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Stephen Silha

Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton
Originally Published for its World Premiere at SXSW 2013

James Broughton's remarkable story spans a lifetime of acclaim for his joyous experimental films and poetry celebrating the human body, finding his soulmate at age 61 and finally, his ascendancy as a revered bard of sexual liberation.


Hi Stephen, thanks for talking to The New Current, how has your New Year been so far?


It's an amazing year - it's the Centennial of James Broughton's birth, and we're planning a series of events and inspirations to celebrate. We just had one in San Francisco where we showed Broughton's film TESTAMENT, had poetry readings and performance and showed a clip from our film.  


Your first film, "Big Joy", is getting its World Premiere at this years SXSW Film Festival, what was it like when you got the news you had been selected?


Incredible. We knew the film would have its own life, and where better than to premiere at SXSW, in Austin, where “weird” is part of the local culture?  I was overjoyed!


How did the film come to life?


What a process! I thought at first I would write a book about Broughton, but I realized since he made 23 experimental films, it had to be a film!  His images will attract people to this film - and who doesn't want to learn about joy?  Also, I met this amazing animator from Vancouver BC, Michael Mann, and I thought we should animate some Broughton poetry.


When were you first introduced to James Broughton?


I first saw his films in the late 1970s at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  I was entranced.  Then, 10 years later, I met him and his partner, Joel, at a Radical Faerie gathering in Oregon.  We were assigned to the same cabin!


What was it about James Broughton work that resonated with you? 


First of all, he was the most lively 75-year-old I'd ever met.  When I heard his poetry, I thought it was kind of silly until I listened more closely.  His mixture of spirituality, sensuality, humour, and self-awareness was astounding.  


How influential has Broughton been on your life?


He became a friend and mentor, with a huge influence in encouraging me to "follow my own weird,"  to look at life as "adventure, not predicament."


If you were to introduce Broughton's work to a newbie what would you recommend?


Depends on the person.  I'd say either of his collected works of poetry, SPECIAL DELIVERIES or PACKING UP FOR PARADISE would let you experience him firsthand.  Also, poet Jack Foley has edited the best cross-section of his work in an anthology called ALL: A JAMES BROUGHTON READER. That includes his poetry, a play, his journals, his musings on his films, and pieces of his autobiography COMING UNBUTTONED.


What were your biggest challenges in making the film?


An overwhelming wealth of material!  We left lots of side stories on the cutting room floor.  We did 37 interviews, but only used about 21.  Then there was the expense of making a film - I had no idea.  Getting the rights to use archival film and images is time-consuming and expensive.  And we've always seen this as a multi-media project, so there's always a raft of things that need to be done yesterday.


You have co-directed this with Eric Slade, what was it like working with Eric?


Eric is a storytelling wizard, and he and I learned a lot from each other in this process.  At first, I was the producer and he was director, but as the project evolved it turned out both of us were producing and directing.  I couldn't have done it without him.  He's also incredibly funny - even in hard situations, he can make me laugh.


Were you both on the same page when it came to telling the story of James Broughton's incredible life?


Yes and no.  I probably would have made a more surreal, poetic film - but it would not have been as accessible or as good.  Again, it was hard deciding what to cut out.


What do you think Broughton's lasting legacy is?


His work.  His ability to express the contradictions of life in a humorous, simple way. 

How did you get into filmmaking has this always been a passion?


I’ve always loved film.  But I’m relatively illiterate cinematically.  When I realized his 23 films offer the chance to tell his story in a more fun, complete way, I knew we could get his work out to many more people in film than in writing.

"At first, I was the producer and he was director, but as the project evolved it turned out both of us were producing and directing."

Stephen Silha BIG JOY 1.jpg

What was the first film you saw that made you want to get into filmmaking?


When I saw CABARET, I thought, wow, I'd love to try that someday, but that was more an idle thought.  When I saw MAN ON WIRE, I realized documentaries can be gripping and soul-baring.


Documentaries can pose some of the most challenging films to make how did you ensure you were able to still tell the story you wanted to tell?


I have a background in journalism, so we started researching and ended up doing over 40 interviews, most of them on film. Then we realized we didn't really want a talking-heads doc and we discovered the gold mine of James Broughton's journals which he kept from age 13 until he died. Those allowed us to let James tell more of his own story.


What do you hope people will take away from your film?


Inspiration. A desire to "follow your weird," which means being on your creative edge while also being true to your life's purpose.


What has been the best advice you have been given?


Broughton's own advice to filmmakers: WHEN IN DOUBT, CUT!


And finally, what would be the best advice you would give a fellow filmmaker?


Pay attention to your creative team. Listen. Weave in the best ideas. And sleep on things before making rash decisions.

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