Exclusive Interview: Director Janet Gardner

27 12 2010

Collage by Marshall Reese.

Documentary Director/Producer Janet Gardner talked about her latest endeavor, MECHANIC TO MILLIONAIRE: THE PETER COOPER STORY, with PSD.

Janet with Terry Lawler, the Executive Director of New York Women in Film & Television (NYWIFT)

Janet and I began by talking about how she and a group of select folks helped bring this story to its full attention.

Before we jumped into the full story of Peter, Janet told me about how she got started in making documentaries.

Janet produced that film “The United Nations: It’s More than You Think” with her brother, E. Ty Gardner for Cambridge Educational Video, now part of Films for the Humanities and Sciences.  The film also led to the creation of The Gardner Group Inc which is Janet’s production company.  Under this label she’s made 7 feature documentaries that range from Cambodia to Vietnam and to Siberia (and numerous other projects).  Janet’s journalistic background is deeply mixed in with a want to inform.  Well I’ll let Janet explain.

The Ol’ Buckeye didn’t mind letting me know that my generation needed to step it up!!  One of the main reasons Janet made this documentary about Peter Cooper was because of his tremendous work in helping women.

This respect of women didn’t just lead to helping with education.   Peter allowed many famous speakers to talk at the Cooper Union Great Hall.  Janet talked about some of the more important women speakers.

Exterior of The Cooper Union Foundation building taken in 1893. Photo credit: Cooper Union Library Archives.

Speaking of Honest Abe, Janet got a loyal supporter of  The Gardner Documentary Group‘s films to lend his voice for the documentary.

Photo by Jeff Vespa – © WireImage.com  Kevin’s  a loyal supporter of the Gardner Documentary Group’s films

The film breaks Peter’s life into three parts (roughly thirty years a piece) in which we see him grow from a mechanic into a millionaire and beyond.  Janet talks about not only the inspiration for this structural method but also the book that influence the whole story.

Janet explains about the influences that Peter had and who admired him.

The film showcases reenactments of the more pivotal scenes in Peter’s life.

Janet Gardner and actor Scott Klavan (Middle-Aged Peter Cooper) on set (on the Tom Thumb). Photo credit Dennis Townes.

One particular shoot caused Janet to fear even filming it.

Janet discussed where they shot those historic sequences.

Now speaking of New York, Janet talked about the upcoming broadcasts of the documentary.

Sunday, Jan. 2, 2011 5 PM WLIW, CH 21 (New York, NY)
Sunday, Jan. 2, 2011 2 PM WNET (New York, NY)
Wednesday, Dec. 29th, 2010 11 PM KCTS-9 (Seattle, WA)
Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2010 10 PM WNET (New York, NY)

This past Monday December 20th the New York Women in Film\Television presented a screening of the film at the Maysles Cinema, New York, NY.

Now in Janet’s Director’s Statement she ended with a famous quote from Peter.

The dealers in money have always been the dangerous class.  There may, at some future day, be a whirlwind precipitated upon the moneyed men of this country.

Janet has one final message for you.

For more info on future screenings/broadcast dates and times and the film’s trailer click here.




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