My Heart Is An Idiot is a new documentary film about the nomadic life and fraught loves of Davy Rothbart, the FOUND Magazine founder, author, musician, and This American Life contributor. The film is currently touring the East Coast; it screens tonight at Littlefield in Gowanus, and tomorrow night at The Tank, in Hell’s Kitchen. David Mieklejohn, who directed the film, answered some of our questions over email.
So, how did you come to be making this film?
Davy and I had been friends for a few years when he pitched me this idea: come on the road and film the weirdness of the FOUND tour. In 2005 I jumped in the van and traveled for two months with Davy and his brother Peter, documenting the whole thing. At first, we envisioned the project as “The FOUND Magazine Documentary,” but not long after we started filming, we realized that all we ever did was talk about love and relationships. We were obsessed, like most people are when love is involved.
After watching the footage from that first tour, I realized that the story was less about FOUND and more about Davy’s roller coaster love life, which had had some serious ups and downs in that trip. The next year I went on tour with the Rothbarts again, and really focused the story on the romantic angle, which helped get a lot better footage. Having a plan before filming a documentary is a great idea, and I highly recommend it.
How much access did you have to him. From his work, he seems very open to the confessional mode…
I spent four months in a van with Davy, so you could say I had pretty intimate access to him. Davy never shies away from exposing his vulnerabilities, and you can see that in all of his writings and radio pieces, which is part of what makes him such a compelling subject in the film. All of his romantic self is out in the open, for better or worse. For me, Davy’s willingness to share his fuckups is actually inspiring, because it reminds me that I don’t want to let fear of mistakes keep me from taking risks, both romantically and otherwise.
Can you tell us a little about the music in the film? What kind of mood and aesthetic, or cultural resonance, were you going for?
The majority of music in the film was written by friends of mine from Michigan and Maine. Eleven tracks were done by A Setting Sun, an amazing ambient artist friend of mine, and all of his music is ripe for cinematic use. The road-trippy sometimes twee quality of the film definitely calls for a jangly indie soundtrack, but I tended to lean more toward an electronic sound for the music, partly to avoid that indie cliche, but also because I love the electronic music my friends are making, and it has a moody and non-sentimental quality that’s helpful to the film. But I definitely do have some folky stuff in there too, like my friend Horse Thief who contributes three beautiful tracks to the film.
You’re going on tour with the film, not dissimilar to the way a This American Life essayist might go on a speaking tour. How’d you settle on that as the mode of exhibition? Do you have any thoughts about festivals or theatrical distribution for the film?
The film takes place in hundreds of cities around the U.S., so it makes sense to tour the screenings in the same way. FOUND has amazing grassroots support all over the country, so we’re screening the film using that infrastructure to rally people to attend. It’s really rare that a first-time filmmaker like myself has a built-in audience in this way, and with Davy’s support and help, we’ve set up 16 screenings on our own in Ann Arbor, Chicago, DC, LA, SF, Seattle, and other cities, including the two shows in NYC this week.
The screenings have been amazing so far, with almost a thousand showing up for the world premiere, and lively crowds at all the other midwest and east coast events. Aside from sharing the film with people, the bigger goal for this tour is to secure distribution and release the film to more cities later on, and then get it onto DVD. The message we’re trying to send with the tour is this: Look what two guys can do on our own, imagine how far this film could go with proper distribution. But even if no distributor wants the film, we’ll release it through FOUND and still get the film seen by a ton of folks, so I’m psyched!
Of the celebrity cameos in the film, whom would you say gave the best romantic advice?
Hearing Newt Gingrich give Davy advice was surreal and rad. Zooey Deschanel was charmingly poetic with her advice, and hearing Ira Glass drop the f-bomb three times is not to be missed. But I think the best advice came from Davy’s brother, Peter, who knows Davy so well he gave him the difficult but necessary advice that Davy needed. Something I learned from making this film is that when we solicit advice from people, we’ll often only absorb the parts we want to hear, and the rest gets dismissed. But when a person who knows and loves us points out some hard truths, those are the insights that can shake us out of our bad romantic habits and inspire us to make stronger, braver decisions.