Eleven Minutes

Jay McCarroll seems at home in front of the camera, and in Eleven Minutes, he's found an ideal situation: star of his own show.

Eleven Minutes

Director: Rob Tate
Cast: Jay McCarroll, Nancy Kane, Kelly Cutrone, Lee Deekle, Lola Brooks
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Regent Releasing
Display Artist: Michael Selditch, Rob Tate
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2009-02-20 (Limited release)
I don't want to hear about anything going smooth, by the way, because that's when the lightning bolt flies through the window and we all catch on fire.

-- Jay McCarroll

Jay McCarroll has all kinds of ideas for his first collection, most inspired, as he says more than once, “diarrhea and vaginal discharge.” While you might imagine he says such things for effect, it's not always clear what effect he's going for -- at least any effect beyond the basic tittery shock a little boy might solicit with his potty mouth.

McCarroll seems at home in front of the camera, and in Michael Selditch and Rob Tate's documentary Eleven Minutes, he's found an ideal situation: star of his own show. Striding along the sidewalk, poking through clothes racks, and ranting on about the latest encounter with yet another individual who doesn’t understand him, McCarroll is always on -- even when he protests he's not.

Best known as the first winner of Bravo's Project Runway, McCarroll announces early in the film that he means to move on. "I have a shelf life," he notes, which he gauges at about two years. After that, his fame/infamy will no longer be helpful, but only albatrossy. "I need to make the leap," he says, "from reality TV designer to real designer." Because, of course, there is a difference.

He imagines a wild, great, splashy future for himself, wherein he is able to create brilliant lines, sell all of them, put on extravagant shows in airport hangars, and feel loved -- in so many ways. The film during a brief moment of doubt, self-described, as McCarroll says he was worried he was "incapable of being loved." But then, he smiles, he saw a "Russian couple" on the subway, old and sweet and charming with one another, and he was revitalized: "If they can do it, I can do it!"

While it's good to see him so reassured, it's hard to tell the drama from the feeling. That's not to say that there needs to be a difference, or that anyone with a documentary camera on him all day long for months could be blamed for performing for it. The question raised by Eleven Minutes -- and never answered, though that doesn’t seem to matter either -- is whether or not this performance has ends, both in terms of limits and in terms of goals.

McCarroll's months of practice for Project Runway have developed what may be innate skills. He sells himself, sometimes to himself. Pondering the query he most often gets from interviewers -- "Do you feel like you deserve it, talent-wise, to be showing" in so grand a venue as 2007's Fashion Week at Bryant Park in Manhattan? -- the camera looks at him through glass, emphasizing the multiple layers and general warping of his mediations: "I can't help but feel it's based off my personality and my talent," he says.

This is the way of Fashion World, yes. Designers are as well known -- as revered and reviled -- for their outsized self-images as for the garments they hang on gaunt women and slouchy men. (For the record, McCarroll prefers "a more normal sized girl... I like at least when they have a boob," as opposed to just a "nipple," a look he terms "disgusto" while agreeing to pressure from sales experts to use them in the show, because someone like Omahyra because she's famous and sensational and draws attention -- like and unlike McCarroll himself. He also boasts of using a girl with a "nub" arm and "albinos," to show off his affection for "weirdos.") As outspoken and self-absorbed as any designer, McCarroll mutters about the "superficial" fashion industry, even as he is also obviously dedicated to it -- as a form of self-expression (self-creation or -assertion), if not necessarily a way to change the world.

He is, at the same time, a product of that industry, as carefully promoted and as manufactured as any "look." As hard as McCarroll tries to fend off his association with Project Runway, he also exploits it, as does the film. One of the models McCarroll uses is Michael Rucker, who also happens to be, McCarroll adds, a producer on Project Runway (when Rucker asks whether he needs to sign a release, McCarroll chirps, "Aha! Playing your own game?"). The metatexting helps keep the self-performing in perspective: for Fashion Week's photo ops, McCarroll and Queer Eye's Carson Kressly pose while calling themselves "Bravo slaves." They He gets the irony of the situation, and makes good fun of it, as well as those who seem more invested (say, snooty models), and the film is alternately light-touched and clunky (the montages -- sewing, casting, split-screened runway walking, backstage scrambling -- do pile up).

While McCarroll has explicit and much-discussed "issues" with his sales reps and other business associates ("What I'm having problems with right now is the coherency of the collection"), most of his colleagues tend to admire him. Alternately good-natured and entertainingly bitchy, McCarroll's surrounded by good people working for free and folks with more expertise in their fields than he has -- from accessories manufacturers to public relations firms to models -- who treat him with patience and exasperation. "He's certainly not questioning himself," says one friend. "I get freaked out by what he's doing, putting himself out there in one of the nastiest, most critical industries around. I mean, shit. That takes balls. And I totally respect him for it." That said, the press array at Fashion Week reverts to what's familiar, not what's ballsy. "Is your head spinning like the exorcist?" smiles one red carpet reporter. "What would you say Project Runway has done for your career?" He smiles, again. "I don't want to talk about Project Runway anymore." Too bad. "Can you articulate why not?" asks the girl with one question.

When the show's done, the film offers a coda, where the triumph ebbs away -- a month later, several months later. Urban Outfitters buyers only pick up five styles, which leads him to adjust his expectations. "I just want to be justified in this community," he says. "I want to run away from the reality television world." And, apparently, into the documentary world. The trick is figuring whether these worlds are so different, or more pointedly, what's at stake in insisting on their differences.


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"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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