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John Sayles: Indie Filmmaking Before Indie Was Hip

Film director John Sayles is in town with his partner in life and film, Maggie Renzi, ahead of the Port Townsend Film Festival. The two spoke with KUOW’s Marcie Sillman about their unique journey in filmmaking.

Sayles traces his interest in filmmaking back to his childhood. His family would head to a drive-in theater for hours of entertainment.

"They would start with a cartoon," Sayles reminisces. "Then there was the western, which we liked." In particularly, Sayles says he loves scenes of horses crossing the water.

John Sayles didn't study filmmaking in college. But he released his first movie, “The Return of the Seacaucus Seven,” in 1980. He didn't make "Seacaucus" until after he'd written his first screenplay for legendary Hollywood producer Roger Corman. Sayles and Renzi used his $40,000 paycheck from that job to finance their entire film.

Sayles and Renzi have made 17 more films together since then, including "Lone Star", "Matewan" and "Passion Fish." They've hired actors like David Strathairn and Chris Cooper, who've gone on to careers in bigger budget films. The duo have also mentored a generation of younger filmmakers.

Sayles and Renzi will be honored this weekend at the annual Port Townsend festival. The two have a special fondness for the Pacific Northwest: former Seattle-area independent movie theater entrepreneur Randy Findlay bought the first rights to screen "Seacaucus."

Sayles isn't certain if he'll make another movie. But Sayles continues to write screenplays.

Renzi says these days it's hard to raise money, and they never know when the funding will come through. Sayles says he plans to be ready when it does.