As the publicity tour celebrating the 40th anniversary and dvd reissue of his film The Beatles: First U.S. Visit was winding down last month, direct cinema guru Albert Maysles was pushing forward on his sixth Christo film, The Gates.
In an intimate handheld style, New York-based Maysles Films has chronicled the work of wrap artist Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude in countries around the world. The new project is the installation of 7,500 gates along 37 kilometers of walkway in New York’s Central Park. The simple five-meter high frames will be topped with saffron fabric, left loose to blow in the wind. The idea, explains Maysles, is that New York remains the central gateway to America for immigrants. The flowing saffron, he continues, is meant to be uplifting.
The Gates project and film have been 24 years in the making, and footage (captured by Albert and his late brother David, and now also Antonio Ferrera) thus far chronicles debates with the park’s Conservancy and various mayors as Christo and advocates strove to secure the go-ahead for the project. Current NY mayor Michael Bloomberg said yes, and The Gates is set to open next February. Also, an exhibition of Christo’s Gates drawings and blueprints will run from April to July 2004 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and will feature the Maysles brothers’ films on Christo’s previous work.
Maysles has already discussed the US$750,00 film with BBC4 CE Nick Fraser. He’s also garnered interest from Hans Robert Eisenhauer, ARTE G.E.I.E.‘s head of topical evenings who, the filmmaker says, envisions The Gates as a three-way (the third desired partner being PBS, which has aired Maysles’ earlier Christo work). The doc is planned for 90 minutes, and will wrap early next year. Maysles says the 24-year delay was perhaps fortuitous. ‘It’s good that it comes post 9-11, as the nature of the project is very celebratory.’
Other Maysles projects in the works include: a doc on peacemakers who negotiate in conflict zones, produced with filmmaker Gordon Skinner; a project on klezmer music, shot in Poland; a look at the travails of a Catholic nun having a run-in with the Vatican over her missionary work with gays and lesbians; and a doc on the Dalai Lama (Maysles had unfettered access to his dharma-ness during his recent NYC visit). Dearest to the doc-maker is ‘the train project,’ which will gather compelling stories from people on long-distance trains in different countries. Maysles is also looking to capture the conversational gems of kids chatting to each other. ‘It’s just a matter of finding some very precocious kids,’ he says. Montreal’s Films Transit is Maysles’s ‘preferred distributor’.