Wrestling With Angels, Playwright Tony Kushner | A Film by Academy Award®-winning Director Freida Lee Mock
Director's Statement Print E-mail

Freida Lee MockI first became interested in Tony Kushner after hearing him deliver an amazing, inspiring one minute speech.

In the early l990’s I had heard about a provocative, long new play called Angels in America, but unlike many who saw it in its gestation in San Francisco, Los Angeles, London or in its Broadway run in l993, I did not see Angels nor had I read or seen any of Kushner’s plays when I started this film in the fall of 2001.

I had, however, read a short essay Tony had written called With a Little Help From My Friends from his book Thinking About the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness.  In this essay Tony expressed his heartfelt thanks to all the people who had helped him become the playwright he is, especially following the acclaim of Angels in America.  I found the essay funny, generous, openhearted, politically astute, surprising and I said to myself, “Who is this person?  No one thinks this way.  Schadenfreude rules.”  I loved the spirit of his ideas and the personality behind the writing.  

Shortly afterwards I heard Tony speak at a college graduation.  He was told he could speak but for one minute.  His speech was hilarious and serious, highly political, a tour de force that surprised and inspired us about the possibilities of a better world.  In the four years of directing this film about Tony as an artist and activist, I find this typical of his impact on audiences.   

His speech and essay stayed with me.  Right after September 11, I ran across an article in the LA Times that described the opening of a new Kushner play off-Broadway, Homebody/Kabul, his first since writing Angels.  The subject of his play Afghanistan, a place I knew, immediately sparked my interest in doing a film about Kushner and his work as a playwright and activist.

A leap of faith about the film propelled me over the next three years as I filmed and essentially “stalked” Tony all over the country - Chicago, Berkeley, Miami, Los Angeles, Texas, Louisiana, New York, Boston, Providence - wherever his plays and public engagements with high school, college, and local communities took him.

I was particularly drawn to Tony’s interest in writing, often with blistering humor and seriousness, about some of the major social and political issues of our time; issues such as war, race, class, the AIDS pandemic, gay and lesbian rights, genocide, and the war on terrorism.  And I was interested in exploring the influential forces of creativity and how Kushner grapples with large themes and is able to transform an audience through the unique intimacy of theater.  

These years have been immensely active for Kushner with the production of new plays, books, master classes and community work.  These projects and activities are the building-blocks through which the movie’s audience, I hope, will come to understand not only Kushner’s artistry, but the creative process in general, the power of theater to engage and move us, and the difference one person and artist can make in inspiring us to be actively involved with the moral and political issues of our times.


Freida Lee Mock 

Production Team Print E-mail
Director, Writer, Producer – Freida Lee Mock

Mock is an Academy and Emmy Award winning-filmmaker who received the Oscar for writing, directing and producing the feature documentary Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision, about the designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Civil Rights Memorial. She followed this with the feature documentary Return With Honor, about American fighter pilots surviving as POWs in North Vietnam for almost 9 years.  The film was presented theatrically by Tom Hanks and Playtone after its Sundance premiere. She has been nominated for an Oscar for the short documentaries Sing!; Rose Kennedy: A Life to Remember; Never Give Up, the story of the holocaust survivor Dr. Herbert Zipper; and To Live or Let Die, about a day in the life in a neonatal intensive care unit that raises ethical questions about life and death.  Mock’s film projects have been supported by grants from NEA, CPB, AFI, Women in Film, NAATA, and family foundations.  She graduated from UC Berkeley in history and continued graduate studies there and at Berkeley’s Hastings College of Law.

Directors of Photography – Eddie Marritz, Don Lenzer, Bestor Cram, Terry Sanders

Eddie Marritz and Don Lenzer are two of the most distinguished cinema verite cinematographers who have worked with Mock on numerous films including Maya Lin and Return With Honor and both have photographed numbers of Academy Award-winning films.

Bestor Cram founded Northern Lights Production in Boston, a full service production company through which Bestor produces, directs and photographs outstanding documentaries.  While at Sundance with his film, Cram won a Mercedes in a drawing for directors in competition.   

Editor – Anne Stein

Stein works in studio and independent films. Wrestling With Angels is her third collaboration with Mock who previously worked with Stein on SING! and Bird by Bird With Annie.  Stein was the editor of Love Liza with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Kathy Bates which premiered at Sundance.  Prior to that she worked with Terrence Malick on The Thin Red Line.   

Composer – Jeanine Tesori

Tesori wrote the score for Thoroughly Modern Millie, Twelfth Night, Violet, songs for Mulan II and Lilo and Stitch II.  She has been nominated for a Tony and a Grammy and received an Obie Award, a Drama Desk Award, and a Best Musical by the NY Drama Critics Circle and the Lucille Lortel Awards.  She is now writing the Broadway musical Shrek.

Executive Producer – Terry Sanders

Sanders is a two-time Oscar winner for the classic short dramatic film A Time Out of War and for producing Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision. He is developing the movie Tokyo Rose and in production on Fighting for Life, a feature documentary about medical warriors and military medicine, focusing on Iraq/Afghanistan.

The Production Company – American Film Foundation/ Sanders & Mock Productions

This Santa Monica-based production company has produced Academy and Emmy Award-winning films that range from feature films, feature documentaries to television specials and series.