Rumur Films Retrospective - Interview

April 9, 2016 0 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Jax Documentary Film Festival interviews the founders of Rumur Films, an independent film and photography studio from Brooklyn, New York.

The Jacksonville Documentary Film Festival welcomes filmmakers Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley of Rumur Films from April 16-17th for a retrospective, including a local work-in-progress screening of their latest documentary ALL THE RAGE - about medical pioneer Dr. Sarno whose program has helped thousands of people overcome their back conditions without drugs or surgery.

Galinsky and Hawley will showcase 6 feature films spanning 20 years. Stories that move you to take action. Content that challenges perspectives and promotes organic dialogue.

More info and tickets here

JDFF: This is a 20 year filmmaking collaboration. How did you meet each other and start collaborating?  What keeps the relationship progressing and growing?

Michael: For our first two films, rumur was Suki and I. David Beilinson joined us halfway through our first documentary and we've all worked together ever since. Suki and I met in the early 90s. I was in a rock band and she was in film school.  I talked her into dropping out of school to make a film about a rock band. That was Half-Cocked.  It was not an easy process by any means.

In many ways, even though it was a narrative film it was our first attempt at documentation. We wanted to document the world that we were a part of but felt a little bit close to it to make a documentary.  We followed that up with a very similar film called Radiation that we shot in Spain.  Half-Cocked was basically ignored by the film world so we took it on tour and played it in rock clubs. While doing that same thing in Spain, we shot Radiation.  

I don't think that Radiation is as strong a film as Half-Cocked but it got into Sundance and we were able to travel the world with it which was pretty awesome.  Both of those movies were shot on film which was both expensive and difficult. So when DV cameras first arrived on the scene we quickly acquired one and used it to do work for other people. It also allowed us to start our first documentary when the opportunity arose.

Horns and Halos trailer
That film, horns and halos, follows an underground publisher as he tries to republish a discredit biography of George Bush. It was connected to our first two films because like them, it focused on underground culture. The publisher was a punk rocker who squatted the basement of a building that he was the super of.  Halfway through production, our partner David Beilinson met this guy in a bar and asked if he could make a movie about him.  That character Sander told him to give us a call and he's been working with us ever since.  We worked on a half-dozen documentaries together as well as countless short projects.  

We each have different strengths and together we make much more complex and interesting films. I'm kind of a hunter gatherer and I go out and shoot tons.  David also brings in a lot of stories. Suki is an incredible editor and she shapes them in ways that elevate them. David has a more polished sensibility which adds another layer to the work.

Suki: the three of us have all matured together. When we first started collaborating, we were all in between childhood and adulthood (none of us had kids, houses, huge responsibilities at first).  And the films have grown up as well. The subjects have gotten more complex and dense. But they have remain focused on a unifying theme: outsiders ready to take on the world. It took us a while before we realized that there was one thing that all our films had in common, because it's not obvious at first - the first two are narratives, the rest documentaries, one about kids on the run and another about activists starting a family and standing their ground. But all deal with people up against tall odds who plough ahead anyway.

A partner in Brooklyn-based multimedia studio RUMUR, Michael Galinsky is a filmmaker, photographer and musician, and has spent the last 20 years collaborating with wife Suki Hawley. He recently directed and shot the documentary feature Battle for Brooklyn, his fifth feature with Hawley. Prior he co-directed and shot the true-crime special Miami Manhunt (A&E), which follows the epic investigation of a notorious Miami serial rapist and the documentary feature August in the Empire State which tracks events surrounding the 2004 Republican National Convention. In 2002, Hawley and Galinsky released their first feature, Horns and Halos, which follow the efforts of an underground publisher to release a discredited biography of George W. Bush. A native of Chapil Hill, Michael graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a BA in Religious Studies from New York University. He is a 2012 Guggenheim Fellow

Suki Hawley recently directed and edited the documentary feature Battle for Brooklyn, her fifth feather with Galinsky. Prior she edited a series of documentary features for cable networks including Miami Manhunt, American Cannibal and Mardi Gras: Made in China. After graduation, Suki moved to LA where she worked in the cutting room of Roger Corman's legendary studio. A native of Dallas, she studied film at Wesleyan University under the tutelage of film historian Jeanine Basinger, with a focus on classic American Cinema of the 1940's and '50s.

Miami Manhunt trailer

What prompted you to pick up a camera and shoot?

Michael: Ever since high school I have been a prolific photographer.  When I got to college I also began to pay a lot more attention to film. I knew that I wanted to make films but I didn't have the means to do it until I met Suki.  She had a more classic Hollywood background than I as well as a stronger technical understanding of filmmaking. I brought the camera work and the optimism and together we got something going

Suki: ever since a childhood preview screening of the Coen bros film Raising Arizona, I knew I wanted to make movies. By the time the sprawling, idiosyncratic opening credit sequence ended - upending all notions of how film was "supposed" to be - I was hooked. Couple that with a love of video games and the feeling that editing was an extension of the pace and action of a good video game, I made sure to study as much about filmmaking as a I could.

Why documentary storytelling?  What's the attraction to non-fiction?

Michael:  I'm not sure that any of us really set out to make documentaries. Instead documentaries are something more possible to make at a certain point. And as we began to make films I found that I was more drawn towards things that felt real things like 70's cinema.  In many ways we make documentaries because we can do everything ourselves and we have less reason to compromise.

Suki: the realness that comes through in a documentary appealed to us - the authenticity of the experience. And when we realized we could tell just as exciting and fulfilling a story AND have it be real life, it fit with our sensibilities.

How has your relationship with your movies, especially the older ones, evolved over the years?

Michael: One of the reasons I was so excited to have The festival show many of our films is that I think they hold together as a body of work. Each film builds upon the last in that there are things that run through all of them tying them together.  I think that in many ways we've had some difficulty getting our work seen by a larger audience because they are as much about the time that they are part of as of that time.  By this I mean that in the moment they don't have the same power as they do later on looking back.  I am a huge fan of the photographs of William Eggleston.  He is a Memphis based photographer who had the first show of color photographs at the Museum of modern Art. Many of his images seem mundane, even boring- and when the work showed he in the programmer were criticized for the work.  However several years later it became clear that he had captured an essence of the time that no one else had noticed. Sometimes the flashier, bigger projects that get a lot of attention in their time lose value as the years pass.  The more sedate and meditative works that don't call as much attention to themselves often hold up more powerfully later on. I'd like to believe that our work falls into that category and we're slowly seeing that happen.

Suki:  I agree completely with what Michael said.

They say everyone has 'a book' in them, but also that writers basically write the same book over and over - is there a core that runs through your work?  If so, what?

Michael: This is definitely the case with our films.  We tend to focus on characters who,like us, work tirelessly against incredible odds for an idea that they believe deeply in.  Unfortunately most of our characters fail in their goals but I think that history will be kind to all of them as hopefully it will be to us.  

The plot of half cocked and radiation are pretty similar they're both about touring in the underground rock community.  Horns and halos and battle for Brooklyn have strikingly similar narratives and in fact the first 20 minutes of each film is structured very similarly.  We have a certain way we tell stories that works for us, it's become our language.

Our current film that will be showing is a rough cut is similar to these in many ways but it's also very personal narrative.  We're trying a lot of new things in the film and we are excited to get feedback from the audience in Jacksonville.

Suki: as I noted earlier, there is a theme that runs through all our films.  That theme also happens to apply to us (like Michael mentioned), which means we've been making autobiographical films for the last 20 years - unintentionally. (our new film, the work in progress All the Rage, is much more of a consciously autobiographical story).

Battle for Brooklyn trailer

How has the technical aspect of filmmaking evolved for you over the past 20 years?

Michael: That's a great question and it has had a huge impact on our work. When we began to make films, they had to be made on film and that was both expensive and time-consuming.  Digital video made it possible for almost anyone to pick up a camera and begin to make a movie. I think dv worked particularly well for documentary but less so for narrative film which is one of the reasons that we focused so much on documentary in the last 15 years.

With the advent of HD video and very inexpensive DSLR cameras, almost anyone can make a film that looks great. This has led to a veritable flood of beautifully constructed films.  As someone deeply involved in both making films and writing about other films, it's clear that the quality of many of these films is extremely high.   Unfortunately, this glut of wonderful films has led to increasingly lower payments from traditional distributors and a deterioration of ways to reach a wider audience.

You lived in Brooklyn for many years - now Chapel Hill.  Which is more of an inspirational local for storytelling and filmmaking?  Pros?  Cons?

Michael: Suki and I live in Chapel Hill now, but David is still in New York and we go back-and-forth.  It was somewhat of a steep adjustment to get used to the slower pace of life in the town that I grew up in. For many years the creative energy of New York drove me to create. However, now that I have been gone for a while and adjusted to the slower pace of life, it's hard for me to go back.  We haven't been developing that many new projects because we're just trying to catch up with all that we shot over the last decade. Having the space and time to do that is awesome.

Suki: As you allude to in the question, there are definitely pros and cons to both cities.  And, interestingly, the categories are almost always exactly inverted - which is to say, something that is great about Brooklyn, is almost always lacking in Chapel Hill, and vice versa.  So - it's been exciting to experience them both and the timing of living in each city has been appropriate to the work we've been involved in.

What advice would you give an aspiring documentarian?

Michael: Pick up a camera and start to shoot.  Watch movies. Watch them twice -the first time be immersed- The second time pay attention to the decisions that have been made about what to show them how to show it.  Write a lot- think about what you want to say and how you might say it.  Don't be afraid to ask for advice

Suki: As my film mentor in college used to say, "If you want to be a filmmaker, you should do three things: watch movies, play drums (because all good film is about rhythm and pacing), and understand physics."  I'm not as good with the last one - hoping to get by on the other two skills ;)