Philippe Boucher's Rendez Vous: Torrie Rosenzweig
Director and Film Producer
Rendez-vous with . . . Torrie Rosenzweig
Los Angeles, California
By Philippe Boucher
Monday, January 15 , 2001
PB: Thank you Torrie for accepting our rendez-vous.
May I ask you to introduce yourself?
Torrie Rosenzweig: My name is Torrie Rosenzweig and I am a director and producer and have worked in the film industry for the past 12 years. My involvement in documentary films started about five years ago and I mostly have worked in the area of historic documentaries. After working on "Biography" for A&E for a couple years I decided to make a change and that's when The American Lung Association contacted me to discuss making a film on tobacco. At first I was reluctant to get involved -- I wasn't sure there was anything new to say -- but my father who was then a board member of the ALA asked me to do some budget work and a little research and I found I was shocked and fascinated by the history of the cigarette. There is so much manipulation and deception by the tobacco industry and as a former smoker I was shocked at how little I truly knew about tobacco and the industry. I took the project on and have met and worked with some amazing people in the tobacco control community. I am pleased when people in that community contact me and say the film is well done. I think one thing that I've seen from screening this film is that there really is a lot of film and information out there on tobacco but a lot of it is for kids, Smoke and Mirrors is for young adults and adults ... they need reminders and education too.
Q1. Can you tell us about the history of making Smoke and Mirrors, the rationale behind such a project, how long it took?
T R: By the time I came on board there had been many years of discussion on what types of films or TV projects The American Lung association wanted to make. The board of the Lung Association was going to get an educational grant from one of their corporate friends and they brought me in to discuss documentaries. I pitched them the idea of making a film on the history of the deception inside the tobacco industry and the ways the industry promoted itself and it's product with movies, advertising and public relations. Dr. Linda Ford, then the president of The American Lung Association really got behind the idea and was instrumental in making it happen, seeing that the money was raised, that all the approvals were set, etc. Without Linda Ford and her energy this film would not have been made. Of course once the money came through they wanted it as soon as possible. Historic films are hard to do quickly, but we finished it in about ten months and then we screened it at the Lung Associations annual conference.
Q2. The film has received several awards and has been aired in various festivals. Has it been aired on TV yet? How difficult is it for such an independently produced documentary to be aired on TV?
T R: The film has played in many festivals and the awards have been really helpful in getting good press. When the film was named as a finalist for Best Documentary for the Academy Awards in 2000 we had a lot of interest and were able to get educational distribution for the film. It's been hard on the television front because PBS seems to be shy about taking on films done with money from one source, they think that means it's unbalanced ... which many films are, but they are still worth watching. I'm still working on a television air-date. We are hoping POV on PBS will accept it. We'll find a home for it on television eventually, but yes, it's been a hard road ... but it's worth the work.
Q3. The video is now distributed by Pyramid, do you know how many copies (videos) have been already sold or given away? What are the recipients? Schools, libraries, local anti-tobacco groups? Do you have any idea how many people have seen it?
T R: I can't say how many people have seen it. Obviously a television air-date would give us our largest audience and that's why we continue working towards that end. But once again, Dr. Linda Ford made sure there were funds to give away free copies on VHS for more than a year. I'm sure we have given away over 1000 copies of it at this point, mostly to schools and libraries. Now that we have an educational distributor they have been selling it and have cut it into two parts making it more useful for school classrooms. I also go around and lecture with the film and that has been really interesting. The Q&A at the lectures and screenings are always filled with passion. I think we have been lucky that Smoke and Mirrors has helped articulate and show that it is appropriate to be angry at the industry.
Q4. How much impact do you think such a documentary can have? Should more of them be produced? what about co-producing with TV channels (to ensure TV airing?)? is such co-producing rare?
T R: It's hard to gauge how much impact a documentary really has. Some people really have loved Smoke and Mirrors and have used it in their classes and their hospitals or shown it to friends. I get calls all the time from film makers asking me where I found a certain clip or asking me to help them with their smoking film. There are a lot of films and other media projects being done (or done already) on tobacco. Last year two documentaries played on television which were similar to Smoke and Mirrors. I think some people feel the marketplace is saturated with material and other people feel there isn't enough. The thing about a well made documentary is that it has a life that is longer than anyone expects. I hope Smoke and Mirrors falls into that category. When we screened the film in SF at the Roxy Theater the owner told me he thinks it will be around and worth watching for years. It may even have a bigger run in a few years if the industry still keeps on with their deceptive ways. Of course it would be wonderful if that doesn't happen. In answer to your other question: yes a co-production, or a pre-sale may help ensure a television air-date, but they aren't really buying films on tobacco right now. My father Barney (he was the executive producer on the film) tried to sell a television version of Smoke and Mirrors before starting production -- no one bought it. I'm so pleased The American Lung Association said let's just go ahead and make a film anyway and see what happens. Even if Smoke and Mirrors never airs on television, I can tell you just having watched the audiences who have seen Smoke and Mirrors ... it has impacted them. People are glad we made it.
Q5. I understand the film's subtitle, a history of denial, but why the title Smoke and Mirrors? You interviewed many people, anybody who especially recall?
T R: Dr. Linda Ford liked the title and we had been throwing around SMOKESCREEN but everything antismoking has that title, so we went with the same feeling with Smoke and Mirrors. In terms of people who were memorable: I guess I would have to say Surgeon General Davis Satcher was very impressive. He didn't make it into much of the film -- sometimes even a great interview just doesn't edit well into what you have or it is a different answer than you need -- But he was so smart and committed to helping people understand the dangers of tobacco. We really had a great list of people we interviewed. That's always the best part. Hearing the stories of the people who have worked so hard on these issues. I guess it's hard to forget Stan Glantz ... he was terrific.
PB: Thank you Torrie for taking the time to be with us today.
Nota: Smoke and Mirrors is now available via Pyramid Media http://www.pyramidmedia.com
They also still distribute Peter Taylor's classic DEATH IN THE WEST.
Rendez-vous is supported by a contract from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
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