Director Alexandre Rockwell: “New York is the Only Place I Would Die For”

01/08/2014 10:47 AM |

alexandre rockwell director

Alexandre Rockwell was born in Massachusetts and came to New York via Paris to be a filmmaker. He found indie success in 1992 with In the Soup, starring Steve Buscemi and Seymour Cassel, and again 10 years later with 13 Moons, again starring Buscemi as well as Peter Dinklage, Sam Rockwell, and more. His latest, Little Feet—which he shot in Los Angeles and which stars his two kids—screens on Friday at the Museum of the Moving Image, opening the museum’s First Look 2014 showcase. Afterward it will be released straight to Vimeo. We talked to the Brooklyn-based filmmaker about being a young man in New York, working with your own kids, and the autofill suggestions when you Google him.

Which neighborhood do you live in?
Greenpoint. I was priced out of what was once the bohemian ferment called the East Village. I like the old folks sitting on the stoops and the authentic street corner vibe of Greenpoint. I feel closer to some of the old Polish bums on the street than I do the successful “hipsters” that float in and out of the “modernized East Village.” I like the river and the empty spaces; it’s an urban dreamscape.

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How has New York changed for you since you first came here?
I knew I had to come here since I was a kid. Everyone of my generation knew they had to invent themselves here; the streets were alive with the sound of music even if it had a rough and tumble beat. There were the days we would meet in a church basement and read a play, and after that was over push the chairs aside and dance to Sun Ra and Parliament-Funkadelic till the break of dawn. It was the land of Oz for young artists who wanted to discover a new place to play and create that didn’t cost an arm and a leg to survive. I have learned everything I know in New York; it’s the only place I would fight and die for.

What’s it like working with your own children?
Oh, it’s like life in our house: a crazy mix of tears and laughter. I like the fact that if I wanted them to do something I would just say, “If you do it I will give you some candy”, or ” If you don’t do it, I will take your toy away.” I wish it was that simple with adult actors. All kidding aside, there is a directness in working with children—and in my case, my own—that is really wonderful. What you see is what you get; there’s an honesty to what Nico and Lana did that I admire, and I hope it shows on the screen.

What drew you to Los Angeles as a setting?
I was heading back to New York and I knew I wanted to show a side of LA that one seldom sees in pop culture and contemporary cinema. I wanted the action to take place in the spaces between things, the freeway underpasses, the desolate banks of the LA River. I wanted to film children walking in a city where everyone drives, because I saw humanity in the most desolate and inhospitable places. It’s a city that rose up from the desert like a mirage, made from a capitalist idea that is half illusion and half wilderness. I think it’s a lonely place and a great place to dream.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of bypassing the traditional distribution model and releasing your film directly to Vimeo?
For me this is uncharted territory. I think it has very hopeful horizons for film artists to find their audiences without all the middle men messing with the content. It’s a matter of survival; the traditional model never really worked for me, after all the middle men took their cut there was never anything left for the filmmaker. I am not bemoaning the death of what was branded “independent cinema”—that was a label a few smart folks put on a creative movement so they could package and market product. Anything that puts the filmmaker’s work directly in front of their potential audience I am all for. The great thing about Vimeo is its focus on filmmakers and the people who appreciate film, so I think it has a great chance to succeed in reaching a film’s audience. I am very exited to be part of this new initiative.

The first autofill suggestion when you Google “Alexandre Rockwell” is “Alexandre Rockwell net worth.” Uh, what do you make of that?
Yeah, well, if you go a little deeper into the site it says $3.95, which at this moment is about right on. What I want to know is what perfect matrix did they use to arrive at that exact number?

More info on Little Feet‘s debut here.

Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart