Docs

Candor and comedy: documenting Joan Rivers

Directors Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg have tackled politics, Darfur and democracy and took a surprising turn with their latest feature documentary, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. Realscreen spoke to the directors when their cinema verité look at the comedian had its international premiere at Hot Docs.
May 20, 2010

Directors Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg have tackled politics, Darfur and democracy and took a surprising turn with their latest feature documentary, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.

The directing duo, whose credits include the critically acclaimed 2007 doc The Devil Came on Horseback, say that they weren’t looking to do a film about a female comedian, but with Rivers being friendly with Stern’s parents, Stern thought the groundbreaking comedian would be an interesting subject for a film.

‘Women in comedy are still a minority and it’s such a tough profession,’ says Stern. ‘There’s so much that I think is interesting about the comedy world and especially what it takes to be a woman to command the stage and have the power. As Joan says, she does it with pearls.’

Rivers’ candor enabled the filmmakers to paint an honest portrait of the comedian, with Rivers revealing insecurities about her relationship with her mother and sadness about the end of her friendship with Johnny Carson.

‘Her famous words are, ‘Ask me anything.’ She’s a very open person and in some ways that’s her blessing and her curse,’ says Stern.

Sundberg reveals that she and Stern are finishing up a documentary for HBO about Burma, which will be another character story. ‘It’s about a man who was a former soldier in the Burma army and became a pro-democracy activist with a pretty remarkable life story,’ she says.

The duo is also looking at new projects, ranging in subject matter from high art to fraud, and they’re also looking at doing more television projects.

And what would be their favorite Joan Rivers jokes? Stern is keen on: ‘If God wanted me to exercise, he would’ve put diamonds on the floor,’ while Sundberg says, ‘It’s hard, because every day, Joan has good acerbic witty comments. There’s something new every day.’

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work begins a wide theatrical release in the U.S. through IFC Films on June 11.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for HMV.com. As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.

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