BEING ELMO seeks the man behind the Muppet

With more than 100 films set to screen at the Sundance Film Festival this year, festival-goers and watchers from afar can use all the help they can get in figuring out what’s headed their way. One highly useful tool is the series of interviews the website indieWIRE is rolling out in which directors whose films will bow at Sundance answer questions about their films — their motives, the challenges they’ve faced, their plans.

Here’s an excerpt from indieWIRE’s interview with director Constance Marks, whose movie, BEING ELMO: A PUPPETEER’S JOURNEY, about the puppeteer behind the “Sesame Street” Muppet Elmo, Kevin Clash, will be included in the Sundance Film Festival’s U.S. Documentary Competition:

Oddly, I never really decided to make “BEING ELMO: A Puppeteer’s Journey.” Nine years ago, my husband James Miller who is a DP, was shooting at “Sesame Street.” Our daughter Sophia was about two years old and James brought a brag book to the set. When he returned that evening, he handed me a VHS tape and to my amazement, Kevin Clash had made a tape for Sophia in which Elmo and James were looking at the pictures and addressing Sophia through the camera. Who was this man – this Kevin Clash, I wondered, who took considerable time to make a tape for complete strangers? I’d seen the furry red one on “Sesame Street” and always found him plucky and very appealing. I’d noticed that the way the puppet was manipulated, this character was conveying a wide range of emotions with tremendous subtlety. I was very intrigued.

Years later, James called me from the set. He said “I’m at ‘Sesame’ today and Kevin Clash is here.” Impulsively, I blurted out, “You tell that man that your wife has a crush on him and wants to make a documentary about him.” That night, James came home with Kevin’s assistant’s phone number. That was it. No heavy deliberations or soul searching — just an opportunity that I grabbed and thought: if he says ‘yes,’ I’ll figure out a way to make it work.

The rest of the interview can be found here.