'Film Hawk' Reflects on Bob Hawk's Life Well-Lived Through American independent Cinema

Bob Hawk is the Pierre Rissient of American Independent Films. Pierre was for French cinema what Bob is to American independent cinema. When he discovered a film and told Cannes about it, Cannes programmed it. Those who know Pierre and those who know Bob know that their influence cannot be quantified by the number of films they have fostered in one way or another. Bob’s influence extends in innumerable ways throughout the independent film world. Independent films are Bob Hawk's life, and now his life is an independent film.

After the thrill of watching the documentary “Film Hawk” by Jj Garvine and Tai Parquet whose first, ever-so-shocking film “Keeping the Peace” in 2009 was about the brutal and first such beheading in Iraq, I was whisked off to lunch with Bob and the filmmakers Jj Garvine and Tai Parquet. It seemed as if our lunch were a continuation of the film, so alive and vivid was the film and so full of references and ideas was our conversation.

We immediately began a non-stop talk of passionate love for movies. Bob showed me the tee shirt he wore just for our lunch, a Filmmaker Magazine tee from the early days when Indiewire’s offices were upstairs in the Filmmaker offices. In all the scenes of this film, his tee shirts are remarkable for titles he primarily has worked on or been somehow attached to. He must have hundreds of such mementos of his life.

So how did you make this film? I finally asked, because even if this is “the usual sort of question we get” according to Jj, it is really of interest to me.

Jj and Tai ‘s first film, “Keeping The Peace”, premiered and won the Audience Award at the 2009 Philadelphia Independent Film Festival and went on to be selected for the PBS Pov "United States of Documentaries” series. They are often indistinguishable themselves in their simultaneously answering questions or commenting on the talk. “We decided to make this movie on the day before his 74th birthday when we all went to the IFC Center in New York to see the Spalding Gray movie by Steven Soderbergh. We had a three hour dinner and learned so much about Bob. We then met Soderbergh. Going home we thought his life would make a great story. We knew him because he helped us with our film ‘Keeping the Peace’ but we had never talked about anything but the movie at that time. We said to him, ‘What if we made a short about your life?’ He said ‘What?’ And that was it.

Film Hawk” itself is a broad swatch of a life well-lived with honesty and integrity. Surrounded by loving family and friends – although he and his brother as boys fought hard and often with each other as they grew up in very different ways. Bob veered toward art and his brother toward sports. Bob knew at an early age he was gay but his brother was strictly sports and girls. They were the sons of a minister, a minister who preached love. Their mother was a copy editor and proofreader – initially of insurance documents -- and Bob credits her with his own love for editing and proofreading. He proofread auction catalogs and the Sharper Image catalog at one point in his life.

Bob: “My mother, who lived to be 97, was a proofreader to the end. She edited and proofed the monthly newsletter of the home in which she lived in good health until she died. In fact, she proofread the April edition of the home’s newsletter, the very month she died.”

He did not like having to be the exemplary son of a minister and he had a stutter. At one point, hearing his father’s oratorical voice in the church, he realized there was a thin line between the church and theater and he choose theater as a young child and he credits his father for his love of dramaturgy and theater.

When he acted, his stutter disappeared and so he acted, though he much preferred working behind the scenes.

Our conversation switched between talk of film and talk of Bob the man. For he is incredibly full of love and life, a man whose boundaries include public and private love and film in one full embrace.

Bob grew up loud and proud, working as a techie Off Broadway in New York City. Even as a high school student he often went to New York City and explored both live theater and underground movies like Jean Genet’s “Un Chant d’Amour” and Kenneth Anger’s “Scorpio Rising”. Those were the predecessors to independent movies, he says.

Eventually he moved to stage managing in San Francisco where he met filmmaker Rob Epstein and contributed his thoughts to the seminal gay-themed documentary “Word Is Out”, made by a film collective that included Rob.

Tai: “Bob was an activist and that led him to film. In 1976 ,when the five hour rough cut of “Word is Out” was previewed for the public in a work-in-progress screening, Bob’s notes as a member of the audience were volumes of comments. In 1978 when Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were shot and killed by another supervisor, he and Rob, with whom he had become friends, both knew a film had to be made, but it took five years of grassroots fundraising.

Bob: “Rob and producer Richard Schmiechen initially went to Kqed, San Francisco’s public television station, but they turned it down, saying the story was too local. So they went to Wnet in New York, who provided funding for a one hour version. Then we realized that ‘The Times of Harvey Milk’ needed to be a feature, so we went again to Wnet and they gave us the additional money. This was the first film I worked on, as print media researcher and archivist.”

Jj: “Bob researched not only Harvey Milk but the whole era.”

Bob: “I had volumes -- over 600 news and magazine articles -- all organized by 20 main topics like Harvey Milk, George Moscone, Trial, Verdict, Riot, Gay Climate, Dan White and they were cross referenced, so when we had to speak about any subject, we had it ready.”

Says Tai , “Bob’s emphasis is always on storytelling. He even has a sense of arc in his copy editing.”

Tai thought he was a great writer, but Bob is not so sure.

Says Jj : “Bob is not good at original copy because he’s such an editor himself.”

Bob: “Yes, when I write, I feel my editor self looking over my shoulder.”

“The weakness of some narrative indies is that the filmmakers are so eager to shoot that they do not fully develop the script beforehand.”

So Bob is the articulate but silent spokesman for indies, always behind the scenes, editing and tightening scripts, reading copy and imperceptibly influencing a vast body of independent film today.

Tai: “He is like a drop of water in a small stream which he knows runs to the sea and which affects the very water of the ocean.

“Bob is not about connections. He’s about connection.”

There was so much research done for Film Hawk, you must have worked very hard.

Jj: We just listened to Bob and followed all the leads he gave us.

Tai: “Bob is not associated as strictly ‘gay’ or for gay films only. You can see that in his long term relationship to ‘Brothers McMullen’ in the film, but homosexuality is as intrinsic to him as is his whole childhood. He is secure in himself as a person”.

Bob Hawk’s keen insights and feedback became the precious wind that provided flight for many filmmakers. This fiery, eccentric fairy Godfather of indie film not only battled depression, but was the first to discover and champion the talents of Kevin Smith (“Clerks”, “Chasing Amy”), Edward Burns (“The Brothers McMullen”, “Purple Violets”), Ira Sachs (“Keep The Lights On”, “Love Is Strange”) and Scott McGehee and David Siegel (“The Deep End”, “What Maisie Knew”).

Here are what a few have to say about him:

"I didn't ever consider myself an artist, I was just a guy who wanted to make ‘Clerks’, until Bob Hawk started talking about it."

- Kevin Smith

"Bob was always there to encourage me. Bob is a friend and a mentor"

- Ed Burns

With his 30+ year Sundance presence - including work as consultant, programmer, moderator, juror, and impassioned viewer - usually seated front-row and often asking the first question (as in the case of the “Sex, Lies and Videotape” world premiere) Bob deserves kudos and honors and yet has never sought the spotlight for himself.

Not only is this a film about film, but about a man who is as intrinsic to indie films as is the drop of water in a stream that goes into the ocean, but this film should also stand up in educational venues – whether about filmmaking or about standing proud as a gay man in the world.

In many ways this film recalls the classic “Bill Cunningham” that Zeitgeist had such success with in that both films are quintessentially New York films about men whose calling is their life-long love; each is a living example of the importance of love for one’s self and for one’s life lived with passion. “Film Hawk” deserves to be seen at the IFC Center, in the center of New York.

Bob grew up in that time in the 50s when to be gay meant very little to society. Gay men married, had children and if they were lucky they did not find their dual role in life unsettling. He was just at the edge and realized he did not have to go the marriage route and have children, and so he went the art route and his children are numerous.

Bob will be speaking at the Berlinale Queer Academy during the 30th Anniversary of the Teddy Awards and a clip of the film will accompany him. He is also receiving a Maverick of the Year Award from Cinequest this month.
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