LAFF: Jonathan Demme Talks 'Passion for Filming Real Life,' Neil Young as 'Wandering Troubador' in 'Journeys' (VIDEO)

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by Anne Thompson
June 19, 2012 2:18 PM
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Young and Demme

Young is also a Lionel train enthusiast and an inventor on the side; he's inventing a new automobile as well as various sound systems. The WB CD for "Neil Young Journeys" includes eight songs from the Daniel Lanois-produced Le Noise album, and six are reworkings of classic songs.

Demme premiered another doc at Toronto last fall, POV doc "I'm Carolyn Parker." It came about after Demme had gone down to New Orleans four months after Hurricane Katrina to shoot portraits of several people coping in the hardest hit Holy Cross neighborhood in the lower 9th Ward, which was threatened with demolition by bulldozers. But some denizens insisted on moving back in, including Carolyn Parker, who Demme considers a true hero. "It's human and visual ecology," he says.

A 9th Ward priest introduced Demme to Parker (see clip below), bringing the filmmaker to her home. "She welcomes me into the house and that was it," he recalls.

It took a while for most people to move back into their neighborhoods. "There was little mobilization," says Demme. Over five years he got close to six families and "kept going until everyone was back in their houses." Demme was tracking them all, sometimes operating one of several digital cameras (one acquired at Walgreen's), sometimes with an extra cameraman. "It's very home-move-style," he says.

But Parker was ahead of the curve--so he focused on her "because she's the one who did it first, by herself. She did not have a strong family network. She's hilarious, profoundly spiritual, outrageous. She's a damned movie star." Parker had double knee replacements as she was rebuilding her home, living out of a Fema trailer, and was ripped off by contractors--but "she got justice," says Demme. "These are real life heroics."

Also on hand was Parker's 19-year-old daughter Kyra, who was on scholarship at Syracuse University and came home post-Katrina to help her mother rebuild. She ended up going to Tulane. Demme cast her as Anne Hathaway's sister-in-law in "Rachel Getting Married."

The editing of the POV documentary was "massive," admits Demme, who also fashioned five twenty minute segments for "New Home Movies" on the Tavis Smiley Show. He has no idea how much he spent on the movie, he says: "It's all written down somewhere."

Like many directors these days, Demme has ventured into television, shooting the excellent pilot for the recent CBS TV series "A Gifted Man," starring Patrick Wilson and Jennifer Ehle, which swiftly went downhill from there.  And he has acquired the rights to a Stephen King's forthcoming Kennedy assassination novel "11/22/63."

[Photo courtesy of TIFF]

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