Still from The Trial of the Chicago 7 by Aaron Sorkin, image courtesy of The New York Times

Professor Annette Insdorf Interviews Writer-Director Aaron Sorkin for 'Reel Pieces'

BY Angeline Dimambro, November 24, 2020

Professor Annette Insdorf recently interviewed writer-producer-director Aaron Sorkin as part of the 92nd Street Y’s signature film series, Reel Pieces. Insdorf is an internationally renowned educator, and author of Francois Truffaut, Indelible Shadows: Film and HolocaustPhilip KaufmanIntimations: The Cinema of Wojciech Has, and Cinematic Overtures: How to Read Opening Scenes. Most recently, Insdorf was among the recipients of the 92nd Street Y’s 2020 Extraordinary Women Awards, which honor “game-changing and trailblazing women who bring equity, leadership and contributions to their communities and who work to rebuild a world in which we all belong.” 

 

Insdorf has curated and moderated Reel Pieces for over 30 years and has interviewed countless film celebrities, directors and actors alike. Normally, the series takes place in-person and includes preview screenings. However, due to the pandemic, Reel Pieces has gone virtual. This has only expanded the series’ audience, with nearly 700 people from around the world tuning in for Insdorf’s interview with Sorkin. Sorkin is an Academy-Award-winning writer and renowned playwright. His television work includes creating and producing both The West Wing and The Newsroom. He made his directing debut in 2017 with Molly’s Game, which starred Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, and Kevin Costner. 

Opening the event, Insdorf shared her excitement at having the opportunity to finally interview Sorkin: “I’m being quite honest when I say that Aaron Sorkin is one of the people who I have most wanted to interview, especially with the 92nd Street Y audience. I became a fervent admirer a bit late in the game, having missed The West Wing. I discovered and embraced his combination of craft and ethics in a series he created later—The Newsroom...I subscribed to HBO only to watch The Newsroom, finding it the very best that TV had to offer. “ 

 

The Trial of the Chicago 7, Sorkin’s latest film, is the second feature film he has directed and was the main topic of the evening’s discussion. The film is “his evocative recreation of the late 1960s trial following arrests at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.” The film’s title refers to the trial’s defendants—Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, and Lee Weiner. Introducing the film, Insdorf said, “It also has an eerily contemporary resonance for our own times of protest and upheaval. The film begins and closes with the chant heard in August 1968 when demonstrators gathered—‘The whole world is watching.’ Now that’s even more palpable in 2020 when cell phones can record and transmit all events in real time.”

 

The project came to Sorkin via Steven Spielberg, who asked him to write the screenplay 14 years ago. Sorkin initially had only “a vague sense” of the political unrest at the 1968 DNC, and he embarked on a journey of considerable research for the film. “There were a dozen or so really good books to read—some of them by the defendants themselves—a 21,000 page trial transcript, but the most critical part of the research was spending time with Tom Hayden.” While Hayden recently passed away in 2016, Sorkin was able to spend valuable time with Hayden in the years spent developing the project. 

 

The discussion also incorporated film clips, including the opening sequence, which introduces the multiple characters who fill out this ensemble piece. Ensemble pieces like this film, Insdorf noted, point towards a collectivity that, in her words, “convey interdependence rather than celebrating a sole hero.” The ensemble-nature of the film was essential to the film’s opening scene, and Sorkin took great care in crafting it: “I wanted to introduce the principal characters, immediately show the contrasts between them, but then the second thing that I wanted to do with this prologue was set the context for August 1968 and that convention.” 

 

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is currently streaming on Netflix. You can watch the complete interview here and browse Insdorf’s past interviews via the Reel Pieces events archive.