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"Just Say You're From NPR"

Annabelle Gurwitch at Wednesday's screening of Fired! (Photo: Christopher Campbell)

By Christopher Campbell

"Really, truly -- I would thank him if he knew who I was," Annabelle Gurwitch said about Woody Allen. "He’s a cultural icon. I think he's busy doing his Woody Allen thing."

Gurwitch may owe the icon more than her gratitude. Since getting fired by Allen from his play Writer's Block in 2003, she has turned her experience into a stage production, a book and now a film, all titled Fired! The last of these, a documentary directed by Chris Bradley and Kyle LaBrache, had its New York premiere at the Village East Cinemas Wednesday night.

The film does not differ greatly from Gurwitch's previous two efforts, which compiled stories of job loss from friends and famous people. In fact, if you've read the stories from her book, you'll be disappointed to hear some of them again, mostly abridged, read or recounted on screen. Still, there are a few moments in the adaptation that add something new, such as the all-puppet reenactment of Tate Donovan being canned from the movie Torch Song Trilogy and the odd hot tub sequence featuring Fred Willard and Harry Shearer.

Beyond the amusing anecdotes, too, is a deeper involvement with the issues of layoffs, wage plateaus, and other economic concerns that face America despite the currently low unemployment rate. One audience member went so far as to call the film a "kind of 2007 version of Roger & Me."

"Without gaining the weight," Gurwitch replied. "I'm a big fan of docs, and I am an admirer of Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock and a lot of people who are making documentary films. It's my first film, and I see all the flaws in it, but it is my goal to sort of take my own personal life and put it into the bigger cultural zeitgeist."

One of the flaws that Gurwitch may not see, though, is the problem of mixing comedy and serious issues, and she might want to take more inspiration from, say, Ross McElwee, whom she references in the latest issue of Documentary magazine, than Moore and Spurlock. Of course, she defends the trend of first-person humorist film journalism, as is the fashion these days. "When you take into account that something like 80 percent of people in their 20s get their news from The Daily Show," she told Documentary, "you have to consider that the best way to reach people on serious issues may be through comedy."

At least Gurwitch, unlike those she claims to admire, is not out to make anyone look bad. Her movie is hilarious, but its humor is never at the expense of an interviewee or an organization. As polite as she appears to be, she probably could have gotten the interview with Roger Smith (GM and the state of Michigan even figure in her film). And she has advice for any wannabe doc-makers struggling to get a hold of important people. "When you work for NPR, like I do, people take your calls," she said. "And even if you don't, nobody checks. Just say you're from NPR."

At its best, Fired! works as a sort of group therapy for people depressed about being fired. "Nickel and Dimed" author Barbara Ehrenreich, who was in the audience, suggested that people should have house parties where they watch the film on DVD and binge drink together. Or if, like me, you were once fired by the company that runs the Village East Cinemas, you will definitely want to see the doc when it opens there on February 2nd.

Posted at January 25, 2007 8:33 AM

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