A pair of serious cineasts lurk in the corridors of the Philadelphia Eagles' headquarters at the NovaCare Complex in South Philadelphia.
Their names? Christina Weiss Lurie and Jeffrey Lurie.
Their day jobs? Owners of the city's NFL franchise.
And the talk going on one recent Friday in the Eagles' conference room, overlooking the team's practice field and a sky of fast-scudding clouds? Italian neorealists. Vittorio De Sica. The Godfather, Part II. The Garden of the Finzi-Continis. Roman Polanski. An obscure Ralph Fiennes flick, Sunshine.
Not to mention a movie with the Luries' names on it: Inside Job.
Debuting in May at the Cannes Film Festival, where it topped IndieWire's poll of critics, and then screened at the Telluride, Toronto, and New York festivals, Inside Job is a far-reaching and frightening documentary about the global financial crisis of 2008. The Luries are executive producers of the film, which will open Friday at the Ritz Theaters. Charles Ferguson, whose Iraq War documentary No End in Sight was nominated for an Oscar, is the director.
As its title suggests, Inside Job is a heist picture - a heist of epic proportions, with a band of real-life "perps" who include investment bankers, CEOs, Fed regulators, and Wall Street titans. For many, of course, the economic meltdown is still happening: people out of work, out of their homes.
"We wanted this to be a real, global, analytic view," says Jeffrey Lurie, who contributed a little less than half of Inside Job's $2 million budget through the Lurie Family Foundation, which supports autism and cancer research and documentaries dealing with social issues. The name of the Luries' company: Screen Pass Pictures.
"This is a very tough and complicated subject, and it had to be examined in a forthright and objective way," says Jeffrey.
"And balanced," adds Christina.
"Very balanced and well-researched," says Jeffrey. "To put our names on it, it had to be."
Ferguson and the Luries were introduced by John Sloss, an influential indie-film consultant and entertainment lawyer.
"I had never heard of either of them. I knew nothing about them," Ferguson says by phone from Los Angeles. "First I met with Christina. Then I met with both of them. We liked each other. We talked about the film. And they've been great."
Christina Lurie, says Ferguson, saw early rough cuts and offered suggestions on possible edits. And she helped Ferguson as he explored the dizzying, deregulated world of hedge funds, collateralized debt obligation, and credit default swaps.
"She knew a fair number of people in the financial world," the filmmaker says. "She actually introduced me to several quite interesting people that led to conversations . . . that were invaluable." Among the people Christina arranged for Ferguson to meet: Hank Greenberg, former chairman and chief executive officer of AIG, and Denis Bovin, vice chairman of the now-defunct Bear Stearns Cos. Inc.
"I think he did a great job," Christina says. "Obviously, not every view in the film is representative of our views - but that's not the point. This is not our film. This is a film on a very complicated subject that has affected millions of people around the world."
Their history in films
Christina Weiss and Jeffrey Lurie met in the late 1980s when he was a Hollywood producer and she, too, worked in film in Los Angeles. His company, Chestnut Hill Productions, was overseeing I Love You to Death, the Kevin Kline-Tracey Ullman black comedy (also with Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix). She was an associate producer.
"Oh, my God, that was a long time ago," Jeffrey says, smiling. They married in Switzerland in 1992. He's 59 now. She's a decade younger.
The two clearly share a passion for movies. Asked to name a few favorites, the couple bat titles back and forth, interrupting and finishing each other's sentences. Maybe they're just relieved at not having to answer questions about Kevin Kolb and Michael Vick, but they're having a good time.
"Godfather II, The Great Escape," he says.
"Slumdog Millionaire," she says. "I rewatched The Deer Hunter recently.
"Johnny Got His Gun, Dalton Trumbo."
"Sophie's Choice, Schindler's List, The Pianist."
"West Side Story. . . . I love Broadway musicals, and movie musicals."
"We just screened The Bicycle Thief," says Christina.
"Oh! Any of De Sica's. A Brief Vacation . . . I loved," says Jeffrey, almost giddy. "Oh, I wish people were making De Sica-like movies today! He's probably my all-time favorite filmmaker."
In addition to Inside Job, Screen Pass Pictures helped finance Sérgio, about U.N. diplomat Sérgio Vieira de Mello, killed in a 2003 bombing in Iraq. Coming up are documentaries on hunger in America, the politics of oil in Ghana and Nigeria, and a portrait of a young, homeless San Diego artist. Any profit - and documentaries don't normally make any profit - will go back into the Lurie Family Foundation to pay for more movies.
"We started this feature documentary company with the idea of aligning with excellent filmmakers on themes that we were both interested in," says Jeffrey, "which is typically global themes, global issues, issues that don't get enough recognition, but impact daily life amongst a lot of people on the planet."
But while his interest in movies remains keen, Jeffrey says he has no desire - "never, ever" - to return to producing full time. Nor is he doing this as a way to influence the filmmakers he and Christina work with. (Ferguson says the Luries and Sony Pictures Classics, the co-financer and distributor of Inside Job, guaranteed him final cut - and kept their word.)
"In the end, it's like letting the coach call the plays," Jeffrey explains. "I want these very outstanding directors to be able to assert whatever they feel they need to assert. You know, Andy Reid has to call the plays. I can't inject anything there."
But at the same time, says Christina, "we are not hands-off executive producers." In many cases, an executive producer provides funding, or has an equity stake, in the film.
Adds Jeffrey: "Thematically, we had to really agree to the method of operation of this movie. . . . With so much politics involved, so many victims involved, we did not want to make a movie like Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story. . . . It had to be carefully analyzed from all sides and, hopefully, be illuminating."
"And entertaining," says Christina.
In addition to her work with Screen Pass Pictures, Christina is a partner in Vox3 Films, a New York indie production house whose titles include Adam (Hugh Dancy as a young man with autism), Broken English (Parker Posey as a young woman who falls for a French guy), and Fur (Nicole Kidman as Diane Arbus). One of its future projects: Big Shoe, "a foot-fetish movie," Christina says, with Joaquin Phoenix attached to star.
And somehow, between their nonfiction social-issue films and her slate of low-budget narrative features, Christina and Jeffrey manage to oversee the operation of one of the National Football League's most valuable franchises.
"A lot of times, if you make films in L.A., people are very proprietary. . . . They want to micromanage everything," observes Andrew Fierberg, one of Christina's two partners in Vox3. (The other is director Steven Shainberg.) "But I think what's really been interesting about working with Christina and Jeffrey is that they really do trust the people around them. You see that on the football field, too. You see how they run the franchise. . . . When I'm there and I see how they . . . work with their staff and work with the coaches and with the players. . . . Which means you get the best out of people by letting them show that they can do the rest, as opposed to saying, 'Do it this way.' "
A few Fridays ago, the Luries screened Inside Job for friends, family, and members of the Eagles organization in the theater at the NovaCare Complex - a real movie theater, with plush, swayback seats and 35mm and digital projectors. The couple have a theater in their Main Line house, too. And a Netflix account. And a 15-year-old who "wants to see the Iron Man movies," says Christina.
And as the film industry's awards season begins in earnest, Jeffrey, a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, is starting to get those "for your consideration" DVDs - films the studios hope are Oscar-worthy. However, by academy rules, "screeners" of documentary titles are not allowed; the films have to be seen by voting members in a theater.
But maybe the Eagles' NovaCare Complex theater counts? The Super Bowl XLV trophy isn't the only prize the Luries would like to see come their way early in 2011.
Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/