San Francisco filmmaker (and Oscar nominee!) Sari Gilman talks 'Kings Point'
FILM Film editor Sari Gilman — her resume includes 2007's Ghosts of Abu Ghraib and 2002's Blue Vinyl — made her directorial debut with the 30-minute documentary Kings Point, a bittersweet exploration of a Florida retirement community. The film first screened locally as part of the 2012 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, and will air on HBO in March. In the meantime, it's been nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary Short. I caught up with Gilman to talk about her film — and little gold men.
San Francisco Bay Guardian Congratulations on your nomination! You knew your film was on the shortlist, but were you surprised when you made the final cut?
Sari Gilman Thank you! You know, I had no idea. I have worked very hard in my life to try not to predict the future. [Laughs.] I was very happy when I found out, but I don't think it would have destroyed me if it hadn't happened. Obviously, though, it's a total thrill and a complete honor, and more than I ever expected when I started making this movie.
SFBG Do you get to, like, walk the red carpet?
SG I do! I gotta get a dress! I mean, not that anyone's going to care who I'm wearing, but for me, it'll be fun.
SFBG What's your connection to Kings Point, the place, and what made you want to create a documentary about it?
SG My grandmother moved to the community in 1978, when I was about nine years old. I visited her there many times a year for 30 years. About 15 years in, I was starting to get involved in storytelling and still photography, and I was always really fascinated with the place on a couple of different levels: socially, it sort of seemed like it was a summer camp for old people, and then visually — it's 7500 identical one- and two-bedroom condominium units, spread out over miles. So there's a lot of architectural homogeneity. These long hallways that look exactly the same, with these palm-tree shadows on them. It seemed like a natural place to start exploring.
SFBG Since you knew the residents already, was it easier to get them to open up in interviews?
SG I think so. None of the subjects in the final film were people that I knew personally before I started making it, but some of them did know my grandmother, and they all knew me as the granddaughter of someone who lived there. I think that's what made it easy for them to talk to me. I also shared a lot with them about my grandmother's experience and my experience there, so the interviews weren't so much interviews as they were conversations. Obviously, we cut my voice out in most cases, but I think that I was able to get the kind of candid stories that I got because I was on the other end of the camera talking to them.
SFBG Though you've worked extensively as an editor on other people's films, you didn't edit Kings Point. Why was that?
SG As an editor, I knew how badly I needed an editor. I know that directors need to have a collaborator to provide perspective, and look at the footage with a little more of an objective eye. I got incredibly lucky in that I was able to hire Jeffrey Friedman [co-director, with Rob Epstein, of 2010's Howl and 1995's The Celluloid Closet, among others], who is a local luminary and an amazing filmmaker who edits occasionally. He was actually my mentor when I was learning how to edit in the 1990s in San Francisco, so working with him on my first film was a really great experience.
SFBG The tone of the film is unique in the way that it balances light-hearted moments with the sort of sad undertone that runs throughout.