October 9, 2003

Take One

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“When you’re doing something you love, the energy just comes to you.” Filmmaker, acclaimed author of The Lost Boy, and Professor, Robert Lieberman of Cornell’s Physics department, the inspired voice behind these words, has reason to be enthusiastic after enjoying much critical adoration for his independent film Green Lights. Lieberman, whose multifaceted passions enfold the realms of world travel, science, and artistic expression, has written and directed what has been described as a “charming” and “delectable” film with a heavy local flavor. And with the long-awaited arrival of the film in Ithaca tomorrow, its success on the film festival circuit is all but certain to continue.

Lieberman ’62, MS ’65, who has had the good fortune to travel the globe, from South Asia to Egypt, from Ethiopia to Sweden, nevertheless remains devoted to Ithaca and all its effortless splendor. With this cultured upstate town as the milieu for much of his written fiction, Green Lights tells the tale of Bob Beeman, a location scout for an aspiring New York City production company. Upon his arrival in Ithaca, he is mistaken for a big-time movie producer, but when presented with an opportunity to film an appealing musical, the unwilling imposter becomes very willing indeed. What ensues is said to be intriguing and full of comedy, suspense, and musical delight.

The film’s unique aura blends imagination with authenticity. The Mayor plays himself, as do police officers, lawyers, transvestites, and literally hundreds of other locals. In fact, when word of the film reached the town two years ago, hundreds of people lined up to audition. Astonishingly to them, they would later find out that all of them had been filmed for an actual scene in the movie. Lieberman, a storyteller and candid entertainer at heart, appreciates that the most sincere cinematic moment may be an individual merely playing himself. There are real actors, though, headlined by John FitzGibbon, who plays the jovial lead role with a blend of humor and honesty, accurately portraying a man who begins to enjoy the sudden attention cast upon him.

But casting is only one part of a scrupulous process for making a film. Lieberman, of course, has been involved during every part of that process — from the writing and the pre-production to directing the film and then to the post-production and distribution. When the script for Green Lights was written a decade ago, much work still had to be done, including the accretion of funds and the search for a cinematographer and crew. Emmy Award winning filmmaker Slawomir Grunberg and musical composers Jesse Krebs and David Kent proved to be the ideal creative complements to Lieberman, and with their addition to the production, the project was finally green-lighted, so to speak. Seeing his endeavor run its course has been immensely satisfying to Lieberman, who is quick to note that, unlike his novels, the film is the product of a true collaborative effort. Lieberman’s wife Gunilla, who managed the extraordinary music composition, scoring, and dazzling dance sequences, was one of many who contributed significantly to the ambiance radiated by the film. Lieberman admits to his heart pounding while he watches the movie, as he sees it “in all its magnificence and all its flaws.”

Indeed, like any artist, Lieberman is a bit of a perfectionist but remains self-critical when appropriate. “We tried a screening with me as the main role,” he recalls, “but when I watched it, I had no choice but to fire myself!” Boundless energy was never at a shortage for the filmmaker, however, as he realized that his hours spent directing and examining endless tapes was part of a more essential creative process. “It’s the trip that’s important, not arriving,” emphasizes Lieberman. Nevertheless, the trip, full of its business and legal aspects, isn’t always easy, but it’s immensely rewarding in the end. “It’s like childbirth,” he goes on to say, “Women have multiple children only because they forget how bad it is the time before!”

Well then Lieberman, certainly not content to stop here, must have already forgotten, as additional novels and films are in the works. Lieberman, who didn’t discover his propensity for writing until he began writing letters in college, discloses, “Writing is a bad habit, the only cure for which is death.” Green Lights should be one of many successes to come, and when it opens tomorrow at Fall Creek Cinemas, its local essence is sure to delight, absorb, and inspire viewers much like Robert Lieberman was inspired so many years ago.


Archived article by Avash Kalra

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