Filming His Refusenik Father’s Doppelganger
Writer/director Arie Posin is standing in the lobby of the Paley Center for Media in midtown Manhattan, not far from the red carpet and a dozen or so photographers. Everyone is waiting for Annette Bening and Ed Harris. The two star in Posin’s “The Face of Love” and have come to New York for a post-screening Q&A with media, friends, family and anyone else who can score a ticket.
“The Face of Love” is the kind of small, independent film that, in the face of competition from Superman and Batman, frequently escapes media attention. But Posin doesn’t escape our fascination.
His parents were refusniks lucky enough to get out of Russia and make it to Israel, where Posin was born. Then there was his uncle, Leon Lerman, the famed Russian Yiddish poet. Moreover, his grandmother is seven generations removed from the Baal Shem Tov. On top of all that, the idea for his movie came from his own mother.
“A few years after my father passed away my mother was at a crosswalk outside the Los Angeles County Museum of Art when she looked up and saw a man who looked very much like him. She told me: ‘A very funny thing happened to me today. I saw a man walking toward me who was a perfect double for your father.’ I asked her, ‘What did you do?’ She said, ‘I just stopped in the middle of the road. He had a big smile on his face as he walked toward me and it just felt so nice.’”
That encounter became the basis for Posin’s film, which opened in New York and Los Angeles March 7 and opens in additional cities in the coming weeks.
Posin spoke to the Forward about how that incident sparked his imagination, his family history and, most important, his mother’s reaction to the film.
Curt Schleier: What was your reaction when your mother told you that story?
Arie Posin: It inspired me. That’s really the best way I can put it. I asked myself, what if I wanted to find that guy? How would I do it? And once I found him, what would that be like? And as I start to imagine that, the story naturally begins to grow. And when I brought in my co-writer [Matthew McDuffie] it became this exciting, suspenseful situation. For me, when I find a subject that works on a number of different levels, I can’t explain it, that’s the energy that fuels me to keep going. “Face of Love” just seemed to move me and excite me.
You’ve directed one other feature, “The Chumscrubber,” which was certainly not a financial success. How were you able to attract such a top notch cast, including also Robin Williams, Jess Weixler and Amy Brenneman?
My experience is that great actors want to act. I would say the most common criteria they have is, number one, above all else, is the screenplay and the characters. If the story and the characters appeal to them, then they want to meet the director. They read the script. We got together and liked each other. The great actors want to work. They seek out roles that are complex and challenging and interesting to them. I’m attracted to the same qualities in a story as actors. But the challenge of these movies is really around raising the financing, even with actors as fine and renowned as these. We had one strike against us because this is a drama and drama is a bad word in Hollywood. It’s also a love story and it didn’t help that the story starred a couple of people over the age of 25.
Now the toughest question: What did mom think?
My mom is impressed when I address an envelope. She says, “Oh my God. No one has ever addressed an envelope as good as this.” She loves the movie, though her reaction is not entirely objective. She loves film. My father was a director [in the Soviet Union] and the two had written scripts together. She told me, “Annette’s performance reaches deep into my soul.”
Your family is fascinating. You father was a dissident who spent six years in a labor camp.
There was a window of time where [my parents] and a group of friends applied for an exit visa. They seized the moment. It was a group, writers and creative people and they all applied. My parents were fortunate to get a visa, and very soon after they left, the gate swung closed behind them again. But when they got on the plane in Moscow, they didn’t know if they were flying to a labor camp in Siberia or to Jerusalem as promised. When they landed, the first thing they said was take us to the Wailing Wall where they sat down and announced a hunger strike [to support dissidents still stuck behind the Iron Curtain].
But your mother was eight months pregnant at the time, with you, right?
Yes. An old man who used to come to pray at the wall told her “You can’t do this. You have an unborn child.” She held out for as long as she could. One evening, she went home with him and he cut her this yellow fruit. She asked him what it was. A grapefruit. She’d never seen a grape fruit before.
Your family ultimately came to the U.S. via Canada. While film was central to your family’s life, your dad discouraged you from going into the business.
Yes, he dissuaded me from pursuing it as a career. He said you need to be a doctor or a lawyer. I was a chemistry major in college; I had a talent for it. But a next door neighbor in my dorm was a film student and I started going to his classes for fun. I knew all the movies and it was there, in college, that I discovered that there was actually a place called a film school. In my innocence and naiveté, it wasn’t until much later that I learned how hard this business is.