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Lennon Documentary Was Labor Of Love

Of the Oakland Press

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David Leaf and John Scheinfeld have been wanting to tell the story of John Lennon’s fouryear battle with the U.S. government over his immigration status “for a long time.”

But they had to wait until 2004, when a Lion’s Gate Films executive told them, “Yes, absolutely.”

“If only it was always that easy,” Leaf says with a laugh and offers more insight into the journey:

Q: After fi lms about Brian Wilson’s “SMiLE” and Harry Nilsson, what made you want to tell this story?

A: I had a passionate personal feeling about the era to start with. And this story was kind of a heavyweight championship fight. On one side, you had the Nixon administration, all the president’s men — Attorney General John Mitchell, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. ... On the other side, you had John Lennon. It was a real heroes-and-villains kind of conflict, a classic clash of power. When you’ve got someone like Lennon fearlessly doing what he does, you’ve got a heroic story. As a fi lmmaker, what more can you ask for?

Q: How crucial was it to have Yoko Ono’s support and participation?

A: Extremely. She was the only other person who was in bed with John at the Bed-Ins. We couldn’t make the movie we wanted without Yoko’s participation. And we wanted to license John’s music and have access to the Lennon-Ono archives. Plus, the question everyone else had was, “Is Yoko involved?” “Well, we just did an interview with her. ...” It lent credibility to us. If you’ve spoken to Yoko Ono and Gore Vidal and Walter Cronkite and Noam Chomsky, it’s like, “Whoa, these people are serious.” That’s how we wanted to be taken and the film to be perceived.

Q: The idea of the right of dissent being under fire has some interesting parallels to current events.

A: We’re not promoting our politics in this film. We’re not even taking sides in contemporary politics. Under no circumstances are we suggesting the war in Vietnam or the war on terrorism are parallel. What we’re saying is, “Look what happened then. Look what’s happening now. It’s up to you, the audience, to draw whatever parallels you want.” But one of the things that’s been gratifying is a lot of younger people are coming up after screenings and saying, “Now I understand why John Lennon mattered.”

Q: G. Gordon Liddy and John Dean are interesting voices to include in the fi lm.

A: The challenge here was to really make the audience feel what it was like to be there. John Dean had a book out a couple years ago called “Worse Than Watergate,” so we kind of know where he’s coming from now. With Liddy, we have not only an unrepentant voice of the Nixon administration, but we have a window into what the administration felt about the (anti-war) demonstrators at the time. Hearing Liddy tell those stores was really important. He’s one of the stars of the movie.

Q: Is there more material that will be included in the DVD version of the fi lm?

A: Oh, yeah. Obviously when you sit down with Noam Chomsky for an hour, Gore Vidal for two hours, you can’t help but have an enormous amount of material that’s left over. We could put Elliot Mintz’s entire 2 1 /2-hour interview on a disc, and Lennon fans would be thrilled to hear him talk about a lot of the stuff he’s never talked about before. I hope we get to do a really deluxe DVD, a multidisc set, to get this great stuff out there.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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