Roger Weisberg on Why Can’t We Be a Family Again?

How a short went from outtake to Oscar contender
March 1, 2003

Q: The doc shows two brothers whose mother struggles with drug addiction, trying to keep their family together. How did you come across the project?

A: [Codirector/producer Murray Nossel and I] set out to look at the work of an organization in New York, [U.S.], called Center for Family Life. We followed six troubled families for three years. Last year, PBS aired the doc, A Brooklyn Family Tale. The story featured in Why Can’t We Be a Family Again? [which is produced by Public Policy Productions in Palisades, U.S.] didn’t fit into that film, but we couldn’t bear to let it die on the cutting room floor. So, we put it together as a short and entered it into film festivals. The response exceeded our wildest imaginations.

Q: Who’s involved with the film now?

A: We’ve had a couple of offers from broadcasters. Planet Pictures [Calabasas, U.S.] is representing the film for foreign tv. [Santa Monica, U.S.'s] Pyramid Media and Filmmaker’s Library [New York] are handling non-theatric distribution. Apollo Cinema [L.A., U.S.] is trying to package the [Oscar-]nominated shorts for release in North American theaters. And, Docurama/New Video [New York] is putting out the DVD.

Q: Did your track record as a doc-maker help attract attention to the film?

A: Somewhat, partially because I knew who to call.

Q: How much did the film cost?

A: The last time we did a serious accounting it was US$224,000.

Q: Will you turn a profit on the film?

A: That’s unlikely. The distribution, if we’re lucky, will cover one-third of our costs. We’re hoping to recoup the other two-thirds from foundation grants.

Q: Were you surprised by the Academy Award nomination?

A: I was nominated two years ago for Sound and Fury, so we did everything we could to qualify. But, I thought it was a long shot.

Q: Where did the film screen to qualify?

A: We were invited by the International Documentary Association to participate in DOCtober. But, we still had to bump our tape to 35mm film…to qualify.

Q: That’s so archaic.

A: It is. I was at Sundance with the film and I think 15 of the 16 competition docs were being projected on HD video.

Q: Will you say ‘hi’ to Joan Rivers on the red carpet?

A: It’s unheard of for us to get noticed. I’d be avoiding her anyway. Definitely Michael Moore will get noticed, though. I think it will be funny to see him in a tuxedo.

About The Author
Jillian Morgan is a special reports editor at realscreen with a background in journalism and digital marketing. She joined the publication in 2019 after serving as the assistant editor to trade publications HPAC and On-Site. With a bachelor of journalism from the University of King's College in Halifax, she also works as a freelance writer and fact-checker.