PN 47: Jonathan Demme & Renée Shafransky on Spalding Gray

“Swimming to Cambodia,” the 1987 film directed by Jonathan Demme, had a rippling influence. It laid the path for a kind of first person storytelling that today is widespread from “This American Life” to “The Moth.” The film is deceptively simple: monologuist Spalding Gray sits behind a desk and tells a stream of consciousness story about working as an actor on “The Killing Fields,” set against the back drop of America’s secret war in Cambodia. Gray had originated the project as a four-hour theater piece presented in two nights. His partner Renée Shafransky recruited Demme to adapt into a film, shortening it to feature length. The crew included cinematographer John Bailey, editor Carol Littleton and composer Laurie Anderson.

 

On this episode, Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviews Demme and Shafransky to discuss the film in October 2016 at New York’s IFC Center. Demme died on April 26, 2017.

For more on Demme, listen to him discuss his documentary portrait films on episode 6 and his music documentaries on episode 23.

On Twitter: @PureNonfiction @thompowers

“Swimming to Cambodia” is now available on DVD. This episode also touches upon the IFC TV series “Documentary Now” that has a parody episode of the film titled “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything” (season 2, episode 3).

Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.

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