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
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 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.