8 QUESTIONS FOR
POIN T RE YES
In Marin / CURRENTS
It seems fitting to shine the light on West Marin filmmaker John Korty this month, as he was
an honoree at the very first Mill Valley Film Festival back in 1978. An award-winning director
and documentary filmmaker, the 78-year-old Korty has enjoyed an impressive 60-year
career creating everything from live-action animation films to features and
made-for-TV movies. He is also credited with inspiring the young directors
Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas to make films here in the Bay
Area. When he’s not working on film projects from his home in Point
Reyes Station, Korty can be found on Tomales Bay in his recently refinished 14-foot
classic Whitehall rowboat. MARC HERSHON
1Why a Whitehall? The Whitehalls were used as water taxis in New York Harbor in the olden days when passenger ships would come in and they’d take people to shore. I
saw this beautiful boat at a boat show in Sausalito and asked
the builder, Ray Speck, if he’d build one for me too.
2How was that first festival? I thought it was great, espe- cially because we lived in Homestead Valley and could
walk to all the programs. It was an honor to have three or four
films featured. Little did I know what Mark Fishkin was planning and what he would make it into.
3Can you share a few specific memories from your 1977 Oscar win for directing Who Are the DeBolts? And
Where Did They Get Nineteen Kids? The moment when I won
the Oscar, I was in a New York hotel room, folding my underwear. I was directing a film for Paramount and we were in the
middle of shooting. A day of shooting back then was $50,000,
so even for the Academy Awards we couldn’t afford to shut
down just so I could fly to Los Angeles for a day.
4What was special about The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman? Miss Jane Pittman was a two-hour TV movie
(three years before Roots) based on a book about a black
woman born into slavery. I think the mid-’70s were the best
time to make these types of movies; it seemed the audience
and sponsors were interested in quality. We had 50 million
people watch the first night on air and Xerox, our sponsor, gave
up two of its commercial spots to let us have enough time.
5When did you come to Marin? I came out from Brooklyn Heights, New York, in the winter of 1963, and landed
in Stinson Beach. So I’ve been in Marin since the beginning.
I worked out of the house for a while, then rented a studio
space in the center of Stinson Beach that’s now that surf shop
that sells clothes and so forth.
6How did you make films here in Marin early on? We did everything in that
studio. We put up plywood walls to make
offices and that’s what Francis Ford Coppola
and George Lucas saw when they came out
to look at my setup in 1969. Coppola saw all
the equipment we had going and said, “If you
can do it, we can do it.” And the next week we were
looking for a place for American Zoetrope.
7In retrospect, what are your favorite projects? You’re asking me to choose my favorite children.
But if I have to, The DeBolts was a special project. I
thought it would be a home run right away, but every
network turned it down, saying that people didn’t
want to watch a story about handicapped kids. But
Charlie Haid from Hill Street Blues saw it and said I
should show it to Henry Winkler. He loved it, called
the president of ABC at home and said, “You have
to put this film on the air.” And that did it. Then a film
nobody knows much about is one I did for the American
Short Story Series, based on John Updike’s The Music
School. Strange story — I only had one line of dialogue in
eight pages. It was a very special cinematic challenge. And
Crazy Quilt still works very well — I’m still selling copies of
the movie after 48 years.
8Are you still pursuing projects? Oh, yes! Like everybody in the business, I’ve got a drawer full of scripts and ideas.
I think my next project is going to be called Older, Wiser, Alive
and Kicking. It’s a documentary about active seniors. So much
stuff that’s being made about seniors is all about death, and
disease, and medical histories, and insurance. There’s just
an awful lot more to being a senior citizen. M