Julie Taymor at the Ashland Independent Film Festival
Julie Taymor at the Ashland Independent Film Festival

The Ashland Independent Film Festival, an 11-year-old intimate spring fest nestled in Oregon's Rogue Valley, reminds me of the early days of Sundance and Telluride. Last year as a member of the doc jury I enjoyed spending time with documentarians Morgan Spurlock, Tiffany Shlain, Ondi Timoner and Harry Shearer. Ashland also hosts the venerable Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which pulls first-class theater talent for its multiple mountings of Shakespeare and other plays such as Mary Zimmerman's visually stunning comedic take on a classic Chinese fairy tale, "White Snake," complete with sexy demons, villainous monks and heart-felt romance.

This year, I spent gratifying time with AIFF Artistic Achievement Award-winner Julie Taymor, who I've interviewed in the past ("Across the Universe" here, "The Tempest" here). She did an in-depth Q & A with Oregon Shakespeare Fest director Bill Rauch, accompanied by clips of four of her works: top-earning global musical and Tony-winner "The Lion King," plus three films screened during the fest: "Across the Universe," "Titus," and "The Tempest."

"No matter what I do as an artist," Taymor told Rauch, "I have to be passionately involved and love it, from $11 to 70-million films to $400,000 to 70-million theater pieces." While theater offers more freedom and stylization, Taymor likes the broader audience and permanent record that films provide (although she's now tracking down prints of her films for safe-keeping).

Even with her most commercial projects, she doesn't patronize the audience, she said: "You don't have to dumb it down." She was as comfortable with the three-hour German "Magic Flute" as the two-hour English language one (the first Met Opera to stream live). She doesn't believe in talking down to kids, who are closer to the world of make believe.

"It's a constant fight to do something fresh and new that the audience doesn't know ahead of time," she said. On "The Lion King," Disney's Michael Eisner backed her on the crazy puppets, saying,"with the bigger risk, you get a bigger payoff."