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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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Today, a Democracy Now! special with legendary independent filmmaker and author, John Sayles. Over the past three decades, he has directed 17 feature films, including Return of the Secaucus Seven, Matewan, Lone Star, and Eight Men Out. He has often used his films to tackle pressing political issues, as well as themes of race, class, labor and sexuality. His newest film, Amigo, which opens in August, is set in the Philippines during the U.S. occupation. Sayles is also a celebrated author. A winner of the O. Henry Award, he has just published his first novel in 20 years. It’s called "A Moment in the Sun," and it is a sprawling work which takes the turn of the 20th century in its sights — from a white racist coup in Wilmington, North Carolina, to the first stirrings of the motion picture industry, to the bloody dawn of U.S. interventionism in Cuba and the Philippines. We spend the hour with Sayles, discussing his work and career. "However small your audience is, however frustrating it is to get your version of the world or what you want to talk about out there, it’s part of the conversation. And if you shut up, the conversation is one-sided," says Sayles.

AMY GOODMAN: Today we spend the hour with the legendary independent filmmaker and author John Sayles. Over the past three decades, he’s directed 17 feature films, including  The Return of the Secaucus SevenMatewanLone Star and Eight Men Out. He’s also a successful script doctor, rewriting the scripts of many Hollywood blockbusters, including  Apollo 13. John Sayles has often used his films to tackle pressing political issues, as well as themes of race, class, labor and sexuality. His newest film,  Amigo, which opens in August, is set in the Philippines during the U.S. occupation.

John Sayles is also a celebrated author, a winner of the O. Henry Award. He’s just published his first novel in 20 years. It’s called  A Moment in the Sun. It’s a sprawling work, which takes the turn of the 20th century in its sights, from a white racist coup in Wilmington, North Carolina, to the first stirrings of the motion picture industry, to the bloody dawn of U.S. interventionism in Cuba and the Philippines. We sat down on Wednesday, before John Sayles left for the Philippines, and I asked him about his epic historical novel,  A Moment in the Sun.

JOHN SAYLES: Yeah, I got sucked into this. I was doing research for my last novel,  Los Gusanos, and I came—kept coming across this phrase, "the Philippine insurrection," or "the Philippine-American War." And I said, "OK, I’m 30-something years old. How come I’ve never heard of this?" which got me suspicious. You know, usually when we win a war—and we won that war—we celebrate it. And how come, you know,  Amigo is probably going to be the third movie ever made in the United States about the Philippine-American War? How come there are no novels about it? How come it’s not in our history books? And then asking my Philippine and Philippine-American friends what they knew about it, they said, "Well, we kind of know about it, but it was not taught in our schools." How is something that—that’s like not teaching the American Revolution in American schools. You know, how does a piece of history, where probably a million Filipinos died, get plowed under like that? And why? So that’s some of what the story is.

And then—and I found the other big thing that was happening in the United States at the time was the last nail in the coffin of Reconstruction was being nailed in in North Carolina, the last of the, you know, former Confederate states to bring in the Jim Crow laws, to disenfranchise their black voters. And the two were linked. And so—

 
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