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A ‘town hall’ with a film director

Sitting through a press conference with director Alfonso Cuarón following his lovely film Roma

A ‘town hall’ with a film director

Alfonso Cuarón and actress Yalitza Aparicio working on Roma. (Carlos Somonte/Netflix)

A New York moment: 

Last week I sat in a press conference with Alfonso Cuarón, one of my favorite directors, who discussed his new film Roma (see end of column). These film festival press conferences are always a mixed bag, sort of like a town hall meeting. There are sincere and ridiculous questions—I remember one member of the press last year asked a director what the “takeaway” from his movie was. People also stand up and make statements that are not questions as much as an attempt to impress whichever famous person is in the room.

Roma, a wonderful film, retells Cuarón’s childhood in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City through the eyes of the family servant. Cuarón and two of the lead actors showed up to answer questions after the screening. About halfway through the press conference, one man stood up and asked, “Why is it called Roma?” 

“Roma is the name of where the story takes place,” replied Cuarón, with good humor. As the microphone went to the next question, the questioner stood up and left the press conference, apparently with his only query about the film satisfied. 

My question that I didn’t get to ask was about the role of religion in Cuarón’s childhood. One shot in the film shows a Buddha statue on a bookshelf, but the grandmother prays Catholic prayers over members of the household. If any readers know of good resources on Cuarón’s religious upbringing, drop me a line. 

His film Children of Men includes overt Christian references, but he concluded that film as well as Roma with the Sanskrit phrase, “Shantih, Shantih, Shantih.” That’s the final line from T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land.

Worth your time:  

Meth is making a comeback, but it is getting less attention in the midst of the opioid crisis. 

This week I learned: 

Some people with blindness have a subconscious “seeing.” In a 2013 study of a blind patient with a destroyed visual cortex, researchers showed him pictures of people looking directly at him or averting their gaze. Researchers noted an eightfold increase in brain activity in his amygdala, the part of the brain that processes emotions, when they showed him a picture of someone looking directly at him.

Walker Percy wrote in Lost in the Cosmos: “Why is it that the look of another person looking at you is different from everything else in the Cosmos? … Why is it that one can look at a lion or a planet or an owl or at someone’s finger as long as one pleases, but looking into the eyes of another person is, if prolonged past a second, a perilous affair?”

A court case you might not know about: 

Imbler v. Pachtman, a 1976 U.S. Supreme Court case that gave prosecutors immunity from civil liability when they commit misconduct like suppressing exculpatory evidence. I came across this case in reading a Wall Street Journal column by John Grisham (yes, that John Grisham) about New York’s new commission that will punish prosecutor misconduct. The commission, the first of its kind in the country, came to be through rare bipartisan agreement.

In most places around the country, prosecutors face few consequences for blatant misconduct, like hiding evidence that would help the accused. Those instances are rare, but now when they happen in New York, prosecutors will face some consequences.

Culture I am consuming: 

Roma, Cuarón’s new film, will be out in theaters in December before hitting Netflix. The film is so achingly good I wanted to run through a brick wall after I saw it—if you know the sort of feeling I mean.

Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback at ebelz@wng.org