Amid AFI Silverdocs Festival This Week, a Look at George Plimpton
It’s summer, which means summer movies, which means the usual suspects from the pages of comic books—Batman, Spider-Man, the Avengers. It means the lemurs from “Madagascar” and the red-headed cartoon girl from “Brave.” It means Tom Cruise as a rocker and two Charlize Theron movies.
You wouldn’t think that summer movies meant documentaries, but they do in Silver Spring. It’s been that way for ten years, which means it’s the tenth anniversary of the American Film Institute Silverdocs Festival with a slew of top-drawer documentaries, symposiums and the presence of some of the world’s top documentary filmmakers, directors and producers, June 18-24 at various venues in Silver Spring, including the AFI Silver.
It means there’ll be films like the opening night screening of “Don’t Stop Believin’, Everyman’s Journey,” about the rise of Filipino singer Arnel Pineda from local folk hero in the Philippines to frontman for the never-say-die rock band Journey (Monday at 7 p.m. and June 24 at 12:15 p.m.). It means films like the festival closer “Big Easy Express,” directed by Emmett Malloy about the journey of three American roots-style bands—Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros and Old Crow Medicine Show—on a six-stop tour from California to New Orleans (June 23 and 24).
It means documentary film takes on the resurgence of Detroit, on the band Metallica, on artist Wayne White, theater legend Joe Papp and the grand dame Texas liberal legend and governor Ann Richards, and such serious matters as a hair-raising meeting of the Texas School Board of Education, among the many, many films to be screened, many of them world premieres, first-time-evers, all of them, in one way or another about real life, real people, not reel people.
With real persons and not reel persons, that also means the screening of “Plimpton,” a kind of life-and-times portrait of the the late George Plimpton, reporter, writer, loving WASP to his Exeter core, literary editor, party thrower, actor in films and commercials and Sports Illustrator writer who tried to embrace what he wrote about by doing it—playing golf, pitching to major leaguers and, most famously, playing quarterback for the Detroit Lions (“Paper Lion,” a book and then a movie starring Alan Alda).
“Plimpton” is a loving, eyes-wide-open documentary on the man's life, with numerous interviews with the people who knew him best—his widow Sarah Plimpton, fellow literati and writers, athletes, family members and people who just loved being around him.
“Plimpton,” the documentary, which screens June 21 and 23, is the work of co-directors Tom Bean and Luke Poling, two 30-something film-makers but also first-timers, who’ve been working on the film for well over four years, interviewing, researching, editing film clips and sorting through huge amounts of materials.
It’s also the work of producer Adam Roffman, who has been the director of Independent Film Festival Boston for ten years. He has been a producer on five independent films and earned his keep by piling up numerous credits on major studio films as set decorator and director.
If that name rings a bell to some of our readers, that’s not surprising: Adam is the son of David Roffman, the former owner and publisher of the Georgetowner who recently retired from the newspaper and now lives in Alabama with his wife Carmen.
The word, "producer," is one of the most used titles in the film industry. “Yeah, sometimes you never know who’s doing what and at what point in the creation of the movie,” Roffman said. “In this case, I’m working on the tail end of the production, making sure that it is screened, that it gets into festivals, that it gets talked about and known and seen -- something I know a little bit about,” he said. “And I think the guys have come up with a terrific film, about an original American character.”
Roffman founded and became Independent Film Festival Boston’s only director ever ten years ago and used to report yearly in the Georgetowner from the Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival. In the IMDB directory, he is listed as on-set dresser (or set director), with work on such highly respected Ben Affleck-directed films as “The Town,” "Gone Baby Gone,” “27 Dresses,” the Mel Gibson-starrer “Edge of Darkness” and the soon-to-be-released “Ted,” featuring Mark Wahlberg in the company of a come-to-life potty mouthed teddy bear.
“It’s a real pleasure to work with somebody like Affleck,” Roffman said. “He surrounds himself with people he can learn from, the top people in the business in terms of actors, cinematographers and film professionals.” (Affleck was at Georgetown University June 14 with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others for "Child Survival: Call to Action.")
As for Roffman, "Plimpton" co-director Bean said. “You want to know about Adam? Well, in Boston, he’s considered the unofficial mayor of the Boston film industry. I mean we have this film we’ve loved putting together, but we don’t know how to get it seen. That’s where Adam has been terrific. He’s a real generous guy. Let me tell you, he’s been a huge help."
“We’ve read a lot and heard a lot and knew a lot about Plimpton," Bean said. "I guess he was kind of huge back in the 1970s and '80s. But his fame has kind of faded, and we wanted a whole new generation of people to know about him, appreciate him and what he did and the life he led.”
“Principally, we got inspired to do this because we love to read books, we love literature,” Bean said, giving rising to hope that in literary terms, all is not quite yet lost.
“People, it turned out, were happy to talk to us. So, you’ve got this whole bunch of people on film, talking, telling stories, and there’s there’s clips, interviews, quotes.
The film has that voice of Plimpton, who had that upper-class, New England veneer and was to the manor AND manner born, but never sounded as if he was talking down to anyone. Otherwise, Plimpton might not have survived being tackled by a Lion. He was the first editor of the Paris Review, the legendary, hugely respected literary review which included the best work of the post-war generation of serious and gifted writers.
“There was nobody like him,” Bean said. “That’s basically why we had him narrate the film with his own voice.”
Plimpton died at the age of 76 in 2003 of a heart attack. “I think sometimes making this movie was our chance to be with him. It was a great experience,” Bean said.
For a full schedule of screenings, events, locations and venues and film information go to SilverDocs.com.