“True Story” starring James Franco, Jonah Hill to screen in Breckenridge
If You Go
What: “True Story” screening
When: Thursday, July 9 beginning at 6 p.m. (reception), film starting at 7 p.m. followed by Q&A
Where: Finkel Auditorium, Colorado Mountain College, 107 Denison Placer Road, Breckenridge
Cost: Tickets are $20
More information: Visit www.breckfilmfest.com
Murder, identity theft, a reporter and a killer facing off — it all sounds like the recipe for a taut Hollywood thriller. In fact, it is, but in this case, the story came not from the fevered mind of a screenwriter, but from real-life events.
“True Story” is a movie based off of a nonfiction book written by Michael Finkel, former reporter for the New York Times Magazine and son of longtime Summit locals Paul and Eileen Finkel. The Breckenridge Film Festival will be showing the movie on Thursday, July 9, followed by a question-and-answer session with Michael Finkel via Skype from his home in southern France.
“It’s a creepy story,” Michael Finkel said in an interview recently, and he should know.
The incident the film focuses on occurred at a difficult time in Finkel’s life. In 2002, he lost his job with the New York Times Magazine. Finkel had reported on a number of issues for the magazine, traveling all over the world to places like Haiti, Palestine and Afghanistan. But an article about child labor in West Africa presented a composite character — a character created from interviews with a number of young boys — as an actual individual, which cost Finkel his job.
Not long afterward, Finkel learned that a man who had been apprehended in Mexico on suspicion of killing his wife and three kids had given the authorities Finkel’s name instead of his own.
“I’m very fortunate as a journalist and magazine writer, I write about topics that grab me in a weird way. I can’t deny it,” Finkel said. But with this particular story, “I didn’t have a choice.”
Unable to ignore his journalistic instincts, Finkel reached out to the accused man, Christian Longo, and the two started a correspondence that lasted years, throughout Longo’s trial, and included hours of conversation and many pages of letters.
Finkel eventually wrote a book about the experience — “True Story: Memoir, Mea Culpa.” Then, rights to the film were bought by a production company owned by Brad Pitt.
The film took 10 years to make, which Finkel called “an interesting process to watch from the front row.”
It finally debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January of this year. The film stars Jonah Hill as Finkel, James Franco as Longo and Felicity Jones as Finkel’s wife Jill.
“It’s a psychological sort of cat-and-mouse game,” Finkel said. “It’s not structured like your typical TV show. It’s a little more challenging.”
When asked about the heart and meaning behind the story, Finkel focuses on the real-life aspects.
“It’s a tragedy, and a very serious story,” he said. Now married with young children, the gruesome aspects of Longo’s crime are especially prevalent in Finkel’s mind. He also doesn’t hesitate to describe Longo as “an evil psychopath.”
Finkel describes the experience of seeing his life on screen as “surreal” and “uncomfortable,” but also said that he’s happy with the way the film turned out.
Of course, since it’s Hollywood, not everything in “True Story” matches exactly with real life. Finkel wasn’t married when he worked at the Times, for example, and he said that some of the scenes with Hill and Franco’s characters talking in person actually occurred remotely between himself and Longo.
Despite this, Finkel says that the emotional aspect of the film is dead-on.
“The way that Chris Longo, the murderer, and me interacted — who’s smarter than who, who’s fooling whom, who’s lying, who’s telling the truth — then I thought the movie nailed exactly how it happened in real life,” he said.
Finkel met with Hill, Jones and producer Rupert Goold in New York while the movie was being filmed. Hill asked Finkel questions about his life, and about the emotions he experienced at various stages.
“He’s funny, he’s smart, he asked really smart questions. I enjoyed meeting him,” Finkel said.
“True Story” will screen in the Finkel Auditorium on Colorado Mountain College’s Breckenridge campus. The auditorium is named after Michael’s parents, Paul and Eileen Finkel.
“I’m excited that it’s playing at a place that I love and have a deep connection with,” Michael Finkel said.
Paul Finkel first saw “True Story” at Sundance this January, and this Thursday will be his third viewing, which he hopes will be a less strange experience than the first two.
“It means a lot to me,” Paul Finkel said, of showing the film in the auditorium that bears the family name. “I think it will be a fun event.”
After the film, Michael will connect to the audience via Skype from France for a question-and-answer session.
“Throw any questions you want at me,” he said. Having lived with the story and its strangeness for over a decade, he said he’s still willing and able to discuss it with others.
He also added, “I’m curious to see what the folks in Breckenridge think.”
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