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Tribeca: Tell us about Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie. How do you describe Morton Downey Jr. to people not familiar with him?
Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller, Jeremy Newberger: Morton Downey, Jr., was argumentative, divisive, violent—arguably the most controversial talk-show host in the history of television. Think Fox News meets the Saw franchise.
Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie examines Mort’s mind, motivation, and legacy.
Tribeca: What inspired you to tell this story? It clearly seems like a labor of love and passion. Were you fans from way back?
Kramer/Miller/Newberger: The three directors of Évocateur—Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller, and Jeremy Newberger of Ironbound Films—came of age in the suburbs of New Jersey and Long Island. Watching, discussing, and attending The Morton Downey Jr. Show was our Facebook. Jeremy even played Morton Downey Jr. Show dress-up with his high school friends. A VHS tape literally circulates.
Tribeca: Please take us through the timeline. How long have you been working on this project? And how did you gather all the archival materials?
Kramer/Miller/Newberger: Jeremy, Ironbound’s cable news junkie, hatched the idea for Évocateur in 2008. A film about the “Father of Trash Television” seemed like a much-needed break from past movies The Linguists (about linguistics) and The New Recruits (about poverty).
Daniel at first hated the idea, but after about a half-hour of Mort reminiscing, became its staunchest advocate. He tracked the show footage to media mogul Bob Pittman, the creator of The Morton Downey Jr. Show and now CEO of Clear Channel.
Seth, Ironbound’s most likable employee by far, talked Bob into licensing us the footage. We drove a U-Haul to a New Jersey storage facility, where we removed twenty years of dust from eighty boxes of tapes.
Tribeca: Downey’s prescience seems eerie: his views predated so much of what we see in politics today. What do you want audiences to take away from your film?
Kramer/Miller/Newberger: Every decade or so, another Morton Downey, Jr., breaks into the spotlight and hijacks the national dialogue. He is labeled everything from demagogue to clown.
Évocateur dissects this recurring conjurer of latent populist anger. Do we hope that the film dispels his power in the future? Maybe a little, but there’s also a big part of us that just wants to enjoy Mort’s shtick one more time.
Tribeca: You guys have worked together before. How do you divvy up the responsibilities?
Kramer/Miller/Newberger: Évocateur represents our third documentary collaboration as Ironbound. All our films aired on PBS, two were nominated for Emmys, and one premiered at Sundance.
All three of us raise money, produce, and direct. Daniel interviews and writes. Seth shoots and edits. Jeremy is VP of Zany Ideas, from doing a documentary on Mort to making it an X-rated cartoon. He is also in charge of selling it.
Tribeca: What's your advice for aspiring documentary filmmakers? Is there one particular thing you learned on Évocateur that was different from your other work?
Not to cop out of the question, but we’re having a lot of difficulty answering it without sounding like a fortune cookie. Aspiring filmmakers should feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any inquiries they may have.
Tribeca: What are you most looking forward to at the Tribeca Film Festival?
Kramer/Miller/Newberger: In 2008, our feature documentary The Linguists premiered at Sundance. We consider that our indie circumcision.
Tribeca is our indie bar mitzvah. At Tribeca, we hope to circle-dance with colleagues, friends, and family; maybe get raised in chairs; but most significantly, honor the spirit who helped make us men. We refer here not to Morton Downey, Jr., but Robert De Niro.
If we can stop the Borscht Belt bit for a moment, Tribeca 2012 is the perfect venue for Mort’s triumphant return to New York, twenty-five years after his debut in Secaucus, New Jersey. Talk about major delays in the Lincoln Tunnel! (OK, that’s definitely it.)
Tribeca: If you could have dinner with any filmmaker (alive or dead), who would it be?
Kramer/Miller/Newberger: Orson Welles, but mostly for his ability to choose a restaurant.
Tribeca: What’s your favorite New York movie?
Kramer/Miller/Newberger: Goodfellas, and we’re not just sucking up.
Tribeca: What would your biopic be called?
Kramer/Miller/Newberger: Ironbound Films: From Tribeca to World Domination.
Tribeca: What makes Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie a Tribeca must-see?
Kramer/Miller/Newberger: Before entire networks were built on populist personalities; before reality morphed into a TV genre; the masses fixated on a single, sociopathic star: controversial talk-show host Morton Downey, Jr.
Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie is a rollercoaster ride through Mort’s euphoric ascent to fame and nauseating plummet to infamy. The film stars Herman Cain, Pat Buchanan, Chris Elliott, Gloria Allred, Sally Jessy Raphael, and Alan Dershowitz. Never-before-seen footage reveals Mort’s behind-the-scenes fistfights and foibles. Animation recreates the legends of Mort that bounce between executive nightmare and schoolboy fantasy.
Frequent guest Al Sharpton refused to be interviewed for Évocateur, but the film includes shocking footage of him taped during a Morton Downey Jr. Show commercial break.