At age 24, Alek Keshishian directed his first feature film, Madonna: Truth or Dare, which became the highest-grossing documentary ever made. (And remained so for more than a decade.) At 58, he's directed his second documentary, Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me, with no foreseeable plans to turn his lens on a third subject.
"I'd like to do more exec producing, because I really get off on mentoring young talent," he explains. "The idea of giving opportunities to others really turns me on. It's all part and parcel of this idea of making a difference. It doesn't always have to be with my name first."
For Keshishian, emotionality is what fuels both his own approach to filmmaking (between the documentaries, he directed two narrative features, 1994's With Honors and 2006's Love and Other Disasters, and co-wrote 2011's W.E. with Madonna) and to movie-going: What matters is that he feels something.
"I'm not very academic about film. I'm very emotional about it. I'm very much about, what did it awaken in me? How did it change me?" he says. "A lot of the most impactful things in my life, I don't remember details of, but I remember my experience of them."
Below, Keshishian shares with A.frame the five films that changed him the most.
Directed by: David Lean | Written by: Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson
I was young, I was watching this, and I was just transported. It was like a hero's journey, a life that transformed from one world to another. It was epic. I saw it on the really wide screen, and it was so immersive. It was overwhelmingly big, and I was transported. And I was fascinated by T. E. Lawrence. Afterwards, I wanted to read everything about him. So, it opened that door of curiosity.
Directed by: Victor Fleming | Written by: Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf
As a young kid, I watched Wizard of Oz year after year, and I think that even my sense of black-and-white and color was informed a little bit by that film. The play of color and black-and-white. What is colorful? What is more rigid? But, at the end, the universal message of returning to the home within and returning to home, even as a young kid, I felt like there was some truth in this.
Directed by: James Ivory | Written by: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
In my senior year of college, I became obsessed with A Room with a View. I don't know what it was — maybe it was my hormones — but I watched that movie three, four, five times in the cinema for the kiss, for that scene between Julian Sands and Helena Bonham Carter where he takes off his hat, and he looks at her, she makes her way through this field of flowers or whatever, and they kiss.
I tried to rewatch A Room with a View, and it didn't have quite the impact. But, at the time, I felt like it made me understand love. In that one cinematic moment, I felt like, 'Wow, that's what love is. That's what love feels like.'
Written and Directed by: Peter Weir
Gallipoli surprised me because it's obviously a beautifully made film, but the sheer amount of emotional release I got watching that movie, I was bawling by the end. Like, bawling. I thought, 'Surely, that's because I just watched it once.' I watched it a second time, and I was bawling again. And realizing, 'Holy f—k, I'm watching a movie. How can I be feeling such intense emotion?' It's that idea that, by watching someone else's story, by listening to someone else's story, you really can feel that connected, that you are shedding real tears for somebody else.
Directed by: Robert Wise | Written by: Ernest Lehman
Sound of Music was like [my experience watching] Wizard of Oz, but it was different. It was music interlaced with a serious story. It was playing with these ideas of innocence and goodness against dark forces and saying innocence and goodness can triumph over that. It was very much about how a human connection can thaw a frozen heart, and I think that's even really pertinent today, in the world we're living in, that idea of hope. Understanding that there's darkness around, but that connection can somehow triumph over that.
Even as a young kid, I was mesmerized by something that was both buoyant and, for a 10-year-old, quite scary on some level. Obviously, you don't understand the full context, but each time I viewed that movie, I would get more amazed. There was something about the way all those elements worked that fascinated me.