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Interview With Tom DiCillo, Director of DELIRIOUS



Wednesday, August 15---------Tom DiCillo is one of the original New York indies. He started making low-budget indie films in one of the first waves of the American independent film movement in the early 1980s, when independent was more of a lifestyle than a corporate brand. Beginning his career as a cinematographer, he brought his spare but powerful visual aesthetic to such envelope pushing films of the period as Jim Jarmusch's STRANGER THAN PARADISE, Eric Mitchell's UNDERGROUND USA and Bette Gordon's VARIETY.

He made his directorial debut in 1991 with the enigmatic JOHNNY SEUDE, about a pompadoured rocker living on New York's then-grungy Lower East Side. The fact that this was one of the earliest performances by an unknown actor named Brad Pitt has given the film a prescient sense of Pitt's emerging screen charisma. In this sense, DiCillo has been a kind of "star maker" director. His 1995 satire on the downtown world of low-budget filmmaking, LIVING IN OBLIVION, introduced such actors as Steve Buscemi, James LeGros, Peter Dinklage and Dermot Mulroney to a wider audience. His next film, the underrated MOONLIGHT IN A BOX, did the same for such actors as John Turturro, Catherine Keener and Sam Rockwell.

In the last ten years, he has brought only two films to the screen (more a matter of the hard job of raising financing for work that is often described as quirky, but is just plain old-style independent): THE REAL BLONDE (1997) and DOUBLE WHAMMY (2001). DiCillo is back with the acerbic DELIRIOUS, which opens this Friday via Peace Arch Films releasing. This perceptive satire on the world of celebrity, both the under-talented demi-gods and goddesses who are ridiculously pampered for what is at best a meagar talent, and the world of the papparazzi, a shark-infested cesspool of greed, ambition and crippling self-loathing. DiCillo works again with Steve Buscemi, giving him one his tastiest roles to date….of a sad-eyed paparazzo who is only too willing to sell out his friends and his own principles to capture a sensational photo. When he takes a young homeless actor under his wing (Michael Pitt), his tender and vulnerable side emerges, but he becomes blinded by ambition when his young charge becomes the boy-toy of an egotistic young pop queen. DiCillo has a wonderful canvas with which to criticize our obsessive fascination by the minutae of the rich and famous, and to shine a light on the grunges who grease the wheel.

Coming Attractions Editor Sandy Mandelberger had the chance to sit down with Tom DiCillo at the Sundance Film Festival, where DELIRIOUS was screened in the American Spectrum non-competitive section. The film had its world premiere at the San Sebastian Film Festival, where the director won awards for his direction and screenplay. In classic American indie style, DiCillo is one of those filmmakers who is revered in Europe, but has trouble finding financing and distribution in his native country. This schism of cultural appreciation and the vagaries of being an independent in the contemporary film business contribute to a unique viewpoint.

Sandy Mandelberger: Can you talk about your journey in getting this film to the screen?

Tom DiCillo: Writing the script was relatively quick, but finding the financing took a long time. And once I finally found someone ready to give me the money, the first thing they insisted on was shooting it in Toronto!! And I said no, no….I live in New York and I want to tell this story in New York. Once I convinced them of that, we had trouble making a deal with the New York unions….which ironically meant having to go to Toronto. But in the end, we did make a deal and I shot the film in New York, which I felt was really essential for this story.

SM: New York and the closeness between the rich and the poor, the elite and the downtrodden, seemed so right for this story. It allows for the young homeless guy (played by Michael Pitt) to actually meet the girl superstar, but that proximity to fame also brings out the envy of Buscemi’s character.

TD: Yes, that’s very right. It’s so different than in LA, where the stars live in an ivory tower. In New York, one can get so close and that only sparks the envy. You are so close to it that you can get the illusion that you can be one of them, and that is the fire that is burning in Buscemi’s character….so close and yet so far.

SM: When you wrote the script, did you always have Buscemi in mind?

TD: I love working with Steve. Not only is he a dear human being, but he brings a sense of generosity and openness to the set. He brings great imagination and concentration to his work. He brings such intelligence and truthfulness to it, that I completely trust his instincts on what will bring the character to life.

SM: Aside from being a rant about celebrity culture, how do you see the themes of DELIRIOUS fitting in with your previous films?

TD: I think my films are a lot about families…..somewhat about traditional family relationships, but more about non-traditional families….the kind you find on a movie set or in your office or any other place where you spend a lot of time and energy. In DELIRIOUS, Steve’s traditional family borders on being emotionally violent, so his need for love and tenderness is expressed in his relationship with his friends and with the street kid he brings into his home.

SM: What does it mean for you to show your film here at Sundance, and how has the indie film world changed since the start of your career?

TD: Well, I haven’t been here for six years, and it has definitely changed. When I started out, if an indie film grossed $1 million, that was considered wildly successful. But nowadays, when a handful of indie films have grossed $100 million, and the costs of releasing and marketing films have become so expensive, the stakes are definitely higher. But I think that quandary that Sundance finds itself in is an accurate reflection of where independent film is in general. The Sundance myth is making it to the top overnight. For myself, who started out in this industry before these myths took hold, my question has always been how do I find the road, not to instant fame and success, but to have a long and consistent career, and to just keep working, man.

Sandy Mandelberger, Coming Attractions Editor

 

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About Coming Attractions

Sandy Mandelberger
(International Media Resources)

Previews of Upcoming Films, Videos and New Media Coming To Theaters, Festivals, DVD and the Internet.


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