Carol Channing: Larger Than Life is playing at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival, and we had the opportunity to interview the director Dori Berinstein.
If there ever was a secret recipe for crafting entertainment in its purest and truest form, Dori Berinstein most likely has it. The Tony-winning producer and Tribeca alum (ShowBusiness, TFF ’05; Gotta Dance TFF ’08) is back with another inspiring story—and she couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate subject or captured one more affectionately. With every lyrical word, movements akin to the grace of choreography, and a rich and rarefied storyline that rivals that of any heroine of the Great White Way, Carol Channing’s life could itself be a Broadway musical.
Footage from the archives—television appearances, song and dance numbers, and stage performances—show Carol at her best (not that there is a “worst”). Without batting a false eyelash, she effortlessly charms audience after audience with her hilarity, relentless energy, and unique beauty, reminding us that before Barbra or Marilyn, there was Carol. Perhaps the most brilliant thing about Berinstein’s bubbly biopic is that you don’t need to love Broadway or even theater itself to love or to be mesmerized by Carol. Theatrics aside, Larger Than Life proves that Carol Channing—as a person—is very much worth knowing about.
Interview with director Dori Berinstein:
VIMOOZ: What led you to make a documentary about Carol Channing?
DB: As a long-standing fan of Carol Channing (my first Broadway Show was “Hello Dolly” at the age of 5, I of course, adored her astonishing brilliance on stage, screen, television, but it is Carol’s life behind-the-curtain that had me completely convinced that hers is a life that must be told. I had the extraordinary opportunity to get to know Carol several years ago. As Carol’s staggeringly rich and rarefied life revealed itself in story after story over dinners, it was clear that her magnificent stage life was just the appetizer. Carol’s remarkable story of success, of survival, and of great love is intoxicating. Rather than simply chronicling an astonishing life–which would have been wonderful–I realized a film on Carol was also an opportunity to craft a contemporary romantic tale of inspiration and perseverance. I couldn’t resist.
VIMOOZ: What is it that keeps drawing you back to making films about the theatre world?
DB: I love capturing the creative process. But it’s more than that. I am captivated by inspiring stories of dreams pursued no matter the risks, no matter the obstacles. That singular focus–that determination–is inspiring to me. Theatre is all passion and tireless effort. It’s all about taking creative and financial risks to create magic from a blank page. To me….that’s thrilling, on stage and off, and definitely on screen.
VIMOOZ: Would you ever just want to work in theatre as opposed to film?
DB: Never! I love both intensely. I adore when I’m able to bring these two worlds together on screen. I’ll always be involved in both film and theatre.
VIMOOZ: When did you first come into contact with Carol Channing?
DB: I was 5 years old when Carol Channing changed my life. “Hello, Dolly!” was my first Broadway show. I was completely transported. I knew from that moment on that theatre would always be an integral part of my life. I was so taken with the show that I made my parents wait with me at the Stage Door so I could meet Dolly Levy and get her autograph. It was thrilling. Several decades later, Carol and I met briefly when she came to see my Broadway Show “Fool Moon.” (She didn’t remember me from the Stage Door.) Years after that, we became friends.
VIMOOZ: Has she seen the film? If so, what did she think?
DB: Carol hasn’t seen the film yet. I may show it to her right before our Tribeca premiere. I’m sure it would be a little overwhelming to watch a film all about you for the very first time in front of 500 people!
VIMOOZ: How long did the filmmaking process take?
DB: We began shooting with Carol in September 2009, so it’s been a year and a half. We completed principle photography in December 2010. During this time we shot with Carol in New York, San Francisco, Tennessee, Kentucky, Rancho Mirage and Los Angeles.
VIMOOZ: How many times have you been to Tribeca?
DB: I’ve been to Tribeca ten times as a giant fan of the festival, three of those times as a Filmmaker.
VIMOOZ: Is it still exciting?
DB: I adore this festival. David Kwok and his team have been endlessly kind and supportive of me and of my work. Actually, I hope the experience isn’t too different than in the past. Each time has been spectacular. I’ll settle for that again this time.
VIMOOZ: Is it difficult to get a documentary distributed, even though you’ve had practice with it?
DB: Yes. It’s always a challenge and every project is different. The industry has changed so dramatically since I began making films. You think you have it down and then all sorts of new distribution channels appear along with a whole new group of indie execs, requiring brand new strategic thinking. It makes it very thrilling and very scary all at the same time.
VIMOOZ: Are you working on any new projects?
DB: Many!!! Film and theatre. So many stories I can’t wait to tell…