We begin our second installment of this interview by discussing what makes the '60s an ongoing reference point...whose participants literally made the rules as they went along, as the powers that be struggled to keep up...and how someone like Lionel Rogosin fits into that particular framework.
CHAIRMAN RALPH (CR): Well, this is one reason why people go back to the '60s so much, because there was this idea...”our institutions are not serving us well, and they can do better, and we won't rest until they do better.”
MICHAEL ROGOSIN (MR): Exactly. As you say, my father was one of that generation. Did he do this to get rich? Obviously not, 'cause he just made a lot of problems for himself (laughs) – but he did what he believed in. Can you change the world? Maybe, maybe not, but he was trying to do those things through cinema...and it's really a fascinating subject.
CR: Sure – because your father could quite easily have hooked up with any of the trends happening at the time, and made life much easier for himself – but he chose not to do that.
MR: That brings us back to "Arab-Israeli (Dialogue)"...there's just so much of his mind at work, showing these things that people didn't want to see, but were so important. Forty-four years afterward, and it's as relevant today to discuss it, as it was [then]. It's kind of mind-blowing, and an inspiration to get these things out there. It's an obligation.
CR: My feeling is, you can't really back off...because it's going to make it [working conditions] a little better for the next guy. It's not just about you.
MR: Exactly. The only film's that more about me – and it's really about me and my father – is the personal one. But the work is too important to let go. If I don't do it, who's gonna do it? That's one of the things [explored] in my personal film: what is his role, of legacy?
I'm happy, and I'm really thrilled that people contributed in a selfless way [to the "Arab-Israeli" Kickstarter campaign], so we could get this film done, you know – because we financed it all ourselves, and it comes to a point where you can't [anymore]. That really makes the whole thing worthwhile – I really, really feel [good] about that. So I'm looking forward to it.
I'm hoping that by September, we'll have a documentary on "Arab-Israeli," [along] with the film – which we can show – and, eventually, this new interview, which we're not sure how to handle yet.
CR: The one thread they [Lionel Rogosin's films] have in common is – all involve the underdog, in some way, shape or form.
MR: That actually brings me back to "Good Times." One of the messages of that film, which I find remarkable – I don't know if people pick up on it – comes back to what you're saying: “We all have kind of a responsibility, to do something.”
Having those people making those comments at the cocktail party [in the film] – it's like, “OK, can we just stand by, and do nothing, or can we do something?” You're doing [things] with your website, your journalism, and all that. Everyone can do something, you know?
CR: Yes, absolutely. So what's the strategy for your father's writings? You said that your father's not necessarily a great writer – but, nevertheless, he left us a lot of written documentation [of his work].
MR: For the writing – with [help from] a young researcher, we pulled out things from different periods to make a collection. But it's a matter of finding somebody to be a collaborator, find the right people. I also realize something else: in cinema, you can't tell all the stories, unfortunately. That's why there needs to be a research center somewhere. It's really a matter of partners, and my energy. If someone says, “Oh, we'd love to do a collection of writing,” that would be great, you know.
CR: The thing about your father is – he was a man in his time, and yet, very much not of his time, perhaps even 30 years ahead of his time. True?
MR: That's exactly right. He was obsessed with social justice, and all those things – all that comes through in the films.
CR: Certainly, one other obvious legacy of his work is the idea that, “You don't take shortcuts. You don't do the easy thing.”
MR: Oh, yeah, yeah, that's true, too – if you put it into phrases like that. I guess there would be a certain amount of lessons you'd have to take from each film, but that's definitely it. And that you don't accept everything, you fight for what you believe in.
When he went to South Africa, to make a film against apartheid, it was not for his own benefit: “This situation is an awful thing in the world. We have to fight it. We can't accept that. We've just been through World War II, when awful things were happening, and we're not going to let it happen again.”
Beyond what each film is actually saying, he wasn't accepting the status quo, he was fighting for what he thought world justice should be...in every film, whether it was popular, or unpopular...and they were all basically unpopular. When he made "Come Back, Africa", he thought he'd have some success – he thought that people would be interested in the poor black people, oppressed in South Africa, and he was naïve. They didn't give a damn.
CR: Yeah, I imagine that had to a sobering moment for your father....
MR: Exactly, but he did it, anyway, you know? He had to do it. And I found that [to be] the message in "Good Times" – that we are all responsible for doing something in this world. I think there are a lot of messages in there...things about the way you make cinema, the way you film faces, for instance...they're like portraits.
And the way that you get so real. That's something I noticed in the films – as you say, in "Black Roots" [for example]. They're so real, but yet, it's cinema. It's not fake. It's not imposed, and by studying those methods, filmmakers can get some more depth in their films, you know?
CR: Very much so. If you look at a lot of the things [that] folks are doing today, there's a lot of time being wasted on gimmicks.
MR: Yeah, there's a lot of that – why do people make films? They want to have a nice career – but that wasn't his motivation at all. It's like, something is gonna come out of this, to do better – he was completely obsessed with that, with social justice. He had to show those Bowery men. He had to show the people in South Africa. He had to show the dangers of nuclear war.
He had to show, in "Black Roots", what it was like to be black in America, in the '70s...he had to show, in "Black Fantasy", a mixed couple – which nobody wanted to see..."Woodcutters", this obscure thing in the woods...he had to show it. He's not doing it for any other reason, except a deep obsession with something that has to be done. He's not sitting around, saying, “OK, I wanna make a film, but what subject could I do?” And that's a big difference.
If you really wanna do something really important, it's gonna have to come out of some deep motivation, you know? It can't be artificial. It doesn't work – or it does work, if you want to make some entertainment, I guess. But it's a different ball game.
CR: That's why I connected with them, and once you get all this stuff done, that's why people will connect with it, as well.
MR: OK, I hope so – it's encouraging, what you've told me. It's really encouraging, and I'm really happy that you enjoyed the films, and "Black Roots", as well...'cause we know about the early films. But I need a motivation to continue, finish this, and get people to see the later films – that's kind of my obsession now. Thanks so much for following us, and giving your thoughts, and all.
CR: Well, thanks for giving so much of your time today to do this.
MR: Let's keep in touch, definitely.