TIFF Women Directors: Meet Allison Berg

Interviews
by Melissa Silverstein
September 11, 2013 3:00 PM
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The Dog

Allison Berg was born in New York City. She received the Special Jury Award at SXSW for her debut feature documentary Witches in Exile (04). The Dog (13) is her latest film.

The Dog is playing as part of the TIFF Docs program.

Women and Hollywood: Please give us your description of your film playing at TIFF.

Allison Berg: In 1972, John Wojtowicz attempted to rob a Brooklyn bank to pay for his lover's sex change operation. The story was the basis for the film Dog Day Afternoon. The Dog captures John, for the first time, telling his story in his own unique, offensive, hilarious and heartbreaking way.

WaH: What drew you to this script? If you are the writer too, why did you write this script?

AB: Me and my directing partner, Frank Keraudren, had always loved the film Dog Day Afternoon and we wanted to find the person the story was based on. We both love outsider stories and films from the 70s and were curious to see if the real-life bank robber would be as compelling as the character portrayed by Al Pacino. We had no idea that we were about to embark on a project with the most out-of-control person we had ever met!

WaH: What was the biggest challenge?

AB: Being with John is an unforgettable experience (although I'm sure we've blocked some of it out). It's also infuriating. It basically runs the full gamut of emotions, for reasons you'll understand better once you see the film. I tend to describe the time that we were shooting this film as "falling down the rabbit hole" - we became a bit obsessed and didn't quite realize that the pursuit of telling The Dog's story had become an all-encompassing life experience that would run over the course of a decade. We never wanted to give up but it definitely wasn't easy.

WaH: What advice do you have for other female directors?

AB: My advice would be for any filmmaker - find a story that you are truly passionate about. They won't all take 11 years to make but you have to really care about what you are doing because there are so many pitfalls along the way, you must be determined to see it through. And always keep your sense of humor - the problems you run into on an almost daily basis when shooting are ridiculous sometimes, but at least you'll have some good stories to laugh about later!

WaH: What's the biggest misconception about you and your work?

AB: I don't think there are any current misconceptions about my work but check in with me in a few weeks!

WaH: What are the biggest challenges and or opportunities for the future with the changing distribution mechanisms for films?

AB: I think we're all figuring this out as we go along right now - there are so many new and emerging platforms for film which I think is great. On the other hand, I don't think I will ever get used to people watching a film on their iPhone, I will always be a fan of the big screen.

WaH: Name your favorite female directed film and why.

AB: I'm not good at "best of" lists so I'll just say that right now, I'm very excited by the work of Sarah Polley. I find her films brave and honest and I can't wait to see her documentary Stories We Tell. I also thought Kathryn Bigelow kicked some serious ass with The Hurt Locker.

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