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"A Moment in the Sun": An Extended Interview with Filmmaker/Author John Sayles

Amy Goodman discusses race, class, labor, and sexuality with the legendary filmmaker-turned-novelist.

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And so, ignorance being bliss, I—in the case of  Return of the Secaucus Seven, it’s the only movie I’ve really made where the budget came first. And I said, "So, what can I do well for this budget? What can I talk about that is worth making a movie about? Well, what do I have? I have a bunch of friends who are very good actors, who are all turning 30. Why don’t I make a movie about people turning 30?"

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us about them. Who were these actors that you went to college with, and friends?

JOHN SAYLES: Yeah, I mean, I had worked with Gordon Clapp, who’s been on  NYPD Blue and, you know, a bunch of TV series and movies; David Straithairn, who has had quite a bit of success as both a theater actor and a film actor; other people who didn’t necessarily keep acting but have stayed—you know, are writers now or directors or whatever. And it was an interesting moment, and it doesn’t necessarily exist anymore, where it was—there were a few independent distributors. There were very few independent movies being made, so the heads of those companies would look at anything with sprocket holes. So we actually got distribution for this off-Hollywood, off-off-Hollywood movie we made.

AMY GOODMAN: So let’s go to an excerpt of  The Return of the Secaucus Seven, your directorial debut. The main characters are in a small jail cell, explaining to their cell mate why they call themselves the Secaucus Seven.


J.T.: Hey, you know, we’ve got almost all the original Secaucus Seven here.

CHIP HOLLISTER: What’s that?

IRENE ROSENBLUE: An in-joke. You had to be there.

MIKE DONNELLY: It was one of the last big Washington marches, and we all ended up going down from Boston in a station wagon.

IRENE ROSENBLUE: Which Jeff had borrowed from a friend of his.

JEFF ANDREWS: An acquaintance.

J.T.: Yeah, some dude he thought he knew real well.

MIKE DONNELLY: We didn’t all know each other that well yet. It was me and Katie, and Jeff and Maura, and J.T. and Irene, and Frances. Frances was the other one. We get on the Jersey Turnpike, and we’re low on gas, so we got off in Secaucus.

IRENE ROSENBLUE: Right where you pick up the Lincoln Tunnel.

MIKE DONNELLY: In two seconds, we’re busted.

J.T.: Every cop on the Eastern Seaboard was out that weekend trying to pick off pinkos on their way to Washington.

MIKE DONNELLY: The guy looks in the back of our trunk.

IRENE ROSENBLUE: No warrant or anything.

MIKE DONNELLY: And there’s a rifle and an ounce of dope.

J.T.: Yeah, right, right. The cop says, "Rifle is OK," right? But, ooh, that marijuana.

MIKE DONNELLY: At first we thought the guy who loaned us the car was an  FBI plant who set us up.

JEFF ANDREWS: It turned out he was just stupid.

MIKE DONNELLY: So, we spend the night in the cooler.

IRENE ROSENBLUE: Adjoining cells for men and women, segregated from the rest of the prisoners.

J.T.: Right, so we don’t poison their minds, right?

MIKE DONNELLY: And we get hysterical, calling ourselves the Secaucus Seven and doing numbers from Jimmy Cagney and George Raft and—what was that movie?

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