Sometimes, just sometimes, D.C. is a cool place for
a movie nut to live. Like on the night of Oct. 5, 2006,
when I got to see Tideland for free about a month
before it's due to open here and participate in a live
Q&A with its director, Terry Gilliam.
For those who can't wait, here's the executive summary:
Tideland is a compelling, fascinating film that
no doubt will continue to divide audiences and gain
resonance for those willing to see it more than once.
His best film in many years, I suspect, although I will
have to see it again to confirm. Oh, and Jodelle Ferland
could be the next Natalie Portman.
Before the film, Mr. Gilliam took to the stage, clean
shaven but retaining his now-familiar rat-tail. Though
in his mid-sixties, he has the energy, demeanor and
infectious enthusiasm of a man at least a couple of
Mr. Gilliam has no illusions about Tideland making any
money. That's not why one makes a film like this. His
only real ambition for the film, he told us, was to
provoke debate. Mission accomplished. He also predicted
before the screening that the film would resonate with
some viewers after they've seen it, and that he would
be more interested in hearing their opinions of it the
next morning than when they're still flush with the
experience. And he was right. It's a film that's tough
to shake, which may be a good or bad thing, according
to the viewer's tastes.
Gilliam re-emerged after the credits with a mischievous
expression on his face. He was clearly in his element,
making the audience laugh, dropping a couple of well-placed
F-bombs for effect, taking one light jab at President
Bush (saying he's going to sue him for ripping off the
totalitarian regime of Brazil), and listening
patiently to everyone's questions even when they rambled
or skirted incoherence.
The curator of the Hirshhorn said that after watching
the film a few days earlier, his 13-year old daughter
had proclaimed it her favorite movie. Gilliam deemed
this further testimonial to the inherent toughness of
kids, which is Tideland's subject. He mentioned
a real-life news story he'd read in which some children
had spent two weeks in their house alone with their
mother after she had died. The physical horrors they
witnessed must have been worse than anything in the
film, he said, admitting that he had consciously pulled
back from depicting the full effects of decomposition
on the human body.
It's only during adulthood, he suggested, that we learn
to be disturbed by natural and inevitable events in
life--to fear loss and mortality. Gilliam said he never
truly felt fear until his children were born, and he
began fearing for their welfare.
Jeliza-Rose doesn't fear for herself after the death
of her father, in part because she denies the death
its traumatic power. There is no trite scene of her
crying over her father's corpse or begging him to return.
His death is quickly, almost seamlessly, processed and
incorporated into her fantasy world.
One attendee asked Gilliam if Tideland was in
part a deliberately anti-commercial palate cleanser
after his experience on The Brothers Grimm. Gilliam
said yes, in part, although he had actually tried to
make Tideland first. In a sense, Grimm was more
a reaction to his frustrations with mounting Tideland,
and not vice versa, he said.
He said Tideland very nearly didn't happen because
casting Jeliza-Rose was so difficult. As the deadline
to start shooting loomed, he nearly called producer
Jeremy Thomas to tell him that it had all been for naught.
But then at the 11th hour he found Jodelle Ferland,
who stood out because of her feisty, unsentimental approach
to the part. Thinking at first she was a remarkable
discovery, he later found she had been acting since
the age of four.
Most of the questions were specific to Tideland,
but a few asked about his general oeuvre. The film he
expects to be remembered for: Brazil. Unfortunately,
no one quizzed him about future projects before the
Q&A was over.
All in all, a terrific night. My only regrets are: A)
Mr. Gilliam got hustled backstage to meet the press
before I (or anyone else) could ask him to sign anything.
I had brought my Criterion Brazil DVD and a green
And B) when I asked my question I forgot to thank him
for making The Adventures of Baron Munchausen,
one of the best films of all time, and the movie that
kindled my passionate interest in cinema.