For filmmakers honored by the Provincetown International Film Festival, John Waters is a dream date. Waters was dubbed Filmmaker on the Edge at the festival’s debut, in 1999, and he’s been interviewing subsequent winners of the award, which is given for a record of bold and independent filmmaking, ever since.
The list includes Quentin Tarantino, Sofia Coppola, David Cronenberg, Jim Jarmusch, and Gus Van Sant, among other notables. Waters consults on the choice of honoree and offers a personal invitation.
“It’s hard to say no to John Waters,” says Richard Linklater, the 2021 Filmmaker on the Edge, speaking by phone to the Independent. “He’s been such a big presence during my whole filmmaking life.”
The conversation this year will happen virtually, and can be streamed at any time through June 25, when the festival ends, at provincetownfilm.org. The festival itself will be a combination of live screening (at Waters Edge Cinema and the Wellfleet Drive-In) and virtual streaming, as well as events at various venues.
Linklater, who hails from Austin, Texas, recalls coming to Provincetown and the Cape during summers, mostly to view theater. He singularly embodies the Austin independent film scene, having founded the Austin Film Society, which offers arthouse fare at a local theater it owns. Many of Linklater’s films were shot there — such as the high-school graduation flick Dazed and Confused and his Oscar-nominated coming-of-age epic Boyhood — though many were not, and his sensibility is as eclectic as the settings of his productions.
His choice of projects is “not that conscious a process,” he says. “I never ask myself this. It’s what you’re in love with. What you’re obsessed with. It kind of builds in your mind. I love the feeling when it goes from original screenplay to filming. I’ve been lucky. I’ve been able to make a pretty high percentage of the ones I really wanted to.”
He’s also managed to maintain the commitment of his casts and collaborators over long periods of time: Boyhood was notoriously shot in pieces over 12 years, as his young lead grew up. He turned the charming 1995 romantic talkfest Before Sunrise, starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Paris, into a trilogy about the characters’ relationship over two decades, with Before Sunset in 2004 and Before Midnight in 2013.
Linklater says he’d been hoping to make Bernie — the 2011 gem of a dark comedy he did with Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine about a gay mortician who befriends and then murders a wealthy widow, based on a true story — for about 10 years before he got to shoot it. “I’m very patient,” he says. “I believe things happen when they’re meant to happen.”
He’s currently working on an adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s beloved but never-a-hit Broadway musical Merrily We Roll Along. It follows the show-business career of three friends — a playwright, a critic, and a movie producer — over several decades, moving backward in time from the present, when they’re successful and estranged, to their innocent striving days in college. Linklater intends to film the backward plot in reverse — and, thus, chronologically forward — over 20 years, as his actors (Blake Jenner, Ben Pratt, and Beanie Feldstein) age.
When the Covid lockdown hit, Linklater had just wrapped the live-action parts of his upcoming film Apollo 10½, a story of young people’s lives in Houston during the summer of 1969, when Apollo 11 landed on the Moon.
“It’s next generation,” Linklater says. “We’re animating over the characters. It was a pretty wild shoot. Every single shot was a special effect — all green screen — which was new to me.”
Animating his characters is not new to him, however: the remarkable dream-stream film, Waking Life (2001), and its follow-up, A Scanner Darkly (2006), were digitally (and eerily) distorted. Animated or no, Linklater is best known for his utterly human and comic work with actors. He launched Matthew McConaughey’s career as the stoner in Dazed and Confused and turned Jack Black into a bankable star as the substitute teacher in School of Rock.
With audiences having gone virtual during the pandemic, Linklater is circumspect about the future of moviegoing. “I have a theater in Austin with two screens, so, obviously, we love the theatrical communal experience,” he says. “But an indie filmmaker such as myself can’t be too high up on my horse: only certain films are getting theatrical releases today. People’s calculation of what they want to see in a theater is changing. What I miss, and what I see largely going away, is having the whole culture, the whole film community, on the same page: when everyone’s talking about one movie, such as Stranger Than Paradise.”
Several of his films have had that kind of cultural currency. “I’m fairly optimistic,” Linklater continues. “The goal is to get your film made and just hope.”
And now, in Provincetown, he’s being crowned Filmmaker on the Edge. “On the edge of what? Insanity?” Linklater asks, only half joking. “Maybe. On the edge of oblivion? Most definitely. I’ve been on that edge for a long time.”
The event: John Waters virtually interviews Richard Linklater, recipient of the Filmmaker on the Edge 2021 award from the Provincetown International Film Festival
The time: Stream it through June 25
The place: Provincetownfilm.org
The cost: To be announced