Variance Films releases How to Live Forever at the Quad Cinema on May 13th, 2011.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you find the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally as well as intellectually?
Mark Wexler: Often people think that with documentaries, someone is lecturing to them. I think documentaries need to entertain as well as inform. Thatís one of my primary goals in making a film. Iím very much attracted to the, sort of, quirky and funny aspects of life, and I wanted this documentary to have those aspects. The subject of aging, for some, is something that they donít want to think about, so I wanted to approach the movie in a way that the people would be able to see the good about getting old and see a bit about themselves.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What was the editing process like?
MW: We had over 150 hours of material shot over a 4-year period, so a lot of the film was put together in the editing room. I must give my editor, Bob DeMaio, a lot of credit for shaping the movie along with me. We interviewed people for the movie that didnít make the final cut. Thatís always a very difficult process. They were quite articulate and saying interesting things, but didnít quite fit in to the structure of the film. There are a few people that I wanted to interview that I wasnít able to. I wanted to interview Woody Allen because he talks in a funny way about death, dying, life and bigger issues, but I could never get that interview. We interviewed a wide range of people from a Japanese porn star to a scientist to centenarians, and comedians.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How challenging was it to withhold your own judgment about each interview subject?
MW: Thatís something thatís really important to me in my films. I try not to judge people in a film or in real life, too. Iím glad that that comes across because I think that people are what they are. I just donít like to pass judgment on them or their lifestyle.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How willing were your subjecting to disclose their age immediately? How did you earn their trust?
MW: Most people were willing to disclose their age right away, especially the really old people because theyíre proud of who they are. There were quite a few people in their 40ís and 50ís who didnít want to tell us their age. As for earning my subjectsí trust, Iím told that Iím a pretty good listener, and when Iím listening to people, I donít think they feel judged which I think helps to build that trust. I hang out with them so they get a sense of who I am so that they know that I wonít film them in an unflattering way which is never my approach.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Did you feel overwhelmed by the broad, complex subject matter of aging at any point?
MW: Yes, many times. When you start a film, you have somewhat of an idea of where itís going, and as you get into it, the filmís trajectory changes. There was so much that I wanted to include. It became a first person movie because I wanted it to be a throughline throughout the movie, and then be able to touch upon all these different topics. There were some challenges when it came to including a lot of subjects in a coherent way, but I think that it works.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How would you answer the question posed in the film about whether or not youíd like to live 500 more years?
MW: I think it depends on what day you ask me that question. After making the movie, I came to believe that itís less about the length of oneís life than about quality of oneís life and being able to live your life in the moment, in a productive way, and being able to choose your own path in life.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What have you learned from your prior experiences as a documentarian that helped you with this particular experience?
MW: I really enjoy interviewing people and finding out their stories. I think that I probably got better at interviewing people and, kind of, leading conversations certain ways, and listening to them. I showed the movie to several hundred people in Richard Brownís class. The whole audience was laughing many times throughout, and very loudly, and I thought to myself, ďThis is exactly what I wanted to happen.Ē Iím really happy to make people laugh at themselves and at the world.