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An Interview with Indie Filmmaker Nancy Savoca, Special Guest at this Year’s Lake Placid Film Forum

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An Interview with Filmmaker Nancy Savoca: Special Guest at the Lake Placid Film Forum

By Monica Sirignano and Dave Bower

Nancy SavocaA highly respected independent filmmaker, Nancy Savoca spent the early part of her career learning the filmmaking ropes from such greats as John Sayles and Jonathan Demme. Her first feature film, True Love (1989), which she made in her late 20s, won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and was hailed as “one of the 50 Greatest Independent Films of All Time” by Entertainment Weekly. Dogfight, her 1991 film, which followed, garnered critical praise from The NY Times. Household Saints (1993), her third feature, made it to the ‘Best Films’ list of over twenty national critics and won the Spirit Award for Best Screenplay. Over the years, Savoca’s promising career continued. Other credits include two segments of HBO’s If These Walls Could Talk (1996), The 24 Hour Woman (1999), Reno: Rebel without a Pause (2002), and Dirt (2003). Savoca’s work has also been the subject of a retrospective by The American Museum of the Moving Image, as well as one in Colombia this past February.

On Saturday, June 18, Nancy Savoca will be making her way to the Adirondacks, appearing as a special guest and partaking in a Q&A at the Lake Placid Film Forum, where her film Dogfight will receive a special screening. We recently spoke with Nancy about her participation in the Lake Placid Film Forum, her career, and her upcoming film, Union Square, which stars Mira Sorvino.

The Free George: It’s been twenty years since Dogfight was released, and it’s still such a great film. But you’ve made many films since then, what made you choose Dogfight in particular for a screening at the LPFF?

Nancy Savoca: Dogfight is a movie that always comes back to me in some way. People often mention the film when they meet me and I’m always surprised at the diversity–young people relate to Eddie and Rose as they awkwardly enter adulthood, and older people remember themselves. I’ve especially been moved by reactions from Vietnam vets. The screenwriter, Bob Comfort, was a marine and this was somewhat autobiographical for him.

DogfightTFG: We remember seeing the film & thinking how could Rose ever forgive Eddie for taking her to that party to begin with? At first, you think, maybe Rose is just desperate, but then you realize she’s such a strong woman. Was it Rose’s character that drew you to the script originally, or what elements made you think, that’s a film I want to direct?

NS: Rose’s character wasn’t clear in the original script. She was a character that Rich and I developed with Lili Taylor as we revised the script. But I did respond to the potential that her character had, as well as the Eddie Birdlace character. I like exploring characters who struggle with the roles that society prescribes to them. In his case, it’s the macho soldier, in her case, her encounter with Birdlace reminds her that she should be trying to be attractive to men. And you can see it’s something she tends to forget because her focus is more on music than trying to get a boyfriend. These struggles make them both outsiders. And I like outsiders.

TFG: You have a new film coming out soon–Union Square, which stars Mira Sorvino. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

NS: The climate for getting indie films made has been pretty tough. One day, one of my producers, Neda Armian, offered her apartment and said, ‘Let’s just make a movie and shoot at my place.’ So my co-writer, Mary Tobler, and I had this apartment and I had the biggest fear of doing the ‘two people in a room’ formula- a big fear of claustrophobia or worse – of a boring talking heads movie! But Mary was incredibly fearless. She helped me put together a story of two estranged sisters who are reunited after being on the outs for 3 years. The script turned out very well and attracted an amazing cast of Mira Sorvino and Tammy Blanchard, Patti Lupone, Mike Doyle, Michael Rispoli and Daphne Rubin-Vega. Then Richard Guay (my producer and husband) put together a microbudget production with a super talented crew. We shot guerrilla style with a tight schedule but the movie looks pretty good!

The movie is about family and commitment and loss which sounds pretty heavy and it is. But it’s also very funny sometimes. And I’ve realized that, as in Dogfight, Mira and Tammy’s characters also struggle with the roles that their family prescribed to them. So I guess some things never change!

TFG: When you first started out in film, you worked with both John Sayles and Jonathan Demme. How were those experiences?

NS: Both filmmakers are my mentors in different ways. Brother from Another Planet was the first film I worked on straight out of film school. It was a crash course in indie filmmaking. John Sayles and his producer Maggie Renzi taught Rich and I how to run a production. We were treated like family on that set and we have carried that with us on our films.

I worked on a couple of Jonathan’s movies and I love to watch him direct. He’s very funny — a very high energy guy — a cheerleader really. And the cast and crew love him. There’s nothing they won’t do for him because they feel this incredible support and affection from him.

Jonathan and John are very different filmmakers but I admire both for their storytelling talents. I will always seek their advice.

True LoveTFG: Your first feature, True Love, won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival; you were pretty young at the time. How has that influenced your career?

NS: Rich and I had been working on getting the movie done for 6 years before we won Sundance, so it was more relief than anything else! Although winning did change everything- it put me on the map, as they say.1989 was the year that Sundance came into its own and Hollywood came to see the new wave of independent filmmakers so I guess I was at the ‘right place, right time.’ Although I didn’t actually attend because, the night we won, I was in NY, in labor, having my second son.

TFG: Has it been difficult being a female filmmaker in such a male dominated industry?

NS: I think it’s hard for any filmmaker that gets put into a category like ‘black filmmaker, asian filmmaker, gay filmmaker, woman filmmaker.’ If you’re not seen as simply a filmmaker, there are a lot of presumptions made about your skills and your ability to tell a story outside your ‘category,’ which is unfortunate because we miss out on a lot of talented people this way. But our job is to forge ahead and just make the movies any way we can.

TFG: What advice would you give to the women out there trying to make their mark as filmmakers?

NS: Be conscious of the filmmakers that speak to you. Be shameless about stealing from them. Oddly, your own voice comes out.

TFG: Are you planning to see some of the sites, while you’re in Lake Placid? Have you been to the area before?

I was at the Festival once before but I didn’t get a chance to see John Brown’s Farm, so I’m hoping to go there this time around. I’m always happy to be up in your neck of the woods. Even though all that quiet at night makes me a little nervous!

Dogfight will be screened on Saturday, June 18th at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with Savoca. For times, tickets and more, visit

For more on Savoca’s upcoming film, Union Square, click here.

–Monica Sirignano and Dave Bower are Co-Publishers of The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our new City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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