Wednesday, April 1, 2015


From Wim Wenders & Jim Jarmusch to Jean-Luc Godard and, yes…even Quentin Tarantino, a large portion of this blog is dedicated to films from the School Of Sam Fuller (race on film is also a major component of this blog so we’ve had a nice share of White Dog references over the years as well).
Sam Fuller has a huge spiritual presence here at PINNLAND EMPIRE so it’s an honor that his daughter, filmmaker Samantha Fuller, would take the time out to answer a few questions about her recent film A Fuller Life 


PINNLAND EMPIRE: Can you give the readers, in your own words, a brief synopsis of what your documentary is about?

SAMANTHA FULLER: A Fuller Life consists of 12 segments, each of which features an admirer of Sam's, dramatizing their interpretation of his memoirs ("A Third Face"). Set in the late director’s historic office, the cast channels Fuller amid his beloved Royal typewriter, massive collection of books, screenplays, treatments, war memorabilia, and, of course, the ever-present big fat cigar. A Fuller Life presents for the first time recently discovered 16mm films shot by Fuller, footage he shot on the front lines during World War II as well as location scouts and home movies. Every word spoken in this documentary, whether by a performer or from a movie clip, was written by him. This made the film a posthumous self-portrait .

PE: Was it difficult for you to essentially share parts of your father with other people/strangers?

SF: Everything said in the film is directly taken from my father's autobiography. There’s nothing that he didn't offer to share himself.
However, he didn't often invite people, let alone strangers, into his office. Being an only child, I've spent a lot of time by myself in my father’s office since he passed away. I'm never quite alone in there because in a way it feels like I’m spending time with him. The room is lined with rows of books, file cabinets filled with research documents, stacks of scripts, war relics and movie props. When you look around the room it's like a direct view into his brain. I enjoyed sharing this space with people.

PE: Are there still personal memories that you will always keep for yourself?

SF: There are many personal memories. Sometimes I meditate and reminisce about the cherished times we spent together. I aim my thoughts towards good memories like the time we held hands while observing a meteorite shower over the lake of Locarno on a balmy summer night. I had no interest including these kinds of personal memories in the film. I'll save those in case I write my own memoirs some day.

PE: Did working on this film about your father bring you closer with your own daughter?

SF: I made the film to honor my father's history. I dedicated it to my daughter and to honor her future. She was present throughout the entire filmmaking process and was very encouraging. She observed closely and asked many questions. I was glad to show her how it's done, how you can wake up with an idea to make a film one morning and persevere to make your dream a reality. I couldn't have done it without her enthusiasm & support.
In fact, she was very inspired by the process and is now planning her first short film. I couldn't be more proud!

PE: How long had the idea of making this documentary been formulating inside of you?

SF: I always thought that the story of my father's life would make a great film or a mini-series. But that's easier said than done. He experienced major milestones throughout the 20th century and I loved hearing firsthand about the historical events he witnessed. It was like a history lesson given by a man who had actually lived it. My father was a visual raconteur. This made it easy to paint a clear picture in your head while he'd tell his stories. He had so many great stories and he rarely told the same one twice. So transferring his words into a film had been lurking in the back of my mind for many years. I hadn't thought of presenting his story as a documentary until early of 2012 in an effort to commemorate his centennial. My father had me when he was 63. He always told me that we'd have a big celebration on his 100th birthday. Although he passed away when he was 85, I still felt like doing something special for his centennial. Making this documentary seemed like a natural way to celebrate his life.

PE: How long did it take to complete this documentary from start to finish?

SF: I began re-reading his autobiography and selecting passages in chronological order at the beginning of 2012. We filmed one segment per month throughout that year (12 total). Everything happened to coincide with his centennial so it felt like a yearlong celebration of his life. Every time we wrapped a segment it would conclude with a big meal (cooked by my mother) for the cast & crew. We spent just as much time celebrating (if not more) than actually shooting. I think it was my father’s spirit making sure we had fun while working on this. Between the shoots I began archiving & researching images to layer into the film. Editing & post production took another couple of months until the film made its premiere at the Venice Film Festival in 2013.

PE: What was it like working with kickstarter?

SF: It wasn't easy. Kickstarter is all about putting the word out to everyone who might be interested in contributing to a project. The toughest part was raising as much awareness as possible before the deadline. Luckily my mother's assistance contributed tremendously (social networking, word of mouth, etc). Susan King from the LA times published an article about the film which ran during the kickstarter campaign. That was helpful. At the end of the Kickstarter campaign we linked a paypal account to the film's website so any latecomer could donate. In order to play it safe I had asked for twenty five thousand dollars, when in fact we needed more. We exceeded our goal but still had to rely on the post-campaign contributions (we also added some of our own personal money).

PE: What difficulties did you face will making A Fuller Life?

SF: No challenge I wasn't ready to face. Of course I owe a lot of that to my cast & crew who were true professionals. The toughest part was raising the funds and coordinating everyone's schedules. Once all that was settled, everything was a smooth cruise.

PE: A Fuller Life isn't a typical documentary. It's quite unique in it's format & execution. Were there any films or documentaries you watched in preparation before setting out to make your documentary?

SF: How could I make a typical documentary to honor the life and work of my father who was everything but a typical man!? I've watched many films & documentaries and indeed, you can't compare any of them to this film. I had my mind set on a different format. I knew that it was the right way to go. I just followed my heart and instinct.
There had already been a few documentaries about my father like The Typewriter, The Rifle & The Movie Camera (Adam Simon) and The Men Who Made The Movies (Richard Shickel). Both of those documentaries feature interviews. There are no interviews in my film. Everyone is speaking Sam's words and telling his story the way he had written it. It's an unconventional documentary in the same way my father was an unconventional man.
However, I did ask everyone to tell me a story about my father (almost like an interview) which will be included in the bonus features of the DVD.

PE: Were there any particular reviews of A Fuller Life that stood out to you and made you proud?

SF: All the reviews are good in the sense that I'm glad the film is being talked about. Some praised the film more than others, but all in all, each one made me proud. Some really appreciated the fast paced storytelling. Others said they wished I had gone more in depth about his film career. Those who thought the latter just didn't get the point that his entire life relates to the films he made. My father used to say "As long as they spell my name right". This always made me laugh.

PE: Was there a particular actor/filmmaker/writer/artist that you were surprised to discover was a fan of your father's work?

SF: Everyone involved in the project was already familiar with his work. That's the main reason they agreed to participate. They also respected what he stood for: good story telling.

Sam Fuller (right w/ cigar) in Godard's Pierrot Le Fou

PE: In my opinion, French cinephiles seem to appreciate Sam Fuller's work more than American cinephiles (not to say Americans don't consider your father a legend, but still...)
Do you agree? If so, why do you think that is?

SF: Sam loved France, and France loved him back. He was self-exiled twice during his life - First in the 60’s then again in the 80’s through the mid-90’s. French new wave filmmakers revered him and welcomed him with open arms. One of my favorite cameos is when he appeared in Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou. I believe he embraced the independence of new-wave filmmaking. He had mostly worked within the studio system in America and he always had to fight to tell his stories the way he wanted. In France there is much more artistic freedom, no formula, less structural guidelines. It's a good thing he was attracted to France in the sixties. Not only in a creative sense but because that's where he met my mother: the love of his life. He brought her back to America where he made a couple more films including one of his best; The Big Red One. After the fiasco with the U.S. release of White Dog in the early eighties, they decided to return to France where he continued to make films. He was happy in France and enjoyed many long discussions with fellow filmmakers and cinephiles at the corner cafe.

Samantha Fuller's cameo in White Dog

PE: What's next for you in terms of filmmaking? Do you have a new project on the horizon?

SF: I have a couple documentaries in the works. One of them consists of using the remaining footage that my father shot during WWII, which I wasn't able to include in A Fuller Life. The footage will be paired up with his war correspondence and illustrations that he sent to his family while on the front line.
I'm finishing up another film about a 95 year old Nisei artist. Her name is Harumi Taniguchi and she's a real firecracker. I've been filming her successively during the past couple of years. She's published over one thousand poems and she reads some on camera. She's also an active painter and ballerina. It's an inspiring film about the dynamics of creativity.
Besides those projects, I'm planning a feature film to be shot next year if all goes as planned. I wrote a screenplay adapted from a play my mother wrote. I've been captioning it as "a philosophical thriller". The topic is about the provenance of hate in mankind. It is set during inter wars in Vienna in the 1920's when Hitler was on the rise.
In the future, I'd love to make some of the films my father wrote that never saw the light of day. I'm keeping his unmade scripts in reserve for when the time is right for me to handle them.

PE: Are there any particular filmmakers working today that you admire?

SF: Agnes Varda is my favorite living director and she's still going strong at 86 years old. She is everything a director should embody: strong yet sensitive and one can always rely that her films are diverse and artistic.
I love Kathryn Bigelow for her guts to play hardball in a field dominated by men. And while I'm at it, I'll throw in Lena Dunham who's wit has taken her to a place well deserved in a sometimes humorless business.
Allison Anders is another director I admire for her wild personality and strong female protagonists.
Ana Lily Amirpour did an amazing job with her first feature (A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night) and I'm excited to see what she's coming up with next.
I always enjoy watching the films of A-List directors like Spielberg, Scorsese, Tarantino etc. They never fail to entertain. I loved The Grand Budapest Hotel by Wes Anderson. I enjoy all his films for their quirky humor and whimsical design.
I know that I'm leaving many out, but I don't have time right now to go on & on…

PE: What recent films have stood out to you personally?

SF: I saw 71, by Yann Demange a few weeks ago and I'm sure looking forward to his next film in the hopes it will be as effective combining action and emotion. I Am Michael by Justin Kelly. He did a great job adapting a news article into film. I love seeing films that are spun from a headline or an article. My other favorite recent films are Birdman, Whiplash and Nightcrawler. Jake Gyllenhal and Renee Russo's performances were fabulous. The story was right up my alley and the cinematography was stunning. I also savored every minute of Mr. Turner.

PE: Any closing words for the readers?

SF: I manage the FB page for A FULLER LIFE, where anyone who's interested in seeing the screening schedule or asking any questions is welcome.


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