TIFF ’14: Scorsese talks docs, books in Toronto

Martin Scorsese (pictured) reflected on docs, books, The Act of Killing and life in the Big Apple, following the Canadian premiere of his latest non-fiction film last night (September 11).
September 12, 2014

Martin Scorsese (pictured) reflected on docs, books, The Act of Killing and life in the Big Apple, following the Canadian premiere of his latest non-fiction film last night (September 11).

The 71-year-old took to the stage at Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox after the ‘Mavericks’ screening of his documentary The 50 Year Argument, alongside co-director David Tedeschi, producer Margaret Bodde, and New York Review of Books editor Robert Silvers.

The Q&A, which was hosted by TIFF Docs programmer Thom Powers, saw Scorsese echoing Michael Moore’s provocative comments from earlier in the week, as he reflected on the differences – or rather the lack of difference – between making fiction and non-fiction films.

“They’re films,” he said. “I don’t like the idea of ‘documentary non-fiction’ – this is cinema.

“I’m not that fond of conventional documentary, which is often a kind of journalism,” he added, before singling out Joshua Oppenheimer’s controversial hit hybrid The Act of Killing as an example of the kind of non-fiction he was really interested in.

The Act of Killing… it was like music,” he reflected. “It’s devastating. And what is it, it’s a documentary?! It was so immediate and important to where we are.”

Unbeknownst to the director, Oppenheimer (who is attending TIFF with The Look of Silence, his follow-up to Killing) was in the audience for the screening and Q&A, and later told realscreen that the praise gave him goose bumps.

Despite his reservation over the characterization of non-fiction films, Scorsese said he enjoyed making such films. “There’s a sense of freedom in that I’m not shackled to a conventional narrative,” he said. “I find that the challenges are everywhere, but there’s more of a sense of freedom.”

With The 50 Year Argument, the director said he and Tedeschi “had no plan” at the start of the project. “We had to find our way through. With non-fiction, it’s a bigger responsibility, it’s a bigger gamble.”

The director also discussed the impact that The New York Review of Books – and literature in general – had had on him over the past half-century.

“Books fascinated me – and still do,” he said. “But they fascinate me also as objects; books themselves become very precious to me.

“It took me a long time to learn to read a book, to live with a book.”

For his part, Silvers – who, on-screen, represents the spine of The 50 Year Argument – said he was curious to see how the publication he co-founded half a century ago could be the subject of a film.

“I wondered how it could be done,” he said. “It seemed most unlikely that this paper, with its 15,000 articles, somehow could be made into a visual record. I’m overwhelmed and thrilled that Marty did it.”

The 50 Year Argument marks Scorsese’s sixth doc collaboration with Tedeschi, and their first as co-directors. Tedeschi previously served as editor on 2011′s George Harrison: Living in the Material World, 2010′s Public Speaking, 2008′s Shine a Light, 2005′s No Direction Home, and an episode of Scorsese’s 2003 doc series The Blues.

The film continues its festival run at the New York Film Festival later this month, before having its U.S. TV premiere on HBO.

  • Check out a teaser for The 50 Year Argument below:

About The Author