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Daddy Dearest

Safdie brothers’ latest film comes to Boston

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Benny (left) and Josh Safdie, in their Soho loft. Photo by Joshua Paul

For young filmmakers and COM grads Josh and Benny Safdie, things started to heat up two years ago when The Pleasure of Being Robbed, their 71-minute chronicle of the wanderings of a beautiful young kleptomaniac, was the only American-made feature shown at the Cannes Film Festival Directors’ Fortnight. Then last year, Go Get Some Rosemary, their most ambitious project, premiered at Cannes. Now that largely autobiographical film about two weeks shared by a clueless, egomaniacal, and loving father and his two young children has been released under the title Daddy Longlegs.

In a Bostonia interview last year, the brothers explained the movie’s difficult birth. “It started as a kind of amassment of four years of thoughts and scenes that we had scribbled in notebooks,” said Josh (COM’07). “We knew there was a project called Go Get Some Rosemary, and we knew there was this guy and these two kids, and maybe there was this love that was on and off.”

After trying and failing to write a script in New York City’s Soho, where they live, the brothers tried plan B. “We went upstate and rented a little room and just copied down every relevant note,” Josh said. “We had what would have been 12 or 13 hours of movies, and we edited it right on the page. We never did write a script — we just had a 40-page story with dialogue.”

“We had to bend the rules a little,” said Benny (COM’08).

“I actually think things would have gone better if we did have a script,” admitted Josh. “But I still think this movie has been a great success personally.”

Like most of the Safdies’ work, Daddy Longlegs was made with help from the tight-knit crew at Red Bucket Films, a BU-bred clutch of filmmakers that includes Brett Jutkiewicz (COM’06), Sam Lisenco (COM’06), and Zachary Treitz (COM’07). It opens tonight at the Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square, where it will play for the next week. Josh and Bennie Safdie will speak at the 7 p.m. showing tonight, May 20, and tomorrow, May 21.

BU Today spoke earlier this week with Benny Safdie about the making of Daddy Longlegs and its success.

BU Today: What is Daddy Longlegs about?
Safdie:
It’s about the two weeks the kids have with their father every year, and how he can barely hold himself together for two week, because his life is torn apart. It’s also about the beautifulness of irresponsibility and about the ugliness of irresponsibility.

How did your parents respond to the film?
My father and mother both watched it, but they didn’t see it together. He was very moved by it. When he saw it, he said he was sorry, but he also saw that we were trying to understand what a hard place he was in. He could feel us trying to understand that and that he loves us. My mother saw it, and she saw the fact that we were critical as a vindication of what she had been trying to tell us.

At what point does the character move away from your father and become his own person?
The character is our father, but the Lenny person is also part Josh and part me and part actor Ronnie Bronstein. It’s a conglomerate of people, and that makes it much more interesting.

Was making the film cathartic?
Yes. It was cathartic for us. That’s because we felt we were losing touch with our memories, and we wanted to recapture the essence of them. What we were doing was trying to re-create the emotions we had felt many years ago. The only way you can do that is with a fictionalization. At one point we were both crying and forcing each other to finish the cut, tapping this great well of emotions.

So you’re saying that fictionalizing your life made it real?
It’s very strange, but when you fictionalize something it becomes more true.

How did Daddy Longlegs do in New York?
In New York it did really well and the IFC Center was super-psyched and extended it another week. This is a really big deal for us.

Are you excited about seeing your film at the Brattle?
Definitely. We are so excited to play the Brattle. I always go there and to have a film playing there is awesome.

What’s next for the Safdies?
We are working on a film about the Diamond District.

Daddy Longlegs plays Thursday, May 20, through Thursday, May 27, at the Brattle Theatre, 40 Brattle St., Harvard Square, Cambridge.

Art Jahnke can be reached at jahnke@bu.edu.

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