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Filmmaker Louis Schwartzberg Celebrates "America's Heart and Soul"


Louis Schwartzberg America's Heart

Louis Schwartzberg films a couple for his documentary, "America's Heart and Soul."

Photo © Walt Disney Pictures
Eight filmmakers packed into a van and traveled around America in search of ordinary citizens with extraordinary stories. Leading the intrepid group was Louis Schwartzberg, the director/producer/cinematographer whose dream it was to put all these amazing stories on film. The resulting documentary, “America’s Heart and Soul” is a positive, life-affirming look at real people in contemporary America. Showcasing the diverse nature of our country, “America’s Heart and Soul” provides a brief glimpse into the everyday lives of hard-working people and serves as a reminder to us all to never forget our roots.

In this one-on-one interview with Louis Schwartzberg, the documentary filmmaker talks about releasing his film around the same time as “Fahrenheit 9/11,” finding his subjects, and his future plans. “America’s Heart and Soul” fans will be happy to note Schwartzberg revealed a soundtrack CD is on its way, along with a coffee table book featuring scenes from the movie complete with some of the documentary’s most unforgettable quotes.


Have you kept in touch with any of these subjects?
I have.

What’s been their reaction to the movie?
You know, most of them are really humble. They go, “Why did you put me in this movie? These other people are so much better than me, and much more heroic.” They are very self-deprecating people.

When you first approached your subjects, were they thinking maybe you’d lost your mind wanting to film regular people?
Yes, they figured that. And they’d go, “Maybe he’s a dreamer. He wants to make this theatrical movie, a documentary. It’ll be seen in theaters. He’s shooting it in 35mm. You know, he’s probably some foolish guy spending a lot of money hoping to some day fulfill his dream.”

And how did you convince them that’s really what you were about, but that you still wanted to do it?
(Laughing) Well, I think what was great was that, look, I was honest with them. They respected the fact that I’m just an independent filmmaker. I’m making this film on my own nickel. I’m here to honor you, to tell your story. I really didn’t think too much about whether they cared about the difficulties and the challenges of how difficult it is to get a film like this distributed in Hollywood. It’s a hard thing to explain. I would show rough cuts afterwards… I hated having to explain to people why I can’t get it distributed. They’d go, “Oh, it’s so great. It’s beautiful. How come you can’t get it distributed?” You explain, “Well, you know, it doesn’t have a star and the marketing departments of the big studios, they don’t like to think outside of the box. Grassroots marketing is more difficult than buying a 30-second spot on ‘Friends’ and saying Tom Cruise is in my movie.” Etcetera, etcetera. It became frustrating having to explain the economic model of Hollywood, because you’re not discussing the merits of your movie.

And how did you end up getting hooked up with Disney?
Luckily enough I showed it to Jake Eberts who is my executive producer, who had done some films for Disney, and he said they’d be perfect for it. We showed it to Dick Cook, and Dick Cook is from Bakersfield so he’s a good guy. He loved the movie and so the rest is history.

Is it tough to get people to open up and talk to you? Most people don’t like to talk in front of more than two people, yet your subjects are extremely open and honest on film.
Right, especially if they’ve never seen a camera before. I think what was important was I tried to make them really comfortable because I wasn’t going to ask them anything outside of what their passion was. And that’s unique to every story in my movie. I went for stories that were interesting, people who were passionate about what they were doing. Yet at the same time, we were looking at getting diverse occupations and diverse regions of America. But I wasn’t going to ever ask him them anything that was political [or] personal in a weird sense. I just wanted to know what motivates them. What inspires them? Why do they do what they do? Where did they get that energy from?

And then the conversations would just flow from there?
Yes. And also because I was the cinematographer. The camera was either on my shoulder or next to me. I tried to get them to look into my eyes and have good eye contact. They could tell that I’m passionate about what I’m doing. They could tell from my crew and the way I work that I’m laying it all on the line to honor their stories. So, I think they felt good about opening up and sharing their stories with me.

PAGE 2: Schwartzberg on Putting Things in Perspective

"America's Heart and Soul" Photo Gallery
"America's Heart and Soul" Trailer, Credits and Websites

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