Interview with Lake of Fire Filmmaker Tony Kaye, Sept ‘07

20 Sep 2007

The issue of abortion seems to be an endless quagmire of debate with many layers on each side. It took filmmaker Tony Kaye (American History X) 15 years to complete his documentary, Lake of Fire, which attempts to collect every side of the argument in one two and a half hour film. Kaye interviewed extremes and moderates on the pro-choice and pro-life sides, religious and secular, legal and philosophical, as well as capturing protests and confrontations on film.

When you approached the subjects for the film, did you have to share with them your stance on abortion? Did you feel you should?
"No, I just said to them, 'Look, I'm a filmmaker that is making a film about abortion. It's not propagandist in any way. It's just trying to explore what the words, what the process, the procedure, what the issue, the overall issue is. As close as I can get to the encyclopedic movie about the issue of abortion and I'm not going to twist your words, present you in any other way, in any other format. I'm not going to edit you in a way that goes against the grain of what you have actually said. So please do trust me on this.' And it was cool. I'm sure over 15 years, some people refused interviews and some of the interviews that I did get, I had to work on those people for quite a while before I got them. Noam Chomsky wasn't easy. Alan Dershowitz wasn't easy."

Was anyone scary to speak with?
"Yeah, it is quite scary when you're dealing with people that say if someone blasphemes they should be executed. That's a pretty scary thing. So that is pretty scary, and actually the FBI did get in touch with me at one point and they wanted to take all the footage. I gave them a lot of stuff. They wanted to look at it because they felt that I might have interviewed somebody who might eventually kill at an abortion clinic. They looked at a lot of stuff that I shot."

At what point did you realize it would take a while? You didn't set out to spend 15 years, did you?
"No, I didn't but once I got into it, I just didn't care anymore. It's a very difficult film to make. If you're making a film about an issue with no sides, with no walls, it's infinity and you're making it without inserting your particular point of view. It's very, very hard to make a film like that, a film that works."

Do these sorts of debates and extreme actions happen in other countries too?
"I've lived in American for 17 years. I love the fact that America debates things like this and makes them very important. I don't think it happens anywhere else in the world. And the film is about the debate as much as anything else. I think a country is either for or against and doesn't really talk about it beyond that. It's a very swept under the carpet [issue]. I don't know. I don't think it takes place anywhere else."

Still a lot of this film is new to me. As big an issue as it is, why have so many of these facets not gotten publicity?
"I'm not sure. I really don't know. Things like Noam Chomsky things, no one thinks about things like that. That guy, no one thinks like that."

And they don't get called on talk shows to say it either.
"I don't know why. Or maybe they do. He gets 5,000 calls a day but I'm sure he doesn't take them all up."

After this film took so long, you seem to be on a roll with films coming out. Talk about jumping back into narrative filmmaking?
"I'm currently editing a film that I wrote called Black Water Transit, which is about a number of characters that bump into each other in New Orleans a few months after the flood. It's a kind of, in the bigger picture, it's a film about chaos and reactivity and this kind of thing. Then I have my film that I'm trying to get made, my script which is Lobby Lobster the film. Then there's a script written by Robert McKee, the screenwriting teacher, a film called Madness that I'm very interested in trying to get made. Then there is another film about capitol punishment that is written by a judge that I think is kind of cool. Then there's a film called Wild Horses which is a story, a script that Mickey Rourke wrote about his brother. Val Kilmer and Bob Dylan are in that. Then there's loads of other things. There's loads."

After an experience like American History X, what lessons have you taken into your current productions to protect yourself?
"Well, when you write your own material, particularly with me, the way I shoot, I need to write my own stuff more than most because I shoot so much footage. I don't shoot repeat takes of the same thing. I shoot variant other things and when I work with actors, I let them contribute enormously to a story within their particular story. But my behavior has changed. I'm not reactionary. That's the big thing. I keep my ego in the grave and that said, let the ego die, not yourself."

All of your films deal with important and controversial issues. How do you decide whether to do a fictional story or a documentary like Lake of Fire?
"Well, I'm just beginning as a filmmaker. Genre, I believe in entertainment, just pure, sheer entertainment. They don't all have to be like this. I'm just beginning, really, so I don't know what I'm going to end up doing, try to do all kinds of different things."

Has anyone poked a hole in Lake of Fire that you didn't foresee?
"There's loads of good questions. There are holes in the film. In a way, I consider it to be not finished. I don't really consider anything to be finished. I'd like to go back to it. It's just I have to put it out and move on. But it's a very imperfect piece. I'm under no illusion there."

Have other people said that or just you as the artist so close to it? I've never seen a more complete film about a single issue.
"Well, it's great you say that and I'm very honored you should say that. No, it seems to have a lot of regard, but when one works on something for so long, you just see things. I see things now and think, 'Oh, I should have done it like that. Or maybe this, that. I should do this maybe.' When I watch it now, I haven't stopped watching it or anything."

What has been the debate as you do press for it?
"The questions have been varied. Anyone that wants to converse and talk about it seems to have a positive attitude towards it."

Fred Topel, Read the original article


Total: 5

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By Jamie on 17:10, 25 Apr 2011

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By Steve on 23:21, 26 Apr 2011

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