The story behind ‘Queen of Hearts: Audrey Flack’

Filmmakers Deborah Shaffer and Rachel Reichman have produced a masterful documentary, “Queen of Hearts: Audrey Flack,” to be screened at the AIFF2020 Virtual Film Festival.

Beginning May 22, we can see the AIFF films over a period of three weeks in the comfort of our homes. “Queen of Hearts: Audrey Flack” will be streamed all day Wednesday, June 3.

Audrey Flack, now in her 80s, is an American artist whose works include abstract expressionism, new realism, photorealism, sculpture and drawing.

Both Shaffer and Reichman have had successful careers in the film industry. Shaffer, whose work reflects social and political activism, won an Oscar for her documentary “Witness to War: Dr. Charlie Clements.”

Reichman’s recent films include “Hitchcock/Truffaut” and “ISIS and the Internet.” We met via Zoom.

EH: Why a documentary about Audrey Flack?

RR: She’s really an engaging person, you are intoxicated by her. She’s a great storyteller. Her work is really bright and symbolic; it’s intense graphically; it’s accessible. You can fall in love with it without having to know a great deal about art, because there is just so much readily there for you to embrace. I had really strong feelings about the art history aspect of it and the art context of it. But there’s a lot of meat there in terms of the period, the post-War era.

EH: What is your process in making a documentary?

DS: I come from a very different school of independent filmmaking: You have to make them, kind of, from the inside out. You have to get the material and live with it. When I used to teach film, I said, “You have all your ideas, and your shot lists, and your scripts, and your proposals. The minute you get in the editing room, you throw that stuff away. You’ve got to live with it. You’ve got to find the film in the material.”

RR: We wanted to tell Audrey’s personal story, a feminist story and an art history story. We worked hard to put it together and make it work. We screened it many times with small groups of people, two to four people, who were really pledged to be honest with us.

DS: They were friends, and they were brutal.

RR: There were various screenings where each of us ended up crying when the door was shut, and they were gone.

DS: We’re not exaggerating.

RR: Because we were just overwhelmed. That was really challenging. Then not giving up, knowing that there’s an end; it’s just not in sight yet. The job is to go back into the editing room and revise it. We went through a lot of permutations.

DS: There’s no shortcut to the creative process, working it and working it and working it until you nail it.

RR: People don’t have a clue how much hell you have to go through to get to the other side.

DS: It became an act of faith.

EH: What makes a good documentary?

RR: From my vantage point, I’m just interested in good movies. Story, characters, a rich emotional aspect or dimension to it.

DS: Learning something about somebody that you never would have met. Going to another world. Learning something about yourself through learning something about somebody else. I love cinema verité documentaries. I don’t particularly love survey films.You make documentaries because you can’t help it. It’s films that make me laugh, films that make me cry, films that make me feel, films that transport me out of my own world in some way. And I love making them for those reasons too. It’s these experiences. You can’t replicate them.

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