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Exclusive Interview: Tony Zierra & Elizabeth Yoffe, Filmworker

Those who follow me on Twitter will probably know that one of my favourite films this year so far has been Tony Zierra’s Filmworker produced by Elizabeth Yoffe. The documentary tells the compelling and engaging story of Leon Vitali, a young actor who gave up his life and career in order to become Stanley Kubrick’s right hand man, assisting the infamous director up until his death.

Leon’s honest, funny and sometimes shocking experiences in the company of Kubrick are accompanied by previously unseen photos, videos, letters, notebooks, and memos from Leon’s private collection. We also have interviews with actors, family, crew members, and key film industry professionals who all worked with Kubrick and Leon, and these interviews help to add an important layer of detail and impact to the story. Filmworker highlights the stress, and sheer amount of work that is involved in the creative process, and we witness a side to Kubrick that many never saw.

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This is a personal and highly in-depth documentary which reveals some interesting truths to the mystery that is Stanley Kubrick, and it’s amazing that Leon finally gets the recognition he deserves. If you’re a Kubrick fan then you must see this film, but even if you’re not a fan of Kubrick’s work then I still recommend this documentary as it looks at the filmmaking process from behind the scenes, and we can all admire the dedication that Leon put into helping someone else envision their dream. Slowly the documentary unfolds in order to reveal certain facts about Leon that we didn’t expect and as a result each reveal is a surprise. Zierra helps to keep us engaged by holding onto certain pieces of information and then slowly revealing them to the viewer, he is a true master of the plot twist!

Working for Kubrick, may have taken a physical, mental, and personal toll on Leon’s life, but the man is not bitter, and in fact he seems to miss that life. Vitali spent the best part of 30 years learning the intricacies of colour grading, Foley artistry, casting, trailer cutting and more, fuelled by an almost masochistic dedication to the auteur’s vision. He would even go on to finish Eyes Wide Shut when Kubrick died before its completion. Filmworker shows us that the best form of education comes from experience, rather than simply reading from a book, and can be seen as form of inspiration. We can look at Leon as someone who used their own initiative and wasn’t afraid to take on a new challenge. This is an incredibly moving documentary (which had me in tears at certain moments) that provides valuable insight into Kubrick’s obsessive personality and Leon makes for an intriguing subject who finally get his moment in the spotlight.

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After watching the documentary, I decided to approach Tony and Elizabeth for an interview, and they were kind enough to answer some questions for me. So without further ado, please find the interview below.

Bianca Garner: How did the documentary come to be? What was it about Leon’s story that you found interesting?

Tony Zierra : I was intrigued by Leon’s story because it represented the underdog or the unsung hero. People like Leon, the people below-the-line or behind-the-scenes have been overlooked forever in the film industry and in other fields as well. I believe it’s time to honor people like that. In our celebrity obsessed world the stars of films – the directors and producers – are the ones that always get the acknowledgment. Leon’s knowledge is a vast and crucial part of cinema history.

Elizabeth Yoffe: Also, it was fascinating to meet someone like Leon who had already become successful in a worldly sense, had his “big break” by being cast in a Kubrick film, and chose to give that up to immerse himself fully in the nitty-gritty, unglamorous part of filmmaking.  It was such an interesting and unusual choice for a person to make.

BG: Why do you feel that we are still intrigued by Kubrick and his work? 

T: Kubrick to me IS cinema. His films are unique and diverse. It is widely known that a Kubrick film is always different every time you watch it. His attention to detail is so inspiring and people like Leon represent the details. Kubrick is a master and masters in any field of art are timeless.

E: Kubrick’s films offer so much no matter how many times you view them. It’s really amazing to go back to his films at various times in one’s life and realize the way they resonate differently. He infused his entire being into his films and that affects people on some deep level.

BG: The story of Leon’s dedication to Kubrick’s work is so incredible, why do you feel that many have overlooked Leon’s efforts and work?

T: I believe it’s a status issue in our industry. The industry isn’t interested in hearing about or elevating the people below-the-line. That’s why I feel that Filmworker is important. It sheds light on the people who are taken for granted but are vital like the crew on every film set.

E:  Leon himself doesn’t talk about his efforts and all the things he’s done. It was tough to even get him to open up to us. Tony was persistent and willing to take the time to let Leon’s story unfold. But if he had been impatient or not truly interested in what Leon had to say we never would have known the extent of what Leon did. So yes, it’s definitely primarily a status thing in the industry, like Tony said, but also Leon isn’t the type of person to put himself out there to be recognized.

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BG: I found it interesting how we slowly discover more background to Leon’s life and his family – what was the decision to hold back this information until well into the film’s runtime?

E: I have to say that I think this was a brilliant choice by Tony. This is a story of a filmworker – a person who was so devoted to creativity and his choice to serve Kubrick that everything else was secondary. By holding off on Leon’s backstory and his family dynamic the audience gets to feel on a visceral level how Leon prioritized his life. It’s a shock to the viewer but it works really well to underscore the level of immersion Leon had in his work.

BG: What has been the feedback and the response to ‘Filmworker’ and more importantly what has Leon’s response been?

T: I feel we’ve been extremely lucky. The reception has been positive and uplifting. Not only do people get the point of the film – about honoring the unsung heroes – but they also enjoy gaining more knowledge and knowing the details that go into making films. In this case it’s Kubrick‘s films and his work tends to puzzle and intrigue people. I’ve also been lucky to have Leon, who represents devotion, as the main subject of Filmworker and also have Kubrick who represents the Ultimate Cinema. Leon is happy with how the film has been received and that’s a great thing.

E: We couldn’t have asked for a better reception for Filmworker. It’s been incredible and we’re really grateful. Leon keeps saying how happy he is for us that the film is doing well, but he’s also finally allowing himself to feel good about the recognition he’s getting. It’s sinking in that his story has impacted people and he sees what Tony has been telling him from the beginning – that his story is worth sharing with the world.

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A massive thank you to Elizabeth and Tony for their time and thank you for your wonderfully insightful documentary. My number one pick for film of the year so far!

Filmworker is now available on iTunes, Google Play and Amazon Prime. It is on a limited release in Theatres as well. Further information regarding the film can be found here: http://filmworker.com/

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