Jacob Burns Film Center Celebrates Jonathan Demme With A Nationwide Screening Of STOP MAKING SENSE
We spoke with Andrew Jupin, who is planning a screening of Stop Making Sense at The Jacob Burns Film Center in honor of Jonathan Demme.
This past April, the world lost a man whose films touched innumerous crowds and countless individuals. He raked in a total of 19 Academy Award nominations for films such as Beloved, Melvin and Howard, and Philadelphia, and won best picture for Silence of the Lambs. He curated an outstanding film series at the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, NY, and even served on the JBFC board from 2006-2015. This man, of course, is none other than Jonathan Demme.
On July 19th, art houses across the U.S. will be booming with the simultaneous eruption of music, fueled by The Talking Heads. In his highly influential documentary, Stop Making Sense, Demme proved that film could truly carry the weight of a daring rock n’ roll adventure. And now, thanks to the JBFC, people across the nation will get to see it up close and personal.
We asked Andrew Jupin, senior programmer at the JBFC, to answer a few questions about the upcoming nationwide screening of Stop Making Sense. Below are his answers via email.
Sophia Cowley For Film Inquiry: What is it about Stop Making Sense that separates itself from the rest of Jonathan Demme’s impressive filmography?
Andrew Jupin: I think in this particular instance, what separates Stop Making Sense from the rest of Jonathan’s films is that for this nationwide event, I wanted it to feel like a party, a celebration of Jonathan’s life and his art, and Stop Making Sense plays like one long, 88-minute celebration. It’s a celebration of music, of filmmaking, and what can happen when the two are married perfectly. Only Jonathan Demme ever really captured that feeling this exquisitely.
What inspired you to pull this event together?
Andrew Jupin: I knew that there would be a lot of tributes to Jonathan that got put together, several career retrospectives and so on. This is what we do when great artists pass.
But I also knew that as a programmer here at the Jacob Burns, I’m only one tiny piece of this massive group that we call the Art House community. Back in April, when art houses banded together to hold a nationwide screening of 1984, there was this electricity surrounding the event. For that night, all of these theaters all over the country came together for a common cause and it was truly inspiring.
Jonathan’s work and personality touched all of our lives in so many ways, and I wanted that same electricity to spark again so we could all send Jonathan one, big, “Thank You!”
I pointed him to where our volume control box was so that, should he feel it was still too soft during the show, he could easily lean over and turn it up — and you better believe he wound up turning it up — all the way up!
Jonathan Demme spent a good deal of his time at the Jacob Burns. Can you talk a bit about your personal experiences with the filmmaker?
Andrew Jupin: Jonathan’s personality was like a force of nature. He would instantly light up any room he walked in. There were so many mornings where we’d be running rough cuts for him —everything from I’m Carolyn Parker, to Rachel Getting Married, all the way up to Justin Timberlake + the Tennessee Kids. He would invite staff to come sit in on the screenings, always receptive to feedback, always listening and laughing, his poodles running around the theater and jumping up on stage in front of the screen while the film was on.
My favorite moment with Jonathan came in 2014 when we were kicking off, that’s right, a career retrospective! Jonathan was being honored that year at our gala and in the weeks leading up to that night, we played his narratives, his docs, and several of the films he’d produced and added his name to as an endorsement. We kicked off that retro with, what else, Stop Making Sense!
There had just been a newly restored DCP of the film made, and Jonathan came in while we were doing a sight and sound check before opening the house. The image looked incredible on our largest screen, but Jonathan was concerned about the sound. When he asked me about why it sounded so soft, I told him that it was because the theater was empty, but that we’d have it playing louder once the audience was sitting for the screening. I pointed him to where our volume control box was so that, should he feel it was still too soft during the show, he could easily lean over and turn it up — and you better believe he wound up turning it up — all the way up!
Satisfied with my explanation, he smiled that amazing Jonathan smile and just said so sweetly, “Oh, good! Because this is Stop Making Sense, you know. We can’t f*ck around!” We both laughed and I assured him we would not be.
As he walked toward the exit, and I still don’t know why I said this, probably because it’s one of my all-time favorite movies, I just said, “Hey, Jonathan?” He turned around. “Thank you for making this movie,” I said like a total nerd. He just started laughing and shot me that smile again. “You’re very welcome,” he said.
And that will always be my favorite moment with Jonathan.
Last year, Demme helped launch the first annual Art House Theater Day. What can you say about his love of independent film and cinemas?
Andrew Jupin: Jonathan adored watching movies. Possibly more than making them, but I can’t say for sure. But he was this bottomless fountain of film knowledge, and always eager to learn and see more. I think for him, movie theaters, especially art house and independent theaters, offered him that opportunity to revisit old favorites, fall in love with new works, and, in the case of the Jacob Burns, bring the films he loved to audiences so they could experience them as well!
Also, because indie theaters and art houses can showcase something that was so important to him: activism. Jonathan loved humanity and loved that filmmaking could be weaponized in that way to help fight for the underdog, the oppressed, the people getting a raw deal. You saw that in his own work with films like I’m Carolyn Parker, Jimmy Carter Man from Plains, The Agronomist, and right up to Protection Not Protest: The People of Standing Rock. These kinds of activism docs aren’t showing up at the multiplex, so I think this was another reason why the art house community was so near and dear to him.
Jonathan loved humanity and loved that filmmaking could be weaponized in that way to help fight for the underdog, the oppressed, the people getting a raw deal.
Why is showing up to this event so important?
Andrew Jupin: I think it’s important because Stop Making Sense is a film filled with endless joy. From start to finish you can watch this movie, groove along to the amazing Talking Heads tunes, and bask in that great feeling of what it’s like to watch incredibly engaging, fun films with an audience. I watch it at least twice a year, but the experience of sitting on my couch watching it is much different than watching it in a room filled with fans. I consider this film a gift, and it’s a gift that Jonathan Demme gave us all. So this event is a way to not only celebrate that gift, but also celebrate the man who gave it to us. If directed by anyone else, Stop Making Sense would not be Stop Making Sense.
How can people get involved, even if the film is not showing at a theater near them?
Andrew Jupin: If your local theater isn’t yet involved, feel free to ask them (politely) if they can be! All the theater needs to do is get in contact with the film’s distributor, Palm Pictures — who have been instrumental and so fantastic in helping arrange all this — and book with them.
If your local theater winds up not participating, you can still pick up Stop Making Sense or any other film of Jonathan’s on Blu-ray or rent something on Amazon or iTunes, and maybe play the film that night along with the other theaters! Use the hashtag #CelebrateDemme to share your screening plans or your own memories of Jonathan and his movies as well.
If there are films of his you haven’t seen yet, seek those out too! He’s one of the most groundbreaking and beloved filmmakers to ever work in the medium, so you can’t go wrong with working your way through his catalog: watch the narratives, check out all the docs, find the episodes of television he directed — he directed some of the best episodes of The Killing — and find his music videos as well! Experiencing his work, no matter the setting or situation, is the absolute best way to #CelebrateDemme.
Thanks to Andrew for the interview! For more information and to find a participating theater near you, visit www.celebratedemme.com.
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