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Ira Sachs' 'Little Men' is his nod to 'The Red Balloon' and other films about childhood




Filmmaker Ira Sachs. His latest movie is
Filmmaker Ira Sachs. His latest movie is "Little Men."
Magnolia Pictures
Filmmaker Ira Sachs. His latest movie is
Michael Barbieri, left, and Theo Taplitz in "Little Men."
Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures


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With "Little Men," Ira Sachs wanted to make a film about childhood that felt "authentic" and more similar to the movies from his youth than those that Hollywood studios currently make. It is the sixth feature from Sachs, who co-wrote it with his regular writing partner, Mauricio Zacharias. The movie premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival. 

"Little Men" is partly a story of gentrification in Brooklyn and partly a coming-of-age tale about two young teenage boys. It follows the budding friendship of Tony and Jake. Tony is the son of a single mom who runs a clothing shop on the ground floor of Jake’s grandfather’s house in Brooklyn. When the grandfather dies and Jake’s family moves in upstairs, the two boys become friends. The conflict comes when Jake’s parents want to raise the rent on the shop, which Tony’s mother can’t afford.  

When Ira Sachs came into The Frame studios to chat with host John Horn, they discussed how becoming a parent has affected his movie-making and and how he's been able to create a sustainable career as an independent filmmaker. Hear the full interview by clicking the play button above.

ON HOW BEING A FATHER HAS AFFECTED HIS MOVIEMAKING:

The strongest way is that I want to give them films that I feel are different than the ones I'm seeing for kids being made, particularly [by] the studios. This is a film about childhood, but told with a certain amount of authenticity and maturity, as opposed to the superhero films and the animated stories. I feel that there's a whole kind of movie that I grew up with, whether that be "The 400 Blows" or "The Red Balloon" or "The World of Henry Orient" or films about childhood that somehow feel real and reflect my own experience. I wanted to make that kind of cinematic film.

 

ON FINDING THE TWO ACTORS TO PLAY THE BOYS:

Theo Taplitz [Jake] is from Los Angeles and he sent a tape [where] he'd read one of the scenes from the film. It felt like a documentary about the character that I'd written. It was very striking. He also has an emotional intelligence which you can feel in his performance.

Michael Barbieri [Tony] came from an open call in New York City. I'd put up signs around the town and we had a call. He came in and he's such a New York kid. He has extraordinarily vibrant energy. I just was immediately taken with him. Somehow I imagined that these two kids would be very different, but also at the same point in their own lives. They felt really of a unit. 

ON THE SCENE BETWEEN THE CHARACTER TONY AND HIS ACTING COACH:

Michael's character really wants to be an actor and go to La Guardia High School for the Performing Arts. I wanted, in one moment, to know that he was good at his desire and you feel that in this scene. He really comes alive. This film is also about childhood and the certain freedoms that take place, and I think there's something about seeing someone just do something so passionately, which feels very youthful.

 ON THE INFLUENCE THE SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL HAS HAD ON HIS LIFE:

I started to go to Sundance when I was 13. My father started spending the winters there in the mid '70s. I actually got there before Robert Redford, before it was the Sundance Film Festival. It was called the U.S. Film Festival. It was the birth of independent cinema. They used to do retrospectives there also. I saw all of John Cassavetes at Sundance. I saw all of Sam Fuller at Sundance. To me, I remember being in a room and Seymour Cassel was sitting across the room — the wonderful Cassavetes actor. It was as if I had seen a huge movie star. For someone else it might have been Taylor Swift, but for me it was Seymour Cassel. I was probably 16 years old and I knew that there was a world that existed that I could enter. 

"Little Men" opens in New York on Aug. 5 and in Los Angeles on Aug. 12. To hear more from The Frame get the podcast on itunes.
 


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