. But even when it is done well I wonder how much more effective it is than making people depressed. That is an important issue that I have to personally resolve before I start another film. The problem is that a depressing film can add to the cynicism that is pervasive these days and cynicism is not a revolutionary emotion.
RICHARD: Was the final montage of fathers and sons meant to be an up ending?
JOSH: Yes, and the question asked at the end of the film is how do we change. It’s a very token thing to have these pictures of men hugging their kids, that kind of thing. It’s effective, but doesn't have great substance.
JOHN: It seems in a way to undercut what comes before.
JOSH: It certainly doesn't grow out of what came before.
JOHN: Did you ever think of getting some of the people in the film together to talk to each other—like Gerald and Joe?
JOSH: We really want to do that. I'm going back to Yellow Springs next month and that’s one of the first things I want to organize—to get Joe and Gerald and the barber together and get their responses.
JOHN: And make another film out of that?
JOSH: I hadn't really thought about that. I'd be interested to see how they responded to each other and to the film. Do you think that would be an interesting film?
RICHARD: I think so: Because one of the interesting things the film turned up is that everyone knows the same things about their lives. You ask them certain questions and you can get a broad spectrum of talk that reiterates the same thing at all levels. But one of the problems obviously is people talking to each other about it. And the film is a way of cutting down on some of the fear people have talking together. It would be good to see people actually trying to do that. Having some experience in a men’s group, that’s a real issue. The men’s group thing is week after week, people not only realizing that they can share stuff or that it is the same, but sort of going deeper into it and working out just how to talk about it to each other. It would have been nice to see what would have happened if Gerald and Joe and the barber and some of the others could, on the basis of what they all articulated in the film, find some kind of way of getting together around it. It would have been interesting to see people do that. And also you guys in. the film, because you and Will were basically talking to people about these things.
JOSH: Do you think if Joe and Gerald and the barber had got together and had a discussion with us, and we would have filmed it, that that would have substantially changed what people came away with in terms of the possibilities for changing?
RICHARD: I think it’s certainly possible that it would have worked that way.
JOHN: It would depend on how that discussion turned out, but I think it could. I think one problem in the film in terms of being able to change something is that there doesn't seem to be a progression as you move along. It seems to stay at the same level. We don't see anyone change in the film. One question we come away with is how do we change. What do we do? Let’s say I identify with Joe or Gerald, and recognize aspects of my life in what they are talking about, what do I do about it?
JOSH: I think that is the biggest and most obvious weakness in the film. Everybody asks me that when I show the film: “How do I change?” “I wish there had been more there for me to grasp on to at the end and feel that I could do something about it.”
JOHN: What do you say when people ask you that?
JOSH: Well, I'm really in the process of grappling with that and trying to come up with a good answer. I feel inadequate about that. It depends on who the audience is. If I'm showing it to a high school audience and they ask me that, I feel like I should be able to give them something that they can truly respond to. My inclination is to talk about revolution, but obviously that’s a bit too general.
JOHN: How would you go back and do it now? I mean the ending narration tries to overcome that in a way that’s sort of artificial in terms of the film. The film doesn't build up to it. Looking at it now, how would you go back and remake the film beginning with that narration or growing out of it or making the film come to that narration?
JOSH: Well, considering that the style of the film is talking to other men and finding out what they are thinking or what they are doing, we probably would have put a lot of effort into finding a group of people, men and women, who were struggling with both personal and political changes in a collective supportive fashion. We might show them struggling against sexism both within their group and in their community—the men could be sharing their technical or physical skills with the women and the women could be sharing their emotional or domestic skills with the men. To show the growth and joy of radical activity as well as the struggle could be a constructive ending.
RICHARD: What do you think the effect would have been if you had said at the end of the film as you are saying now, “I don't really know how to go about changing this, but I do know that this seems to be the situation and it has certain relationships to the way people are under capitalism; but I think we have to find some ways of changing.”
JOSH: You mean acknowledging that we didn't really know how to change?
RICHARD: Yeah, sort of open the film out at the end.
JOSH: Well, I think that we did do that except for saying that we don't know how to change; all we did say is that we know that to change personally isn't enough, there’s also political things that enter in. I don't know if that tends to make it very ambiguous. People will say what sort of change, what are you talking about? In a sense I'm disappointed about that. It’s very hard when you have an analysis of how those things fit together in society and what changes are necessary, but aren't sure about how much of your analysis you should try to impart to the audience. The people in the Dayton (Ohio) media collective helped us on this.
JOHN: Do you think maybe the style of the film itself limits the ability to do that? The objective interview or series of interviews kind of thing? Do you think perhaps that style itself keeps you from going beyond what is, the conditions that exist?
JOSH: Again, in the film it’s mostly the people in the film talking to the audience. There’s not a lot of interaction amongst the people in the film where they talk about change per se. I think the film could have been a lot more analytical. We didn't have anybody specifically giving an analysis so the only other option we could have had was to say it ourselves which would have meant putting ourselves personally into the film wore than we did. In our original scenarios we hadn't planned for us being in the film at all, so when we did inject ourselves we felt to a certain degree that it was alien material.
RICHARD: I didn't respond that way at all. I wanted to see more of you guys and I was hoping that Will, when he was in the barber chair, would get into more of a rap instead of asking questions and being shy to look in the face of the camera.
JOSH: We weren't really aware of our personal role in the film until afterwards, until we had gotten it all back. That’s a very male thing—you don't want to put yourself on the line—you know people, filmmakers, hiding behind their medium. That’s the way film has always been done; we never really started to question it until we were getting toward the end of the project.
RICHARD: The showings here in the Bay Area, at least the ones that I know about, have been incredibly successful. How do you interpret that response?
JOSH: I think it’s two things. The film as a film has the reputation of being a good film, a well put together film; and people who are into films like to see a well put together film. But more important, the subject of men, of masculinity, really relates to people... Men are interested in seeing it because they don't talk about those kinds of things that much and by seeing the film it’s some sort of support for the things they are thinking about. Somebody else is thinking about it. And women are interested because the film’s about their kids, brothers, lovers, husbands.
RICHARD: Let me ask you this. When you were speaking in San Francisco, you made an interesting equation. You said you wanted to make a “professional, accessible film.” I was really struck by putting those two words together.
JOSH: Professional, accessible film, do you think there is a contradiction?
RICHARD: Perhaps. I wanted to ask you what you meant by a professional film and what that had to do with accessibility.
JOSH: This is an important question: the question of form. Because ultimately our main concern was the content and message of the film, we felt it was important to use an accessible format. People’s expectations are such that they can possibly dismiss content if the form is alien. You must start where the people are at. Also we have a certain amount of respect for traditional forms. We wanted to breathe new life into the standard uses for interviews, music, highly edited sequences. This of course is not the direction the documentary has been headed over the last few years.
JOHN: Isn't there the danger that the more professional the film is the more easily digestible it is? In other words, the more professional the film the more the audience will respond to the professionalism and ignore the message.
JOSH: I don't think most people would do that because they expect films to be well made. Everything they see is done skillfully and slickly if they watch television or go to the movies. That’s the accepted standard of the media. It’s different with filmmakers or artists or students.
They'll get into the form of how you've done it.
JOHN: Is there an underlying message in the fact that you accepted that standard?
JOSH: You mean is that a middle class value that we accept and don't question?
JOHN: Would you rather have made a film that made people uneasy?
JOSH: Uneasy... angry?
JOHN: ...challenge the audience, make them really angry?
JOSH: (after a long pause) Yeah, angry at... capitalism; not us, which means undefined anger really; focused anger against the system.
JOHN: How would you go about doing that?
JOSH: Maybe focusing more on the powers that be, by presenting the problem of masculinity as we did in the film and by going further and showing what function that role has in the society as it’s set up. It has a very important role. It plays into the hands of people who have a lot of power in this country. And if people were able to identify that more clearly, then the film would have probably been more effective in getting what we wanted across.
JOHN: My impression of the showing in San Francisco is that a lot of the very favorable response came because you hold up a lot of stereotypes and show how fucked up they are to people who already knew that those people in the film had fucked up values. In a sense the alienated bourgeoisie, petit bourgeoisie, intellectuals, artists, bohemians can really relate to that. They can get off on mocking people like the school teacher and his $20,000 house and his car. It seems to me that working toward change in a film means challenging people’s ideology, really making them think about their values. That’s why I asked you why you didn't challenge the people you interviewed. There’s a correspondence there, in a sense, between not challenging the people you interviewed and not challenging your audience. That would be my criticism of the film. In some ways the film is even reassuring to alienated intellectuals and many others who have not only questioned some of these values but embarked on some process of overcoming them. I think a lot of us think we have overcome the sexist values to a much greater-extent that we really have.
JOSH: That would be again the issue of who you are speaking to. If you are speaking to intellectuals, artists, and students, petit bourgeois, to challenge them is different than challenging the audience that we were trying to relate to. We had a lot of material in the film that was in different stages of cuts, much more challenging in the sense that we really put down men, saying that you, men are fucking over women, and we took those out because we didn't feel that was a good way to approach these things.
JOHN: As you made the film, what kind of an audience did you visualize you were making it for?
JOSH: We wanted to have “mass” distribution. We wanted to reach as broad an audience as we could reach. We didn't want to make it for radicals. We didn't want to make it for college students; we didn't want to make it for people who were already convinced. We wanted to reach people who had not already thought about the things we were bringing out in the film. We had in mind a high school audience, young working class audience as well as reaching college students.
JOSH: I guess our basic reason for making films is to effect some sort of social change. The purpose of the film is not for someone to escape into or see an interesting part of life they hadn't seen before, but to stimulate thinking about people changing the society and people changing their personal lives. In a sense the film is a support mechanism. If people see that there are people thinking about these issues and that people are changing, it doesn't make them feel so isolated. Their problems aren't merely personal kinds of problems and the way they live their lives is shared by a lot of other people. The kind of people in the film represent the audience we wanted to reach. That’s one of the reasons we didn't go to experts. In a sense we feel that people are experts on their own lives and their own situations. They are best capable of talking about them and talking about them to people like themselves.
This question of audience was our “guiding light”—it always determined decisions in the filmmaking process. New Day was unquestionably a positive force in the back of our minds. People don't just see films in movie theaters: they see and discuss films in classrooms, churches, auditoriums, groups, YWCA’s. This is where our audience is. It does have certain limitations. We'd love to get the film into union halls, but they don't use films much as a matter of practice. Of course television reaches a huge audience, but here we're limited to PBS as an outlet. Except for certain places like Boston and New York most people don't watch PBS. TV Guide, the largest publication in the country, barely mentions it. Even if the film is seen on TV there’s no structure set up for discussion afterwards, a process we've found to be very important for films such as this.
JOHN: What does that say about your original intent to make the film in order to raise consciousness? It seems like that would lead to a question about the very intent of the film, what you are saying now.
JOHN: Well, if you realize that you are working within certain limitations and that you want to say something, you go ahead and say it. If you realize that there are possibilities of getting the film to the kind of audience you really want to get it to, it makes it a lot easier. In our case, we did because we had Jim and Julia there who helped to start New Day Films, which has been very good at getting films out to large broad audiences. We felt positive about getting the film distributed. The whole distribution angle is very important to the process of making a film. To know that you can get the film out to the group you want to reach makes it easier.
RICHARD: A moment ago you talked about making the film within certain limitations. What are they?
JOSH: Well, the limitations of filmmaking and film distribution. Like everything else in America they are businesses controlled by businessmen who are not interested in social upheaval.
RICHARD: How do you go beyond those limitations, as a political filmmaker?
JOSH: Well, a certain amount of it is that, informally, if there are filmmakers, film writers, distributors, and critics who have a similar interest in social change, we will be able to support each other, be able to give each other the kind of financial, ideological interchange that makes it possible to get across what we want to do. The fact that New Day existed, the fact that when we were making the film we saw Odeon Films, Tricontinental, that more and more films like we were making were getting on television, that made it a lot easier for us to do it. We really felt in the back of. our heads that it was possible to make a film that would reach people. We think the structures are there to reach people.