Filmmaker Profile: Peter Rosen, GARRISON KEILLOR: The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes

Posted on May 29, 2009

Peter Rosen’s career wasn’t always in filmmaking. Shortly after graduating from Cornell University with a degree in architecture, he changed course and decided to pursue his passion––film. “Once I saw you had to work for some company for about 30 years before they would actually let you design anything, I quit after a year or so,” Rosen says. Since he was a teenager, Rosen had enjoyed taking still photographs and received several awards for his work. His love of photography led naturally to filmmaking and in college he began making documentaries. 

Today, he has produced and directed over 100 full-length films and television programs, which have been distributed worldwide and have won awards at many major film festivals. In 1990, while directing the PBS special Carnegie Hall at 100: A Place of Dreams, Rosen and his production team brought back all the performers who played on the famous stage, including Garrison Keillor, best known for his role as host of the radio program A Prairie Home Companion. At the time, Rosen decided Keillor would be a great subject for a documentary, and 16 years later, he got the chance to make the film.


In GARRISON KEILLOR: The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes, airing July 1 on American Masters on PBS (check local listings), Rosen follows Keillor for a year as he performs in large and small towns across the country. The film attempts to illustrate Keillor’s internal thoughts with visuals that abstract or counterpoint his words, an idea that occurred to Rosen after watching Keillor at work. “He [Keillor] is always typing his stories on his laptop–– in cars, in planes, at the airports, at home––everywhere. He was always writing something,” Rosen says. “As we shot that, I began to wonder what was going on inside his head, and then actually tried to illustrate that.” One of Rosen’s most memorable moments happened before production when he met Robert Altman, director of the film A Prairie Home Companion (2006), written by Keillor. “I always thought he [Altman] was the genius of American cinema,” Rosen says. “As a documentary filmmaker, I always admired how he would create very natural action and dialog in front of several cameras, and just let it play out in overlapping words and movement that were unpredictable and very natural.” 


When Rosen told the esteemed Altman that he was working on a documentary about Garrison Keillor, he was thrilled with Altman’s response: “Oh, wonderful. You will be working with the only genius I ever worked with!” When looking for funding, Rosen approached ITVS because his project was truly an independent film––with no other funding at the time or outside help. After meeting ITVS Vice President of Programming Claire Aguilar at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2006, he pitched the idea, and the rest is independent film history. Watch a clip below:        


GARRISON KEILLOR: The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes premieres July 1 on American Masters on PBS (check local listings)

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