YEAR:  2003

DIRECTOR: Michael Almereyda

GENRE: Documentary

LENGTH: 89 minutes


This film chronicles the pre-production of Shepard's 2000 play "The Late Henry Moss" showing three weeks of rehearsal before its premiere at the Magic Theatre in November 2000. The play features several dysfunctional family members reuniting after the death of their estranged father and the cast includes Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, Woody Harrelson, James Gammon, Cheech Marin and Sheila Tousey. Interviews with Shepard, focusing on his relationship with his own alcoholic father, are threaded throughout the film.

"In an apparently relaxed, collage-like way, Almereyda combines interviews with Shepard, his actors and staff with images of the rehearsals. The result is a strikingly intimate group portrait and a unique glimpse of top actors seeking their way through the material - sometimes under pressure, sometimes at their ease. At the same time, the film offers a survey of the career of Shepard, including a report of his stormy relationship with his father, who died in 1984, which motivated this play."

Moira MacDonald, Seattle Times:
"Ultimately, you leave 'This So-Called Disaster' with renewed respect for Shepard, who comes off as a kind of quiet hero: a man of words, confronting his past with little fuss, and from it creating a legacy."

Perry Seibert,;
"The best moments in the film take place away from the rehearsals when Shepard, alone on a chair on a porch, reveals the autobiographical facts about his relationship with his father. This often painful history has provided the raw material from which Shepard has fashioned plays that have made him arguably the most successful America playwright of his time. To hear him speak about these facts is engaging."

Scott Foundas, LA Weekly:
"In the end, what takes shape is not just a significant unraveling of Shepard's taciturn mystique, but a potent sense of the pain and rigor of revealing oneself through art."

"A fascinating meeting of the minds — between iconic New York indie filmmaker Michael Almereyda and laconic American cowboy and dramatist Shepard. A natural for arts-oriented tube outlets, the added marquee value of stars Nick Nolte, Sean Penn and Woody Harrelson (all of whom starred in the “Henry Moss” production) will also ensure a measure of theatrical exposure for this low-key exercise."

Lisa Schwarzbaum, EW:
"Shepard gives his cast a few notes and runs them through an interesting, quick-time table reading, but mostly he watches, strikingly photogenic in repose, while his players do the various things actors do to find and develop their characters... 'Disaster' also includes interviews with the principals, most handsomely with Shepard, who talks about his hard-drinking father, whose death inspired the play."

Ty Burr, Boston Globe:
"The title makes it sound like it's going to be one of those unmaking-of-an-epic documentaries about film directors gone loco, like 'Hearts of Darkness' but 'This So-Called Disaster' turns out to be one of the finer peeks into the creative process of staging a play. Granted, that's a tiny genre, and the film's core audience - theater majors and the people who love them - is narrow. The lessons, however, are big."

Marnohla Dargis, LA Times:
"In its vision of the push-and-pull of rehearsal and the revelation of how a play comes to breathing, snorting life onstage, Almereyda's film brings us close to the act of creation."

David Noh, Film Journal International:
"Consistently engrossing, with nary a dull moment, and very enlightening on what is popularly called 'the actor's process.'"

Bill White, Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
"Micheal Almereyda's documentary is an eye-opener on the art of acting. The public generally is privy only to the end result of work that is exploratory and risk-taking. Here actors are shown in their natural habitat, not in glamorously framed close-ups, but out on the edge, searching for ways to penetrate and illuminate the writer's vision. In one scene, Penn tells Shepard that no matter how much he suffers in bringing the character to life, it is little compared to what the writer had to live in order to create it."

A.O. Scott, NY Times:
"Creative people of all kinds, but perhaps especially those involved in performing, love to talk about process, that mystery-shrouded road between the raw material of experience and the high finish of a work of art. Process is so fascinating to insiders and outsiders because it is hard to convey. Interviews with actors, directors and writers tend to devolve into truisms and abstractions, while attempts to dramatize artists at work often suffer from melodrama and foreshortening, missing the small details, the trial and error, and the sheer tedium of artistic labor. All of which makes Michael Almereyda's new documentary, ''This So-Called Disaster,'' especially fascinating."

David Sterritt, Christian Science Monitor:
"Almereyda's movie is riveting for several reasons: its inside look at Shepard in action, its vivid account of how a challenging play is brought from printed page to public stage, and its glimpses of Shepard's troubled youth, which inspired key aspects of 'Henry Moss.' Its title notwithstanding, 'This So-Called Disaster' is anything but."