What drew you to Jack Kevorkian?
I've always been fascinated by people who live their lives in the extreme, and will go to any length to get their point across, whatever that might be.
He's a pretty controversial character. Why do you think it was important to revisit him?
In 1999, Jack was sentenced to ten to twenty five years in prison. And the world figured they would never hear from Dr. Kevorkian again. But, because of his failing health, in 2007, he was released from prison, and within months, instead of dying, he decided to run for congress in Michigan, and that is where our film starts. So, there was a reason for this project. Usually I'm not interested in doing archival documentaries. The fact that this had an active story line really intrigued me, so we could go forwards and backward in time.
I didn't know much about him personally. I certainly knew what he stood for, and how famous he was in the 90s, and how controversial he was as a figure. But as soon as we started shooting, it was incredible. I mean, the complexity of his life, and how many things he tried to do in his life and both succeed and failed at. And his failures were as interesting as his successes.
"When you say Jack Kevorkian to people they think euthanasia, and there is much, much more to his story."
What kind of responses did you get from people when you said you were working on a film about "Dr. Death?"
When you say Jack Kevorkian to people they think euthanasia, and there is much, much more to his story. The most common question I got when I would tell people I'm directing a film about Jack Kevorkian, is, which side is the film on? And a lot of people don't realize there's the third option: you don't necessarily have to be for or against; you can just study the man. And that's the tact we took for this film. We wanted to make a character study about Kevorkian, who is a man standing in the middle of a huge issue, and we can get to certain aspects of that issue by studying him as an individual.
Did he give you full access to his life?
Working with Jack was always fascinating; not always easy. He is incredibly humble, but also incredibly self-righteous; and sometimes, incredibly cranky. You never knew which Jack might show up on any given day. You would knock on his door in his tiny one room apartment, and it could be the benevolent Jack, or it could be the very curmudgeonly, "Everybody go away and leave me alone" kind of Jack. So it definitely kept me and the crew on our toes.
One of the most memorable moments for me was when Jack sat down and explained Bach to me, and also explained his own music to me. It was very touching. Those were the moments that I would take away.
He is one of those people who is good at many things. The issue of assisted death, which he ultimately became famous for, seemed to be one thing in many that he had tried, and to some level succeeded, and at other levels, failed to accomplish what he wanted to accomplish.
What were his feelings about how he was portrayed in the media?
I think at one point in his life, he probably followed the press on him very carefully, but at this point, it just doesn't seem to matter to him anymore. My impression is that he probably feels like he's living on borrowed time, and he just needs to keep moving forward as fast as he can, and not stop. He definitely reads the newspaper. But beyond that, he lives in his head, and that's his driving force.
Were you and Dr. Kevorkian paying attention to the HBO Film's production 'You Don't Know Jack' that was going on at the same time you were making your film?
I knew that it covered roughly the area between 1990-98, which was the nine year stretch where Jack became incredibly famous in the whole doctor assisted suicide debate that was in the forefront of U.S. and world media coverage; we only spend about twenty minutes covering that stretch of Jack's life. So, the scripted film and the documentary serve as almost a perfect yin and yang to truly understand all of the complexities of Jack. And a lot of the side characters who are featured prominently in the scripted film we interview, and they serve as almost narrators to Jack's life story, and certainly the story of the 90s, and the rise of doctor assisted suicide. 'You Don't Know Jack' basically ends with a shot of Jack going to prison. Prison bars close, end of film. The documentary starts, basically with Jack just getting out of prison. And so that was pure kismet.
Summer Series 2010