Chiemi Karasawa Reflects on Elaine Stritch

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Synopsis: Now in her late 80s, Broadway legend Elaine Stritch remains as ferociously funny as ever. In this bold, hilarious and poignant portrait, the uncompromising Tony and Emmy Award-winner is revealed both on and off stage. Candid reflections about her life are punctuated with words from friends (including James Gandolfini, Tina Fey, John Turturro, Hal Prince, George C. Wolfe, Nathan Lane and Cherry Jones) and archival footage that showcases some of the great moments from her career. Whether dominating the stage, tormenting Alec Baldwin on the set of 30 Rock, or sharing her struggles with aging, diabetes and alcoholism, Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me reaches beyond the icon’s brassy exterior and reveals an inspiring portrait of a complex woman and artist. (c) IFC


The always amusing and cheeky Elaine Stritch is finally the subject matter of her own documentary in Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me. This movie is for three segmented audiences Hollywood tends to ignore: the ever-neglected older adult audiences, the even more neglected Broadway musical fans, and, most importantly, documentary connoisseurs who enjoy a fascinating character study. I had an opportunity to speak with director Chiemi Karasawa about her motivation to make the documentary, various challenges with directing her first feature, and what she wants audiences to take away.


Filmmaker Chiemi Karasawa has been involved in prominent movies as a script supervisor. Primarily focused to make sure the continuity flow was in sync with the film, this involves taking screenplay break down notes for the editor. With Chiemi’s experience as script supervisor working with prominent directors (on set ranging from Where the Wild Things Are to Adaptation), she pursued her passionate mind and intuitive skill for directing.


“Inside every film school student is a film director, On set I became the eyes and ears of all the people and the best person with the vantage point.”


Karasawa attended film school at . She received exposure to film sets as a way to “get in as a stepping stone.” After forming the doc production company Isotope Films. She had a focus on documentaries for their ability to tell stories to audiences.


“Projects come from head and heart, Docs were the easiest thing to finance primarily because there wasn’t a 5 year wait on productions like for larger projects.”


Karasawa was drawn to Elaine Stritch because her hairdresser mentioned Elaine’s praises. Karasawa originally met Elaine on the set of 200 Cigarettes. John Tuturro was a big fan and told Karasawa how great was, too. John recommended to Chiemi that Elaine needed to do her thing in the movie. That’s an understatement. At one moment during the documentary, Elaine is described as a “Molotov cocktail of madness, insanity and genius.”


“When your hairdresser tells you someone is important, you better listen.” Karasawa said, “And at her age, she continues to be relevant with an incredible journey including appearances on 30 Rock and Woody Allen movies.”


As Karasawa began capturing the every day life of Elaine Stritch, a few things surprised her including Elaine’s vulnerability and take charge approach to her own life despite the long years. The raw emotion from her vulnerability is a direct result of pulling herself together during serious health issues regarding alcohol and diabetes among other burden. Karasawa admired Elaine’s sincere honesty.


“Elaine is a convent school girl at heart, She does have incredible vulnerability and interest in the world. She cares so much about the audience and doesn’t have a jaded view about being good on the stage. She doesn’t give a shit how she comes across. She is still managing her life and career at 87. She was still living this independent life at her age and astounded me every day.”


Karasawa wants audiences to understand while watching Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me the real Elaine Stritch stripped down and exposed as a strong woman. She hopes audiences can draw the positive attitude Elaine embodies in light of her troublesome circumstances.


“Audiences should be inspired by her spirit and the idea that she still has a positive outlook on life, This is about aging and creates a relevance to the time of life. She has a lot of knowledge and wisdom. I hope people think of that and wants people in the performing arts to think about your attitude for the rest of your life. If she had it her way, she would want people to consider the picture they leave behind every day.”


Elaine Stritch and director Chiemi Karasawa Photo courtesy of Shutterstock



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About Kenny Miles

Whether something is overlooked by Hollywood or whatever business trend has captured the Entertainment Industry’s attention, Kenny Miles loves to talk about movies (especially the cultural impact of a film). He covers various aspects of movies including specialty genre films, limited release, independent, foreign language, documentary features, and THE much infamous "awards season." Also, he likes to offer his opinion on the business of film, marketing strategy, and branding. He currently resides in Denver, Colorado and is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society critics group. You can follow him on Twitter @kmiles723.

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