Personally speaking: Filmmaker Rudi Azank

(L) Ran Shelly and (R) Rudi Azank.

Rudi Azank has spent over half his short life thinking (obsessing) over Samuel Beckett’s paean to “nothingness” in the Irish ex-pat’s French language play “Waiting For Godot” (“En Attendant Godot,” written in 1948 and performed in too many places and languages to try to count). One of those was Woodstock, NY where ten-year-old Rudi Azank began his career as Didi — Beckett’s Vladimir — who, along with erstwhile companion Gogo — Beckett’s Estragon — waits…and waits…and waits some more…for someone (or something) named Godot. It’s a sparse telling in a near-empty space, with a lone bare tree sitting sentinel, as the two banter in the absurd language and wit of Samuel Beckett. It’s considered the first truly modern play, a post-World War II epic where the two men wait for a man they do not know and who never quite arrives.

“I was more-or-less oblivious to its complexity,” says Azank of his ten-year-old self, “but it was the relationship between Didi and Gogo that hit me.”

Jump forward ten years and NYU film student Rudi Azank decides to retell the story of the two “bums” with no place to go and no way to get there. And using the original French manuscript instead of the heavily censored English one. And in a 90-minute film production…talk about ambitious.

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Azank’s “career” took off when as a 14-year-old he took some specially-designed-for-him film classes at the New School in the City (“I told them I was 17,” he says, with an impish grin) and came to love the post-WW II Italian neo-Realist film-making of Roberto Rosselini and Vittorio DeSica and their DP (cinematographer) Gianni DiVenazo, and the French New Wave cinema of Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. “It’s why I love black-and-white film,” he says, referencing his films to come. So, Azank got a GED, plus lots of college credits and decided to move back to Gardiner with his parents. Then NYU beckoned and all of Azank’s cinema dreams started to come true. 

In “his” version of Beckett’s “Godot”, Azank decides to go with his idea of a certain understanding and compassion between Didi and Gogo, something very understated in most productions of the play. “I wanted a kind-of ‘don’t worry, be happy, version’,” says Azank, “a kind-of antithesis of the play’s opening line of ‘Nothing to be done’ (spoken by Didi to Gogo — or anyone else within earshot), because as the two wander around the night-time City (another departure from Beckett’s spare set, with tree) they do many things: talk, kibbitz, some vaudeville schtick, meet up with Master and Servant (tied with a leash), Pozzo (J. Moliere) and Lucky (Molly Densmore) — another departure from the original: played by two women — and just meander around the liquid black and white metropolis. “I wanted a portable ‘Godot’, with multiple trees, multiple venues, showing their friendship, their relationship.” One idea that Azank drew on was the striking similarity between the homelessness of post-Recession New York and its counterpart in the 1930’s Depression Era, using period music. Didi and Gogo as street people, as men looking for something…anything…even an unknown Godot. “It’s kind of like a marriage. They need each other. It’s a kind-of self-help play; they’re waiting and waiting, but enjoy the time together, finding the peace to forget about the waiting.”

Azank believes Beckett intended his characters as a natural and sometimes disturbing foil to their suffering. “The poverty aspect of the play is one I feel is central to there being a palpable conflict or narrative for these characters. Take the focus away from the severity of Didi and Gogo’s situation of desolation, and you kill the chance for the audience to care about two bums and understand their story, and so people start to think there is no story to the play.”

The finished film: “While Waiting For Godot” took almost five years to create, from the writing (with fellow NYU students/producers Ran Shelly — who plays Gogo — and Steven Kaiser-Pendergast — who plays The Boy — through the filming to a 20-minute documentary/preview to post-production sound-synching to the finished 90-minute film (it is available for viewing at: www,whilewaitingforgodot.com/film.html).

The play (and Azank) has won numerous Rome Web Awards (on You Tube): Best Cinematography (in luscious black and white); Best Drama; Visionary of the Year; and Best Internet Program.

And film festivals?

“I’ve been turned down by the best,” laughs Azank. But regardless, the creative juices flow… a half-hour documentary on film composer Lalo Schiffrin (“Mission Impossible” theme, and others) — “He’s Argentinian like me (Rudi’s father is the painter Roberto Azank)”; a coming-of-age short-film: “I Smile”, about an old man who buries an I-Pad; and a feature-length caper-film shot in one long take: “Santaconmen”, which is being edited. And a section of “While Waiting For Godot” will be shown at the Water Street Market on August 20 as part of the New Paltz Shorts Festival.

So…nothing to be done?

You haven’t met Rudi Azank.

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