Prof. Annette Insdorf on Films, Filmmakers and Film History

Prof. Annete Insdorf is a teacher, author, film historian and an interviewer. She teaches at Columbia University and prior to that she taught at Yale University. To say that Prof. Insdorf is consumed by films is an understatement. She got hooked to films as a graduate student at Yale University and her love for films grew and today she typically watches about 400 films a year. 

We caught up with Prof. Insdorf at the 2018 San Francisco International Film Festival. She received  the Mel Novikoff Award from filmmaker Philip Kaufman about whom she has written extensively. In this wide ranging interview we talk to Prof. Insdorf about her fascination with films, her books, film critics like Andrew Sarris and Pauline Kael and the formative influence of her parents.

We begin our conversation with Dr. Insdorf’s interview series at Manhattan’s 92Y. Her conversation with the guests starts  something like this: A couple of questions, and a few other questions and then questions from the audience.”  Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Day-Lewis, Meryl Streep are some of the guests she has interviewed at 92Y. She says “I know people have come to hear the guests and not me…I really ask questions about the process.” 

Since Prof. Insdorf asks her guests about their process  andI wondered what her process of preparation was? How does she prepare for her interviews?  How does she keep her notes? Does she archive her notes?

We then spoke  about her latest book “Cinematic Overtures: How to Read Opening Scenes” and why and how she came to write the book. Opening scenes in films offer cues and often make you more aware of the narrative and the emotional tone of the film she says. 

How did Prof Insdorf’s interest and study of film begin yields a fascinating answer. Naturally, the next big question to explore was the role of film critics and who influenced her on this subject. Apparently film critic and teacher Sarris had a lot more influence on her than film critic Kael. Reviews of Sarris influenced her thinking and she ended up being his colleague at Columbia University she shares.

Finally we spoke about the formative influences of her parents. “Professionally I take after my mother …am over prepated and highly structured,” replies Dr. Insdorf. “From my father I learn the ability to let it go … and be lenient to people ….and also not be quite so hard on myself,” she adds. “Enjoy your life,”was her father’s constant advice to her. She is clearly enjoying her life pursuing her passion and dedication on films, filmmakers and film stars.

This interview with Prof Annette Insdorf aired on TV in the US.

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