Amir Bar-Lev, the director of the Hurricane Sandy concert film and documentary “12 12 12,” said there’s a good reason his film includes no shots of anguished, weeping storm victims in between performances by Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Kanye West and others.
“I was pretty insistent that I didn’t want people crying,” Bar-Lev told TheWrap at the premiere of his film, which came almost exactly a year after the devastating storm hit New York and New Jersey.
“The news uses these horrible moments as a kind of ‘disaster porn.’ They hope that people they’re shooting will cry. I don’t want to ignore the tragic aspect of this, but I felt that that had been amply projected in the news media.
“I was more interested in having people laughing and playing music and biking around and helping one another.”
“12 12 12,” which opens next month from the Weinstein Company (and which is eligible in the crowded Oscar documentary race), is indeed a celebratory chronicle of the concert that raised more than $50 million for Hurricane Sandy relief, and of the community efforts to help stricken areas and assist those in need.
“My wife and I jumped on our bicycles and spent two days biking around after Sandy,” said Bar-Lev, who lives in Brooklyn in an area that was relatively unaffected. “And it’s pretty amazing to see New York after something bad happens to it. It’s really a remarkable display of generosity and humanity and humor and resourcefulness, and it really belies the idea that New Yorkers are selfish and only care about themselves.”
While the film includes footage of relief efforts in the community, and behind-the-scenes footage of the efforts by producers James Dolan, John Sykes and Harvey Weinstein to stage the massive concert at Madison Square Garden, its heart is in the concert footage from Springsteen, McCartney, West, the Rolling Stones, the Who, Bon Jovi, Alicia Keys, Roger Waters, Billy Joel, Coldplay’s Chris Martin and others.
Highlights include Springsteen’s mournful “My City of Ruins,” Martin’s collaboration with Michael Stipe on R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” and Eddie Vedder’s vocals on Waters’ Pink Floyd classic “Comfortably Numb” – but with so much going on behind the scenes and in the community, Bar-Lev reluctantly decided he needed to cut away from most of the performers at some point during their songs.
“Cutting away from songs is tough for me, because I’m a big music head,” he said. “But there was just too much good material, so we had to make tough choices.
“I wanted the film to have a democratic feel. I wanted it to have fans and roadies, and we took two cameras out to a Red Hook bar that had just gotten its power on, and they were watching the broadcast.
“The concert was there to raise money but also to kind of create a communal moment of healing, and I wanted the film to reflect that.”
Bar-Lev, whose last film was the acclaimed doc “The Tillman Story,” was hired by Weinstein about 10 days before the show. He started filming planning sessions and production meetings about a week before the concert, and said he got “glowering looks from this British guy” for a few days before learning that the Brit was Paul McCartney’s manager.
McCartney, it turned out, was making his own film of the concert, so the two crews tried to stay out of each other’s way as the show neared and tensions rose.
“On the morning of the concert, I got a call from one of my field producers,” said Bar-Lev. “He said, ‘We got a big problem. Paul McCartney’s crew just stole Adam Sandler from us.’ So I blew my top. I found Paul’s manager in the bowels of Madison Square Garden and we got into this big fight.
“And at some point in the middle of jabbing each other, one of us said, ‘This is stupid. We never should have been put in this position. Why are we making two films?’ And then I think I said, ‘Is it too late? Is it possible that we could join forces?’
“Long story short, we hugged and decided to make one film.”
The combined forces had 25 cameras to work with, and after the concert Bar-Lev spearheaded the post-production process. (Charlie Lightening is the co-director, while McCartney gets an executive producer credit and a lot of screen time.)
At the party following this week’s premiere at the Directors Guild on Sunset Blvd., Weinstein and Bar-Lev (above) accepted congratulations from viewers, many of them Academy members, who seemed to mention the film’s rousing concert performances and its emotional clout in equal measure.
And while the director may not have wanted any weeping victims onscreen, he apparently had a few in the audience. “I cried, and it made me want to go back to New York,” said one man as he left the theater.
“All over the country after 9/11, there was a feeling of generosity and collective destiny that evaporated in a few weeks because it was harnessed for a war,” said Bar-Lev. “And while Sandy is only comparable in certain ways, there was no war, no jingoism that could be rallied.
“This really felt to me like the spirit of New York in a very pure way. No violence, no looting, no fear, no waiting for handouts. Just everybody being creative and generous.”
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