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Tim Disney, An Independent Filmmaker - Part 1
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by Paul Perrello
May 16, 2001
Tim Disney, the son of Roy E. Disney and great nephew of Walt Disney, has a film being released, A Question of Faith. Part One of this interview takes a look at that film.

Tim Disney, An Independent Filmmaker
Paul Perrello

Playing this week at a multiplex theater near you may be an independent "Disney" movie. A Question of Faith is not your typical Disney film, laughs first time director Tim Disney, the son of Roy E. Disney, Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Walt Disney Company. Tim Disney, the great-nephew of Walt, says his movie about a miraculous encounter at a monastery in the heart of California’s wine country, is "the retelling of the Christian story in a twisted way, but a respectful way."

I recently had the opportunity to sit-down and interview Tim Disney at the Westin Hotel in Center City Philadelphia on the weekend that his new movie was showing at the Tenth Annual Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema. We spoke about his directorial debut with A Question of Faith, his work on future projects, and what it is like having a famous last name and being part of America’s first family of entertainment. In part one of my interview with him, Tim Disney shares his thoughts about his first movie, film festivals and the difference between his movie and the Disney classics.

The soft-spoken Tim Disney is down-to-earth, friendly and blends in with the crowd. Dressed in jeans and a shirt, I conducted my interview in the lobby of the Westin and unless someone was eavesdropping, they would have never known who he was. Tim, who is about to turn 40-years-old, is married and the father of two children, ages five and one. He lives in Los Angeles and is concentrating his efforts these days on filmmaking.

His movie A Question of Faith, however is no mid-life-crisis film. Raised a Catholic, Tim was an altar boy in his youth but he does not consider himself a religious person in the sense that he is "not a frequent churchgoer." Furthermore he does not consider his movie a religious movie. Disney says it is "more about spirituality in the larger sense."

As the official selection of the Sundance Film Festival last year and most recently playing at the Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema, there is an obvious difference between Walt Disney’s classic films and Tim Disney’s new movie. While A Question of Faith is not your typical Disney flick, Tim Disney says his movie is "Disney-like because it appeals to a broad audience."

A Question of Faith is based on a short story by Rachel Ingalls. Disney says he came across the story years ago but never had any intention of making it into a movie. Disney says the sensibility of the story struck him as a story that needed to be told. "The story dealt with themes of faith and wonder," Disney adds, "with a sense of humor." Disney says it is the humor that allows the movie to address themes "which can often times be heavy-handed."

With his first film hitting wide screen distribution this week in select markets across the country, Tim Disney does not forget the importance of film festivals. Disney contends festivals allow independent filmmakers the opportunity to demonstrate to film distributors the audience’s reaction to movies. Disney believes film festivals also afford filmmakers an intimate environment to share their work with audiences. Disney says he most enjoys festival audiences because "they are generous."

Disney gathered an ensemble cast of character actors for his directorial debut in A Question of Faith. He says after he signed English actor Bernard Hill to his movie, other actors like Paul Guilfoyle, Daniel Von Bargen, Joe Spano and Naveen Andrews were quick to get on board with the project. Disney even cast his wife, Star Trek actress Martha Hackett in a major role in the movie. Disney says he was able to attract the caliber of actors to his movie because of the strength of his script.

With the last name of Disney, Tim says there was a lot of pressure to succeed with his movie. Disney admits it was risky for the actors to sign on to do his film. Being a low budget independent film, Disney says he could not pay his actors and they worried about protecting their professional careers. Equally risky was the fact that Disney was a first time director. Disney admits he was nervous on the first day of work on the project adding that he had worked in films before but "had never worked with actors."

Tim Disney’s first professional film credit was as a contributing writer for Walt Disney Pictures Oliver and Company in 1988. After that experience, Disney says he produced a television show before getting out of show business. He turned his attention to owning and operating a software business for seven years before he decided to form a movie production company.

In 1999, Disney and Bill Haney established Uncommon Productions, a producer of quality entertainment for a variety of media. While A Question of Faith is Uncommon Productions first venture into movie making, Disney says he and his partner are currently working on four documentaries as well as some feature film projects. Disney says one such venture Whale Song is a series of short films about whales and dolphins, which is currently in production for theatrical release and PBS.

Tim Disney, the youngest child of Roy and Patty Disney says his parents saw A Question of Faith and were overall pleased with the film. Disney says his father offered some feedback after seeing some early rough cuts of A Question of Faith. As for his mother’s opinion, Tim says "my mom like it and if your mom likes it, you know you are doing alright."

What is it like to be a member of the Disney family? What are Tim Disney’s recollections of his great uncle Walt and grandfather Roy Disney? And what was the "Walt Box" that arrived at Tim Disney’s family house each Christmas? Those are just some of the other areas up for discussion in part two of my interview with Tim Disney, An Independent Filmmaker.

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-- Posted May 16, 2001
-- Story by Paul Perrello