Ami Canaan Mann was born in London in 1969 to acclaimed director Michael Mann and Sharon Wells. She grew up in Indiana with her mother, did a lot of still photography, played classical viola and did a lot of fiction writing. It wasn’t until she was a teenager that she worked on a film set and realized that you could combine visuals, music and art into a film. She went to the USC Film School and graduated in production. She has worked as a Television and Film writer for a long time before directing. “Morning” (2001) was her debut feature for which she won three awards, including the Grand Prize for Best Directorial Debut and the Gold Award for Independent Theatrical Feature Films – First Feature. In 2011, her next film, “Texas Killing Fields”, screened in Competition at the 68th Venice Film Festival. Three years later, she came back to Venice, where she presented her third feature, “Jackie & Ryan” in the “Orizzonti” section of the festival.
Tara Karajica caught up with her and they discuss here her new film, her career and influences, music and train-hopping.
Did your father [Michael Mann] have any influence in your filmmaking?
Ami Canaan Mann: I was terribly lucky to have had the inclination to do film because I wanted to do something that was visual, musical and narrative. And, to also have had access to someone who is doing that kind of work via my father was the best of both worlds. I think that film is an interesting job because much of what you need to know isn’t really in a book; people tell you; it’s sort of like a medieval craft guild. I have been terribly lucky to have been able to work with my dad, Robert Redford and Jon Avnet and to get a little bit of what they know and what they’ve learned passed on to me.
What prompted you to make Jackie & Ryan?
A.C.M.: I was in Austin, Texas at the SXSW Film Festival where I had been invited to speak on a panel and I was walking on the street and I heard this street men play. They were playing this music that I remember hearing as a kind in Indiana. So, as I was listening to it, the story kind of came to me. I was thinking about people who are trying to get very excellent at their craft just to become excellent at their craft but nothing else, really. And then, I was thinking about what if you had somebody – another character who had also a gift but had got lost with it – and what would happen if those two people got together.
Is there any autobiographical element in Jackie & Ryan?
A.C.M.: Well, they say that you write about your own backyard, so I think that whenever you’re telling any kind of story, there’s some part of it that’s personal – should be personal – because you want to imbue it with as much emotion as you possibly can. But, the actual story itself is fiction; I made that up. I guess it’s autobiographical in the sense that I love filmmaking and only want to become better at filmmaking for the sake of becoming better at filmmaking and I was telling a story about somebody who loves music and wants only to become better at music for the sake of becoming better at music.
I love filmmaking and only want to become better at filmmaking for the sake of becoming better at filmmaking.
Is train-hopping something very common in the USA and how has it acquired a place in your film?
A.C.M.: I don’t know how common train-hopping is in the US, I am not sure. The way it influenced the film is that in the beginning of the film we meet Ryan and we are identifying with him and then he comes into our “normal town”. I wanted to have a perspective on your average small American town that was an outsider’s perspective so that we could look at the concerns of Jackie – that I think many of us share – that we could look at all those concerns from a distant perspective. That was one of the reasons why it was important that the character of Ryan be somebody who lives outside of that way of life so that we could look at it with fresh eyes.
What about the music? Are there any personal ties to that type of music? And why does it have such a big place in the film?
A.C.M.: Well, for a couple reasons. There are definitely personal ties to me. It’s music that was played a lot when I was a kid in Indiana so I have a lot of memories of that kind of music. There’s a couple different genres of train-hoppers and the genre that we’re focusing on in the film, they are all musicians and they play pretty much early American blues and folk written before 1930. So, I wanted it, out of respect for that subculture, to be very true to what they play and how they play it. We tried very hard to make sure that that was completely authentic. I love music and I wanted also to give way to as many different kinds of musicians as I could. So, in keeping with the theme of the film – of people who just do it because they love it – I wanted musicians and music to be coming from that place.
What are your next projects?
A.C.M.: I have a couple scripts that I’ve written that I am looking at – trying to focus on which one – and I am reading some other scripts that are being submitted to me so I should know in a couple months.
This interview was conducted at the 2014 Venice Film Festival.