I was compelled to make my first documentary "Mirjana" during the Balkan war when I met a 16yr old Croatian girl. After her Mom had died, Mirjana had been thrown on a plane to live with distant relatives in California. She was completely lost. She was bulimic and just wanted to end her life. I felt that if she shared her story with me, it would help her survive. We traveled back to Croatia together while the war was still going on. It was a catharsis for her and she slowly began to grieve. In the two years it took to make the movie, Mirjana healed. I went to her graduation from Cal State LA one month ago. She is now adjusted to the American life and is very happy.
I was sitting at home alone on a Saturday night in Hollywood like the major loser I am. My phone rang. It was my friend Armando who had a restaurant down the hill." Suzanna" he said in a thick Italian accent "there's a woman 'ere...she wanna make a documentary." The woman was Eddie Adams' sister-in-law, Cindy Lou Adkins. She had wanted for many years to make a documentary about Eddie. Cindy became my co-producer.
I flew to New York and met with Eddie. We had an instant connection. We talked endlessly and watched a documentary he'd made. "Mickey" was a series of photographic stills capturing the life of a 10yr boy who suffered from the rapidly aging disease, progeria. Eddie and I cried together over the courage of this little boy. Our bond was forged forever. We seemed to share the same fascination with displaced and oppressed people.
I asked Eddie if he wanted me to do the documentary. "Yeah" he said curtly. So you like me? " Yeah" So why do you like me? " I dunno... I just do"
I went off to Tuscany for 3 months to film the behind the scenes of Brad Mirman's movie " Shadows in the Sun" (Harvey Keitel, Giancarlo Giannini, Josh Jackson, Claire Forlani.) While I was there Eddie found out that he had Lou Gehrigs disease. By the time I got home, he was really ill and died 2 months later. I was devastated.
I had given Eddie and his family my word that I would make the documentary. I knew that I had to keep my word. What I didn't know was how I was going to capture the essence of Eddie Adams now that he was dead.
Cindy Lou Adkins gave me a small box of footage shot by non-professionals, home movies etc. This footage had lousy sound. It was unworkable. It was a disheartening time.
My first break came when I found an interview that Hal Buell did with Eddie for the Associated Press. Hal had only a VHS copy-but it was a start. I began to build from that interview. Next I contacted Jeff Wexler, an Academy Award winning soundman. Jeff, bless him, found me my prince, Mark Stoekinger - my sound editor, (The Last Samurai, Mission Impossible 3). Mark worked so hard, for no money. Far beyond the call of duty. He literally saved my life.
I was also fortunate to work with Isaac Hagy as my cinematographer and editor. He had just graduated from USC film school and was very talented and knowledgeable about photography.
Was it John Lennon who said, " Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans." I try not to get bogged down by a firm plan. I stay open and flexible to discovery. For me, making a documentary is like panning for gold. Each day you pick up handfuls of mud and once in a while, if you're lucky, you find a small speck of gold and then another, and slowly, you begin to put those glimmering pieces together. My vision didn't change - only the pieces of gold that supported it.
After the first screenings when people would compliment me I'd ask, "Are you a photographer? Do you study photography?" When they said "no", I was happy and surprised. I began to feel that I'd made a movie about a man that anyone could identify with.
Audiences fall in love with Eddie and want to know more about his work. They identify with his struggles and I've even sensed a bit of national pride about him. Many people come up to me in tears. I don’t think it's anything I did, or didn't do. It's Eddie's character shining through.