The Washington Post

Chris Dodd blows the doors open at MPA

At the Cannes Film Festival in May, former Connecticut senator Chris Dodd said that one of his goals as CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America – the movie industry’s lobbying organization in Washington – was to “blow open the doors at bit” to the MPAA’s Eye Street headquarters. “We’re trying to do ‘Nights With,’ and we’re lining up different people to come and spend an evening and … talk about why [the film industry] matters, and why Washington should give a damn.”

Filmmaker Michael Apted discussed his nearly 50-year career with MPAA chief Chris Dodd at the MPAA's inaugural "Evening With" event on Thursday. (Jeff Snyder)

Dodd’s vision came true last night, when director Michael Apted visited the MPAA for an hour-long conversation with Dodd. Along with championing the film industry as a job-creator and raising worries about piracy, Apted talked about his remarkably varied career making documentaries and feature films that span the music-driven drama of “Coal Miner’s Daughter” to a James Bond flick (“The World is Not Enough”).

After a cocktail hour in the MPAA’s crisply re-designed reception area, a small group of Washington movers, shakers and cinephiles gathered in the screening room to watch clips from Apted’s nearly 50-year career (including the aforementioned films, as well as “Thunderheart,” “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” and “Amazing Grace”). Apted got his start at age 22 in London, when he helped make a television show called “7 Up.” That program – which examined the lives and aspirations of 14 English seven-year-olds – became an unexpected franchise for Apted, who has re-visited his subjects every seven years thereafter.

His one regret about the “Up” series, he said, was that his initial group of subjects only included four girls. “We thought it was going to be a one-off film,” he told Dodd, adding that in 1964, when the series began, the women’s movement had barely begun in Britain. Apted – who said that women’s changing roles has been “the biggest drama of my lifetime” – regretfully admitted, “I shot myself in the foot with the ‘7 Up’ films, because I missed the story.”

Well, maybe just that once. But Apted’s interest in feminism has been reflected in several films he’s made featuring strong women’s roles: “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “Gorillas in the Mist” and “Nell,” to name a few. Apted said that the reason the “Bond” producers approached him for “The World is Not Enough” was because they wanted stronger female characters in the installment, the better to draw more women viewers.

Before digging into dessert and coffee, Apted announced that his latest “Up” movie, “56 Up,” is scheduled to arrive in the States this fall; he’s currently at work on a film about big-wave surfing. Thanks and congratulations to Sen. Dodd for blowing those MPAA doors open – it’s working splendidly so far.

Ann Hornaday is The Post's movie critic.


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