Directing Rhoda: the Arts of Living


TYPE
: Documentary Feature
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Pre-Production

LOGLINE

At 85, director and choreographer Rhoda Levine struggles to understand her legacy and finds it lives on in the careers of those she has guided.

SYNOPSIS

Directing Rhoda: the Arts of Living explores the life-work of stage and television director, Rhoda Levine. 60-years behind the scenes, she has had a profound impact on the performing arts. Reflecting back on her distinguished career at age 85, Rhoda struggles to understand what it means to leave a legacy.

ARTISTIC STATEMENT

Directing Rhoda: the Arts of Living joins a class of recent documentaries about true breakers of the mold, some little known outside their spheres of influence. Films such as Seymour: An Introduction, a portrait of Seymour Bernstein, a classical pianist who stopped performing to teach; Bill Cunningham New York about the idiosyncratic New York Times fashion photographer; and Casting By, a biography of the unsung but powerful Hollywood casting director, Marion Dougherty. All impactful life stories that begged to be told. An engaging documentary could be made by simply having Rhoda Levine recount stories of her exceptional career directing opera, theater and television. Footage of her archived correspondence, annotated scores, libretti, performance notes, and audio/visual recordings would add context and depth. And because she worked intimately with some of the great artists of the second half of the twentieth century – from Luchino Visconti to Doris Lessing, from Beverly Sills to Edward Gorey and Philip Glass – Rhoda does not lack for riveting stories of artists at work. Or play. However, Directing Rhoda: the Arts of Living uses such anecdotes and archival materials as springboards to grapple with the existential impulse to leave a legacy. This is brought to high relief for Rhoda who has seen many of her leonine colleagues pass on. Living alone with no descendants, she finds herself questioning the choices she has made. So, in Act One we unpack Rhoda’s charmed, secular Jewish upbringing and follow her into the prime of her creative, extraordinarily collaborative life. As her cat Jeoffrey acts as docent, wandering from one memento to another in her cluttered home, we watch as Rhoda revisits and reflects upon the artistic successes she has experienced during her distinguished career. In Act Two of the film, Rhoda walks, talks and dines with some of the cultural titans whom she has directed - or with whom she has collaborated. Facing their own thoughts of mortality and legacy, they share stories and reflect back on their great work together. These exuberant conversations, each a master class in creative fulfillment, nevertheless leave a whiff of melancholy behind. We return periodically to Rhoda’s home, the visible heart and mind of her life that, nevertheless, does not offer the solace of knowing what of one’s life will meaningfully survive. But, in the documentary’s Last Act, watching Rhoda at work, teaching her jazz class at the Manhattan School of Music, she revels in the joy she has seeing her young students blossom. It is in the last moments of the film when we hear a former student and accomplished mezzo-soprano call her “Rhoda the Great” that we, and Rhoda, know her legacy lies in the lasting artistic impact she has had. Manifest in the creative lives she helped build, in the careers she continues to nurture. For the last shot, the camera looks up at her window as her answering machine message plays: “Please repeat your message twice as this is a temperamental answering machine.”

KEY CREW

David D. Williams - Writer, Director, Producer

David returns to the first love of his life: filmmaking. A graduate of Northwestern University with a B.S. in Communications, David pursued a post-graduate curriculum in Cinema Studies at the Tisch School of Arts at New York University, having also studied French cinema in Paris through Tulane University’s Hermes School of Communications. A seasoned media executive in New York, David has created marketing and strategic campaigns for companies such as Ziff-Davis, The American Journal of Nursing (where he developed a loyalty-based catalog division), The Editor & Publisher Company and Primedia. A frequent industry speaker, he taught at the New York University Center for Publishing and has served on a number of New York City association and nonprofit boards. As President of DYLAN MARKENG/NEW YORK, a full-service marketing and communications agency, he created branding campaigns for a diverse client base. Accounts included Gilda’s Club of New York City; The Nation; The Jewish Museum of Boca Raton; Lighting&Sound America, among others. A dynamic and creative team leader, David focused the core competencies of the agency on re-branding and new product launches. Most recently, David served for seven years as Executive Director of the Carl Schurz Park Conservancy, the oldest parks conservancy in New York City. Now retained in a consulting role for the nonprofit, he writes a column on important Upper East Siders for OUR TOWN, a Strauss Media publication. For the past 18 months he has been researching, writing and marshalling the crew for “the RHODA project”, his first documentary film.

Ann Meschery - Producer

Ann holds the Position of Director of In-Park Events with New York City’s Carl Schurz Park Conservancy. In this capacity she is responsible for producing the Summer Sounds Concert Series, Sunset Film Festival, Gracie Square Art Show and the Holiday Tree Lighting and Caroling Celebration. From 2001 till 2008 Ms. Meschery was General Manager of the American Russian Youth Orchestra (ARYO), a cross-cultural collaboration with Russia. Prior to that, her lengthy career in advertising included senior positions with Campbell Media Alliance, Bates Worldwide and McCann-Erickson, among others. Politically active throughout her life, she served on a number of New York and California campaigns, in both staff and volunteer leadership capacities, and was a member and past President of The Metropolitan Republican Club. She served two terms on Manhattan’s Community Board 8. She has participated, for 25 years, with the New York City Opera Volunteer Corps and is a past President. For ten years she served on the Board of Directors of Opera Volunteers International, an organization that provides resources and mentoring to opera company volunteers. On the OVI Board she was Director of Governmental Affairs and Strategic Planning. She holds a certificate in Arts Administration from New York University.

Lisa Gossels - Consulting Producer

 Lisa Gossels is an Emmy® Award-winning social issue documentarian whose films The Children of Chabannes and My So-Called Enemy have screened at 100 film festivals and garnered twenty awards and honors. The Children of Chabannes, which aired on HBO Signature and local PBS Stations, has been praised as “One of the most heartening Holocaust films ever made–splendid, informative and emotionally involving,” (Los Angeles Times) My So-Called Enemy, which aired on the WORLD Channel in the ITVS-curated “Global Voices” series, has been cited as “A provocative, balanced film that offers unexpected hope for resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” (Washington City Paper) Lisa became a documentarian because she believes in the power of film to effect social change. Beyond her documentary work, Lisa produces advocacy, promotional and educational videos for non-profits and corporations through her New York City-based company, Good Egg Productions. She consults documentarians on all aspects of filmmaking - from pre-production through distribution and outreach. Lisa has served as a Juror for the News & Documentary Emmy Awards, The Cleveland International Film Festival, The Ivy Film Festival and The Woodstock Festival – and is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Brown University.

Ramsey Fendall - Director of Photography

 An accomplished documentary and commercial director of photography, Ramsey was the director of photography on Ethan Hawke’s Seymour: An Introduction (2014). Other films include Death of a Pop Star (2013); BAM 150 (2012); and Works of Art (2010).

 

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ACCOLADES

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IFP Fiscal Sponsorship Program 2017

 

UPDATE - July 24, 2017

 Released for viewing, and available at left, the fundaraisng trailer for DIRECTING RHODA: THE ARTS OF LIVING, was written and directed by DAVID D. WILLIAMS, with the folloiwng seasoned and collaborative crew:

  • RAMSEY FENDALL Director of Photography
  • MARGARET SCLAFANI Assistant Cameraperson
  • BAROS A. KAYNAK Sound
  • JOSH MELROD Editor

UPDATE - July 24, 2017

 The fundraising trailer for DIRECTING RHODA: THE ARTS OF LIVING was completed in early May, 2017, and premiered at New York's legendary Players Club. The occasion was the 85th birthday celebration of the subjecdt of the documentary, RHODA LEVINE.

Attended by close to 80 close friends of Rhoda, as well as supporters and funders for the film, the moving celebration and premiere was enlivened by guest performances by former students,  ANNA TONNA, mezzo-soprano, and JULIE SALVAS, soprano, accompanied on the piano by EMILY MANZO. As well as written tributes from MARC SCORCA, President/CEO of Opera America, and CAROL E. DOMINA. 

UPDATE - May 17, 2017

We're thrilled that we've been profiled in a case study on how to fund a first-time documentary on DESKTOP DOCUMENTARIES. Please give it a read:

www.desktop-documentaries.com/documentary-fundraising-case-study-david-williams.html 

 

UPDATE - May 15, 2017

Director David D. Williams and his crew, D.P. Ramsey Fendall, Assistant Cameraperson Margo Sclafani and Sound Technician Baros Kaynak, commenced shooting DIRECTING RHODA in late February. Invading her Greenwich Village apartment, the crew began the rewarding journey of exploring Rhoda's uncommon life in the rarified and extraordinary upper atmosphere of opera, theater and... children's literature. The results have been edited, by Josh Melrod, into a six minute trailer that will premiere at a fundraising launch at New York's legendary Players Club on Rhoda's 85th birthday June 15, 2017.

 

 

 

 

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