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Jeffrey Overstreet

Fishing for the Truth

Conversations with moviemakers.

What do storytelling and fishing have in common? A lot, according to filmmaker David Lynch. "The bait is just the desire for an idea. If you sit quietly, one will swim close and you might catch it. The big ideas are swimming very deep." Which prompts another question: "How do you know when to throw back the fish?"

That was, in fact, the next question when David Lynch was interviewed at a gathering of the American Film Institute. And his listeners were taking notes.

The AFI—an independent non-profit organization established in 1967 by the National Endowment for the Arts—promises to "preserve the history of the motion picture, to honor the artists and their work and to educate the next generation of storytellers." One of the ways they have accomplished this over the years is to host interviews with legends like Lynch, who directed Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, The Straight Story, Mulholland Drive, and television's Twin Peaks. The AFI calls this a "tutorial" approach.

We are invited into the inner circle in a new anthology of interviews edited by filmmaker and AFI founder George Stevens, Jr. Conversations at the American Film Institute with The Great Moviemakers—The Next Generation offers more than 30 in-depth interviews. A previous volume, Conversations with the Great Moviemakers of Hollywood's Golden Age: At the American Film Institute (Knopf, 2006), featured pioneers like Harold Lloyd and Billy Wilder. The new book examines half a century of work, with substantial testimony from Robert Altman, Roger Corman, Nora Ephron, Alan Pakula, Sydney Pollack, John Sayles, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Francois Truffaut, to name only a few. And it isn't just about directing. Meryl Streep is here too, along with Gregory Peck, Sidney Poitier, Jack Lemmon, Morgan Freeman, and cinemtaographer Janusz Kaminski.

In his introduction, Stevens says, "Picasso said that when critics sit around they talk about aesthetics, but when artists sit around they talk about turpentine. ...

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