Ron Mann’s documentary Altman, which premiered on Epix earlier this month and will be having a limited theatrical release later on in the year, honors its subject matter—unconventional filmmaker Robert Altman—by eschewing documentary convention itself. Told mostly through archival footage of Altman himself, the film only features snippets of new interviews with the actors Altman worked with—and those involve Mann asking them only one question: “What does the word Altman-esque mean to you?”
“I didn’t want to make a conventional film about an unconventional filmmaker,” Mann tells Realscreen. “Traditional television documentaries are people rehashing old stories and I felt it would be more truthful and more intimate if Bob told his story in the first person. One movie that I had seen and liked was Wim Wenders’ Pina, but I thought wouldn’t it have been much better if I heard from Pina Bausch about her work? That made me think about having Bob tell his story in his own words.”
As to only asking his celebrity interviewees one question, Mann’s approach to it was “there are so many entry points to Bob and you can see him in so many different lights. It’s like looking through a prism.” Not that the unusual approach didn’t raise eyebrows. “Epix thought I’d absolutely lost my mind,” he reveals.
Mann also believes that Altman’s style was akin to documentary itself. “He was after truthful human behavior and he had an amazing ability to cast people who weren’t actors,” he says. “Hollywood was very compartmentalized, but he allowed actors to go off script and he was spontaneous. He didn’t plan his day. He didn’t do storyboards. He wanted to be surprised. That is very documentary.”
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