Monday, April 30, 2012

RUMUR has it! The films of Galinsky/Hawley get a retrospective in Bklyn, VA and Perth, Australia. A short Q&A with the RUMUR-ites

Beginning this Thursday, May 3, the Brooklyn film production company, RUMUR, is getting a retrospective of its two-decade product -- Rumur Films 1992-2012 -- with the company's five films playing in Brooklyn, then later this month in Arlington, VA, and in July, 2012, at the Revelation Film Festival in Perth, Australia.

The series will kick off in Brooklyn this Thursday, May 3, with a weekly presentation of a RUMUR film every Thursday in May at the Brooklyn Heights Cinema (70 Henry Street Brooklyn, NY 11201, Phone: 718-596-7070). On May 3: Half-Cocked; May 10: Radiation; May 17: Horns and Halos; May 24: Code 33 and May 31: Battle for Brooklyn.

Arlington, Virginia's Artisphere is ganging the movies into a six-day fest, from May 22 through May 27. For showtimes, click the link above or call 703-875-1100. In Perth, Australia, the film will be part of the Revelation Film Festival, with exact dates for the films yet to be determined. (For updates, visit:

Why is this movie-making team (shown at right) of Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky so important? In the words of Adam Sekuler, Program Director of the Northwest Film Forum in Seattle: "In the age of the cinematic in-between, the partners at RUMUR have been actively exploring territories of co-mingled documentary and fiction for nearly two decades. With their narrative films like Half-Cocked and Radiation, they worked closely with the underground music community to build fictional stories from their actual lives. For their social documentaries of the aughts such as Horns and Halos through their more recent films like Battle For Brooklyn, Rumur has tagged alongside the political underdogs constructing a narrative arc to their real life drama. Within all of this, unlike Michael Moore, Rumur actually lets its audiences do the thinking rather than taking polemical approaches to its filmmaking. This quality, particularly as more and more media offer overly perfected messaging, reminds us that we, too -- the audiences -- are as vulnerable as those portrayed on the screen. That is why the films remain an urgent example of how documentaries should be made."

RUMUR was founded by Galinsky and Hawley, who met in 1992 and began collaborating on film projects while ensconced in the underground music scene of the early 90s. The company's first two films, Half-Cocked and Radiation, were scripted narratives that danced on the line between reality and fiction. Half-Cocked, shot in black-and-white, observes a bunch of kids who steal a van full of musical gear and go on the road through the South. The movie, initially a little slow and clichéd (the scene between the girl and her mom, especially), builds nicely and introduces a number of even more interesting characters as it goes along.

Radiation, shot in color and only one hour in length, follows a Spanish tour promoter who books gigs for American bands, while selling drugs on the side to better support himself. Along the way he and his partner meet a performance artist, Katy Petty, whom our non-hero wants to book. The film is consistently on target, and Ms Petty is a knockout, single-handedly raising the movie -- performance-wise -- to a higher professional level. The actors in both films played versions of themselves, even as they were part of the world they were portraying. Much of the dialogue was improvised and the shooting was done on-the-run -- and on 16mm.

In 2002, RUMUR produced it's first documentary, Horns and Halos -- which was shortlisted for Academy Award for Best Documentary (this was back in the day before shortlisting was announced by the Academy). It follows a janitor who publishes a controversial biography of George W. Bush from his basement during the heated 2000 presidential campaign. Hawley and Galinsky were joined on this project by David Beilinson, who would become their producing partner. The narrative follows the book's ascent and trajectory in the court of public opinion. "The news media plays an important part in our work," states Hawley. "How we get our information is at the core of everything we do." Galinsky follows, "We tend to focus on stories about outsiders fighting against a system, and work to tell the story from their point of view, which usually clashes with the journalistic paradigm."

Still one of the most fascinating documentaries TrustMovies has ever seen (click here to read a couple of short reviews he posted on GreenCine back in 2004), the film, while perfectly timed to reflect George W. Bush's sleazy, ill-fated (and non-elected) Presidency, it still stands as a remarkable piece of film-making about perception, reality and storytelling.

Their next documentary, Code 33, shot over the summer of 2004, is a police procedural that chronicles the hunt for the most prolific serial rapist in South Florida History. The RUMUR team spent 24 hours per day over the course of four months shooting with detectives as they combed a strongly immigrant community of Miami. Galinsky notes that it was their partner, David Beilinson, who brought in Code 33 and really made that movie happen. For his part, Beilinson explains, "The commitment and the insight to understand the potential of where things might end up is what sets Rumur's films apart. The patience and perseverance to intimately capture events playing out over long periods has always rewarded us."

It seems to me that Code 33 puts to shame the tripe we've seen on COPS and America's Most Wanted. It's such a humane documentary that you feel for everyone involved (spoiler ahead; sorry) -- even the rapist, once they catch him. The Rumur team, again, shows us the case from so many angles: the victims, the police and investigators, the media, and finally the rapist himself. You don't find this kind of inclusion elsewhere. By the end, there is a strong sense of justice served. And god knows, that's not a feeling one gets in this country much anymore.

It is certainly not the sense one gets from Battle for Brooklyn, RUMUR's most recent film, that follows a group of Brooklyn neighbors over seven years as they struggle to keep their community from being bulldozed for a basketball arena and massive -- and to my way of thinking, not at all necessary -- development project. This is the film that, more than any, has put the film-making team on the map. Though its being shotlisted for BestDocumentary surprised some people, those of us who loved the film realized that Academy members must have understood that the kind of boondoggle shown here, that is taking place in Brooklyn, NY, is also taking place in cities all across the country (not to mention other nations across the world). Hence its universality. (You can read TM's review of the film, posted when it opened last year, here -- along with a longer interview with the filmmakers than the update at the close of this post.)

To read more about this upcoming festival (including some of the many fine critical responses to the team's work), click here and scroll down. And for more information on the team and their films, visit


Due to a very heavy-duty deadline week, TM had only a few minutes to talk with Michael and Suki, so we tried to make the most of it.  Below, in boldface, are TM's question, with Hawley and Galinky's responses in standard type. (The Rumur team, shown below, includes Michael Galinsky, top; Suki Hawley, middle; and David Beilinson, bottom.)

Were you as amazed and thrilled, as many of us not so directly connected with Battle for Brooklyn, that you made the Academy Award Best Documentary shortlist?

Yes, we were extremely happy to have the film recognized in that way. Our film Horns and Halos was shortlisted too (this was in 2002 before they released the list of short listed films), so we actually thought that Battle had a good shot, since it's somewhat similar in form but arguably better crafted. Given that, we really made a major effort to distribute it and get it qualified.

I didn’t even realize that you two had made that one when I saw Battle for Brooklyn. I should have checked the IMDB before I interviewed you!

With Horns, we had an easier time getting it seen. But with Battle, we have had such a hard time getting it past the gatekeepers.


Yes, we submitted it to every major festival -- and were rejected by all of them. So we made the decision to release it ourselves, because we believed in the film and couldn't stand to let it disappear without a fight. Then, even with all the good reviews and great box office in NY, we had great trouble getting it booked elsewhere across the country because the industry wasn't really aware of the film despite the fact that it had premiered at Hot Docs. All industry eyes are on Sundance, and the year of Battle, the only docs to get distribution premiered there.

We think that one thing that helped in terms of the Oscars was that the Academy was viewing these films at same time Occupy was happening. The scales were starting to come off people’s eyes. After September, we started to get a lot more traction for the film, I think because it made more sense to people in terms of the occupy movement. We also self distributed Horns. We had a tough time with festivals for that one as well, but once we launched it to great reviews and box office in NY, we got booked all over.

Do you think you’ll go back to narrative filmmaking? 

Yes. We actually have a script pretty much done that we really want to make. We wrote it with our friend Alana Newman. It's her story, and a script that she came to us with, but we spent several years re-working it into a more shootable narrative. We really hope we can get that off the ground this year.

Even when we were making narrative films in the past, they were based on real people and real situations. We’re always interested in real life and documenting. This script "Adam and Eva" came to us as part of a doc we are working on about nature vs. nurture issues- and the conception industry. The script is based on Alana's experience as a donor kid and Michael's experience as a sperm donor.

Wow -- this new one sounds very interesting. Even in your narrative films, you seem to concentrate on people who are actually part of the world with which you are dealing.

All the people in Half-Cocked were musicians. We were part of that world and we wanted to document that moment in time. In Radiation, too, the fellow who plays the lead actually was a tour promoter for small bands. Did he also deal drugs on the road? No -- but he did a lot of them.

What was it that most took you from narrative to doc filmmaking? 

The transition was made when we saw how difficult it was to shoot narrative films. You need so many more people to make it happen. So it was exhausting. When we got a prosumer DV camera, we realized that in a documentary we could run around together and do it all. And that is how the transition to documentary happened.

Oh – and you may not know this, but Battle for Brooklyn - and the doc on "conception"got us a Guggenheim Grant. This was basically our first grant. We have gotten some support but we have never successfully applied for a production grant and we have applied for dozens and dozens.

Wow—that is great!

That's why we’re so pleased – and why we wanted to do the retrospective, because we're really proud of our body of work but feel that most people don't have a sense of it. We have been doing this for so long, and as we have never had a real "hit" or support network, a critic like you, who really liked some of our earlier work, did not even realize that we had made it. So we wanted to have this festival that would give people a real sense of the breadth of our work.

No comments: