Rule breakers: SBIFF directors panel entertaining but uneven

The directors panel, from left, moderator Peter Bart; Tom Hooper, "Les Miserables"; Rich Moore, "Wreck-It Ralph"; David O. Russell, "Silver Linings Playbook"; Benh Zeitlin, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"; Malik Bendjelloul, "Searching for Sugar Man"; and Mark Andrews, "Brave." NIK BLASKOVICH/NEWS-PRESS
The directors panel, from left, moderator Peter Bart; Tom Hooper, “Les Miserables”; Rich Moore, “Wreck-It Ralph”; David O. Russell, “Silver Linings Playbook”; Benh Zeitlin, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”; Malik Bendjelloul, “Searching for Sugar Man”; and Mark Andrews, “Brave.”
NIK BLASKOVICH/NEWS-PRESS

Six of this year’s Oscar contenders for best director from the narrative, documentary and animation fields sat for a panel discussion on their craft early Saturday morning at the Lobero.

Led by longtime moderator Peter Bart, the annual “Directors on Directing” panel was an entertaining look into their craft, dealing with actors, theories of editing, and working with audiences.

On the other hand, it was an uneven panel in terms of speaking time, and occasionally let down by snark from Mr. Bart.

The panel consisted of Tom Hooper (“Les Miserables”), Rich Moore (“Wreck-It Ralph”), David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”), Benh Zeitlin (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”), Malik Bendjelloul (“Searching for Sugar Man”) and Mark Andrews (“Brave”), all directors who didn’t play by the rules, according to Mr. Bart.

By the end of the event, Mr. Andrews had spoken only twice, despite his great humor and garrulous attitude. Mr. Moore similarly struggled to get a word in.

Reminiscent of his panel appearance during “The King’s Speech,” Mr. Hooper took up most of the time, but the audience didn’t seem to mind.

Mr. Hooper spoke eloquently about his decisions to follow up “The King’s Speech” with a musical, and one where so many of the songs are shot in close-up. He was looking for a movie that would emotionally connect with audiences just like his previous film.

“When I went to go see (the musical) with the intent I was going to make it as a movie, I was drawn like a moth to a flame,” he said. “I had this very visceral connection to the story.”

The deaths of the characters in the musical made him think of how his father, advancing into old age, told him he wanted to “master the art of dying.”

Mr. Moore spoke about growing up wanting to get into animation at a time when the art form was “in bad shape.”

It was a “bit of a fool’s errand” he said.

He also shared his local roots: growing up in Oxnard, going to CalArts’ animation program in Valencia, and then getting hired in Hollywood.

“I’ve really gone far in life,” he joked. “My journey is far and wide.”

Mr. Zeitlin talked about the animated shorts he started making as a kid, then how he moved on to make his esoteric feature.

He noted advice he once received about being able to sum up his film as a sentence on a business card. Well, he noted, he still can’t sum up his film.

He talked about prepping his new film, saying it’s interesting to “go back into the kitchen, with it in mind that this is a meal for the world, not just for friends.”

The director of “Searching for Sugar Man,” Mr. Bendjelloul, talked about how he tracked down his subject, a musician who has released an album into obscurity in the States, only to unknowingly become more popular in South Africa than the Rolling Stones.

“He said, I can meet you but you can’t film me,” Mr. Bendjelloul said, “And that’s not very good when you are making a documentary.”

The weirdest exchanges were between Mr. Russell and Mr. Bart.

Mr. Bart’s first question about Jennifer Lawrence’s peculiarity versus her acting ability had Mr. Russell sighing and shaking his head and holding silent for 15 long seconds.

Another about Mr. Russell’s personal connection to bipolar disorder earned the reply, “I must say, you’re in top form today.” But was it good humor? By the time Mr. Bart had his second go-round, his quip about Mr. Russell punching actors set him off.

“It’s a cheap shot,” Mr. Russell said. “Come on, you can do better than that. You don’t have to grab the low-hanging fruit.”

But for anybody waiting at the wrap for any more fireworks, the two hugged before walking off stage.

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