Sunday, 12 May 2013

LIONEL ROGOSIN: GIVING VOICE - "ARAB ISRAELI DIALOGUE" How and Why this Important Dialogue MUST Absolutely Continue - By Greg Klymkiw

"Rogosin is probably the greatest documentary filmmaker of all time." - John Cassavetes
The immortal groundbreaking work
of the late documentary filmmaker Lionel Rogosin
yielded a bounty that influenced the generations who followed him.
is now on the verge of a major restoration to
continue the dialogue he began in 1974.

Lionel Rogosin - Giving Voice
ARAB ISRAELI DIALOGUE - How and Why the Dialogue MUST Continue

By Greg Klymkiw

Cinema and indeed, mankind as a whole, owes a debt of gratitude to the late filmmaker Lionel Rogosin. Inspired by the Italian neorealist movement and in particular, the work of Vittorio (Bicycle Thieves) DeSica as well as the groundbreaking docudrama by Robert (Nanook of the North) Flaherty and Lewis Milestone's evocative film adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, Rogosin created an important body of work. He gave voice to the disenfranchised in a style that built upon his chief influences and his own life experience experience whilst developing a unique style that was all his own.

Rogosin influenced such diverse talents as John Cassavetes (Shadows), Martin Scorsese (Who's That Knocking at My Door?) and the realist vérité of UK's "Angry Young Man" genre, including John Schlesinger (Terminus, Midnight Cowboy). The list, frankly goes on. Even filmmakers influenced by those influenced by Rogosin - whether they worked in drama, documentary or docudrama - benefited, continue to benefit and will forever benefit from his work and style. Rogosin's legacy is boundless and as long as there are motion pictures, so many future filmmakers will create their work in ways that sprung from the very roots of Lionel Rogosin (whether they realize it or not).

There is, however, a missing piece to all this.

Arab Israeli Dialogue, Rogosin's final film, was never properly completed in a manner that would have allowed the dialogue to continue in cinematic form. Lacking funds before his death to continue this important exploration, we're left with his important work from 1974, but there was so much left to discover through his lens up until his death in 2000 and beyond. This is a piece of cinema that is most likely needed now more than ever. In these times of political and economic upheaval due to the cumulative effects of a seemingly never-ending war that's been going on as long as the Crusades, it is a conflict that has reached critical levels during the past century (and most specifically during the past decade and a bit). I'd suggest that without further dialogue it's not a stretch to assume that life as we know it may be altered forever, and in many ways, already has been.

We need this film desperately and for a pittance it can be restored, expanded and, in a sense - finished.

It MUST be finished.

Rogosin's importance to cinema has seldom been paralleled. He pioneered the forward movement of cinéma vérité (using the camera to provoke reality by blending "fly-on-the-wall" direct cinema with stylized approaches and specific set-ups that utilize overt narrative technique), and thus forged a path that opened up a whole world of great filmmaking. I'd argue strenuously that without Rogosin, things might well have been a lot different. The art form, the genre of documentary itself might not have easily yielded the work subsequently provided by the likes of Sinofsky/Berlinger, Michael Moore, Nick Broomfield, Ulrich Seidl, Claude Jutra, Michel Brault, Allan King, Albert/David Maysles, Alan Zweig, Peter Lynch, D.A. Pennebaker, Fredrik Gertten, Barbara Kopple and frankly, a list that could stretch on for a few more miles.

John Cassavetes declared: "Rogosin is probably the greatest documentary filmmaker of all time."

Indeed, Rogosin was poised for greatness through his life experience. He earned a degree in Chemical Engineering at Yale and was going to join his father's textile firm. World War II interrupted these career plans and he ended up serving in the Navy. His harrowing participation in the war affected him deeply - especially after the war, when he travelled through the debris of a decimated Europe. Returning to America, he did not stay with his father's firm long, deciding to pursue his interest in human rights, activism and cinema.

His ultimate goal was to create work that would benefit mankind.

His first film was the immortal On The Bowery wherein he focused his lens upon the post-war lives of America's forgotten men, many of whom lived in the squalor of the Bowery in New York City - a former upscale neighbourhood that transformed - almost overnight - into a worldwide symbol of urban blight. Seedy hotels, flophouses, pawn shops, soup kitchens and sleazy taverns became the lifeblood of the district. Attracting a generation-or-three of men who had suffered through war, these aimlessly shell-shocked victims of American prosperity and might, eked out a living as seasonal and migratory labourers - many of whom "rode the rails", risking the brutality of rail bulls, a criminal element and even incarceration. They sought cheap rent and cheap booze to drown their pain and sorrow. Blowing their earnings on potent mescal and beer chasers, a lot of them couldn't even afford flea-bitten flophouses and lived on the street.

The Bowery ran rampant with homelessness and Rogosin was there to indelibly capture it on film. For the rest of his filmmaking career, his commitment to artistically exposing humanity on the fringes became his badge of honour.

He was also committed to exposing audiences to the finest cinema and to this end, he was the founder, owner and programmer of New York's legendary Bleecker from 1960 until its untimely demise in the early 90s. (I am often elated and saddened at the same time that a film I produced, Guy Maddin's Archangel, was one of two feature films (the other being Todd Haynes's Poison) to be the cinema's final showing. Woody Allen fans will have experienced the cinema when scenes involving movie-watching occurred in Allen's films - he not only shot the scenes there, but loved the cinema dearly.

In fact, Arab Israeli Dialogue was shot in the basement of the cinema itself.

Those who care about cinema have a chance to participate directly in the important legacy of Lionel Rogosin.

There is a new initiative as mentioned above to continue Rogosin's work with respect to his final work. Spearheaded by his son, (a director-producer in his own right) Michael Rogosin (and in partnership with editor and videographer Adrian Rothschild), I urge you to contribute to the online Kickstarter campaign for this cinematic exploration of Lionel Rogosin's film, Arab Israeli Dialogue. This will include all new footage that extends Rogosin's intentions and desires to keep the dialogue going as well as finishing Rogosin's unfinished work with the subject which was not completed before his death.

No amount donated will be considered too small.

I especially urge my fellow countrymen of Canada - specifically our currently beleagured documentary filmmakers to join the cause. Rogosin spent his whole life going through what you have gone through for your art. That said, your art was ALWAYS directly or indirectly influenced by Rogosin. If 100 Canadian documentary filmmakers contributed $10 each, it would represent about 25% of what's currently required.

I also urge every documentary filmmaker who had their film in this year's Hot Docs film festival in Toronto to contribute.

I urge every buyer, seller, producer and forum participant in Hot Docs 2013 to contribute.

In these dark days, filmmakers MUST join forces with other filmmakers to continue a world wide tradition of excellence.

To learn more about the efforts to restore and expand Arab Israeli Dialogue into A Modern Arab Israeli Dialogue and pledge a modest or huge amount of money, please visit . This is the official Kickstarter pledge site.

REMEMBER: You have until Thursday May 23, 1:34pm EDT, to contribute.

To learn more about Lionel Rogosin, feel free to read my review of On The Bowery HERE.

To learn more about the restoration, preservation and distribution of Rogosin's work and other groundbreaking works of cinematic art, visit the website of Milestone Films from the visionary Dennis Doros and Amy Heller HERE and for their efforts with respect to Rogosin's On The Bowery and Come Back Africa.