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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Master Storytellers
by Betty Jo Tucker

Teamwork has always played an important role in the success of filmmakers John Sayles and Maggie Renzi, the duo responsible for such acclaimed independent movies as Lone Star, Limbo, Matewan, Brother from Another Planet, and The Secret of Roan Inish. After working together on 11 films to date, they know what to expect from each other. "Sometimes an adversarial relationship develops between the director and producer," Renzi explains. "But, in our case, we’re both on the same side."

Renzi produces; Sayles writes and directs. Partners in private life as well as in moviemaking, they share similar goals. One of these goals involves keeping their cast and crew happy during filming. "Maggie is a good pipeline to the crew," claims Sayles. "And John is sensitive to our production schedule," adds Renzi. "We both have acting backgrounds, and this helps us understand the challenges faced by cast members, especially during long days and nights of filming." Sayles agrees, admitting he operates at only 50% capacity after 12 hours of work – which partially accounts for his sensitivity about this problem.

Sayles and Renzi, winners of the prestigious Storyteller Award at the Taos Talking Picture Festival 2002, also share a motivation to explore different film genres while tackling relevant issues with a high level of integrity. Maintaining complete artistic control over their movies is another contributing factor to the success they’ve achieved. "When Maggie looks for money, she makes sure I end up with the final cut and final casting decisions," Sayles points out. "American movies are obsessed with the cult of the individual – the lone gunman riding into town. In our films, we try to go beneath the surface and show the intricacies of the community involved."

No surprise, of course, that Sayles and Renzi work outside the traditional filmmaking establishment to deal honestly with such issues as strikes, unions, social class and prejudice. Although their films may not be "mainstream" enough for major studios, many have garnered international acclaim. Passion Fish won the Golden Spur in Flanders; The Secret of Roan Inish earned the International Critics Award at Gerardner; Matewan was nominated for the Critics Award at Deauville; Lone Star received the Golden Satellite Award for Best Screenplay (in addition to its Oscar nomination in the same category); and Limbo earned a Golden Palm nomination at Cannes.

Because Limbo is among my favorites, I asked Sayles about its puzzling ending. "It’s all about risk," he stated. "I had that ending first and worked the rest of the film from there. The only way you can get out of limbo is to take a risk. The characters take that risk, but we don’t know if they survived or not. The film shows that if we want to get out of limbo, we have to take chances without any guarantees."

What’s next for Sayles and Renzi? Their upcoming risk is Sunshine State starring Angela Bassett, Edie Falco, Timothy Hutton, James McDaniel, and Mary Steenburgen. According to Renzi, it’s a movie "about real estate, tourism, and conflicts over the development of a northern Florida beach community." Hmm. Probably not such a risk, after all. Sounds just right for master storytellers like John Sayles and Maggie Renzi.


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