Filmmaker John Sayles celebrated at U-M symposium June 4


Perhaps more than any modern filmmaker, John Sayles personifies American individualism. From his 1979 directorial debut “Return of the Secaucus 7” to his 2013 release “Go for Sisters,” he has thrived outside the Hollywood mainstream, using his films to explore such complex, nuanced themes as race, class and gender identity.

On June 4, the university celebrates Sayles’ legacy in the one-day symposium, “Declarations of Independence: John Sayles as Author, Auteur, Founding Father.” Symposium sessions are free and open to the public. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Researchers, collaborators, students and others will convene at U-M’s Hatcher Graduate Library to discuss Sayles’ artistry as a writer; his choice to explore provocative and controversial topics on screen; and his skill in navigating the business of independent cinema through a four-decade career. 

Speakers include:

• Actor David Strathairn

• Producer/actor Maggie Renzi

• Script supervisor Mary Cybulski

• Composer Mason Daring

• University of Michigan lecturer/screenwriter Jim Burnstein

The symposium will introduce the public to the John Sayles Archive at the university’s Special Collections Library through the exhibit “Sayles Pitch: John Sayles, Author, Auteur, Independent.” U-M undergraduates in the Screen Arts & Cultures program utilized the archive to produce the exhibit, which is on display in the Hatcher Graduate Library through July 10.

The archive is particularly striking in the way it conveys “John Sayles’ dedication to being John Sayles,” says Phil Hallman, film studies librarian at the U-M Library. “And by that I mean his willingness to sacrifice other things in order to commit to his vision of what a filmmaker should be, what his role as an independent voice of social consciousness in America could be. He’s had many chances to be more commercial but he’s chosen not to and I really respect that.”

Sayles and his partner, Maggie Renzi, will attend the archive’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. They announced their decision to donate their vast collection to U-M in October 2013.

The symposium and archive ceremony are timed to complement the Cinetopia International Film Festival, in Ann Arbor and Detroit, June 4-8. Cinetopia will screen three of Sayles’ films. He will participate in a Q&A June 5 after a screening of his 2013 film “Go for Sisters.” Tickets are required for all Cinetopia screenings. Read more about the schedule and tickets.

The Sayles symposium is sponsored by the University of Michigan Department of Screen Arts & Cultures, the U-M Library, the Michigan Theater and Cinetopia International Film Festival.

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