Iconic Cinema Visionary John Waters at CCA: A Divine Treat!

John Waters in Conversation -- a CCA milestone [photo: Jim Norrena]

Legendary film director John Waters (Pink Flamingos (1972); Female Trouble (1974); Polyester (1981); Hairspray (1988); Cry Baby (1990); Serial Mom (1994); A Dirty Shame (2004)) made a special guest appearance at CCA as part of the Film Program’s Cinema Visionaries Lecture Series.

The event, “John Waters in Conversation”, copresented by the Design and Craft Lecture Series, took place April 25 in Timken Lecture Hall (with spillover areas set up in Timken Lecture Hall reception area and in the Carmen M. Christensen production stage).

The free public event kicked off with Bay Area underground drag performer, emcee, filmmaker, and actor Joshua Grannell (aka Peaches Christ), providing the opening remarks, crediting Mr. Waters as his own inspiration from an early age. (Both Waters and Grannell are from Baltimore.) The evening included a screening of A Dirty Shame, a raucous, over-the-top comedy, starring Tracey Ullman, Chris Isaak, and Selma Blair, and was followed by a rare opportunity -- a generous extended Q&A with Mr. Waters, which delighted the capacity-filled audience.

Master Class with John Waters

Mr. Waters hosted a Film-sponsored master class earlier in the day inside the production stage where students pitched stories, gained advice about their own projects, and soaked up every bit of wit and wisdom Waters shared. Adhering to his unique and eclectic style, Mr. Waters provided students with frank yet often hilarious exchanges, encouraging and inspiring them with candid behind-the-scenes anecdotes and real-world advice about what it takes today to get a film produced. (He joked that he couldn’t afford to make a movie anymore, but that the market was now perfect for student filmmakers.)

Mr. Waters also encouraged Film students to build their reputations by showing their work in film festivals -- big and small -- or at events of their own creation: “Nobody is going to ask you to take their money and direct a movie. You have to go out and do it on your own.”

Rob Epstein Shares His Appreciation

Cinema Visionaries curator and Film Program chair Rob Epstein remarked, “John Waters could not have been more generous with our students. To have a legend like John Waters on campus, participating in our community in such a meaningful way, was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for CCA Film students and faculty alike. John left us all feeling inspired, illuminated, and, of course, entertained by his hilarious wit.”

Up Close & Personal

Toward the end of the master class, a Film student asked Mr. Waters what personal hardship he had suffered while making his films. In response, the acclaimed film director mentioned a scene from Pink Flamingos in which actor Divine swims across a freezing-cold river in full drag.

The student pressed the question, inquiring what Waters himself had personally gone through in the course of his filmmaking career that proved to be a challenge. Waters cited having gone to jail while working on his films, having had to raise funds with the help of his parents to get films completed, having had to face problems with censorship . . . but he emphasized that he has had a great life and has achieved everything he’d ever wanted.

“All of my dreams have come true,” Waters added with a smile and without a hint of irony.

About Cinema Visionaries

The Cinema Visionaries series was launched in 2011 with support from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as well as ongoing support from Carla Emile and Rich Silverstein. Previous Cinema Visionaries guests have included Academy Award-nominated director Gus Van Sant [Drugstore Cowboy (1989); My Own Private Idaho (1991); Good Will Hunting (1997); Milk (2008)]; Academy Award-nominated documentary filmmaker Lourdes Portillo [Señorita Extraviada (Missing Young Women) (2001); Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo (1985); and Barry Jenkins [Medicine for Melancholy (2009].

Forthcoming guests include two-time Academy Award-winning director Alexander Payne (Sideways (2004); Descendants (2011)).

Coming Soon to a Theater Near You

Next year the Film Program plans to launch the Young Cinema Visionaries Lecture Series, also funded by the Academy, with future guests to be announced.

Web editor and content manager Jim Norrena contributed to this feature.