PUSH: Suicide and Incest at Sundance

PUSH, starring Lenny Kravitz and Mo’Nique

Lee Daniels is anxious but not anxious.

He’s been to the Festival before, as producer of the 2004 film THE WOODSMAN, the Kevin Bacon film about a pedophile that is what they call in the industry “a tough sell.” This year he’s got PUSH, another harrowing story about an overweight, illiterate teenaged incest victim in Harlem.

Daniels is not anxious because he feels that his film will succeed. It will sell and if by some chance it doesn’t, he feels his financial backers will find it the right home. He says he’s bursting with pride over this film.

But however not-anxious Daniels may be, there’s still that necessity of subjecting your baby to the world’s judgment. He has a routine before his films are screened at this and other festivals: “I have a lunch or early dinner where I pray with my cast,” he says. “We pray and thank God for the fact that I was able to finish another one, and that they were a part of it. . . . And then I go out and I have my one cigarette a year and a glass of champagne.” No, he doesn’t sit through the screening with the audience. “At that point, what does it matter?” he says. “There’s nothing I can do about it and it’s torture if they’re not laughing at the right spots or not moved at the right spots and I haven’t hit my mark. It’s torture.”

In light of this, you will understand his advice for those in the Festival for the first time: “You’ve got to believe in the baby that you’ve given birth to. Ultimately, if I’m stuck with this movie in my DVD player and that’s it, I’m happy about it. I’m in love with every frame.”

I couldn’t help but observe that PUSH sounds like it deals with some dark themes–just like his previous movies (He produced Monster’s Ball and directed Shadowboxer.) Daniels professed to be genuinely surprised by that. “I do think it’s a wrong impression,” he says. To him, his stories are real. “I’m watching a lot of movies and I don’t believe the people in them, I don’t believe the acting. I don’t buy the story,” he said. “We go to the movies to escape our reality . . . and I think rarely is the truth told.”

Nonetheless, I said, many people find suicide and incest to be dark subjects.

“I’ll have to talk to my therapist about this–seriously,” he replied. And that’s a business decision. “I want to do a studio film,” he explained