Thomas Lennon (‘Knife Skills’ director): Restaurant story about former prisoners as staff ‘just tumbles into’ his lap [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

“Sometimes, your research brings you to a story, and other times a story just tumbles into your lap,” divulges Thomas Lennon when asked during our recent webcam chat (watch the exclusive video above) about what inspired him to make the documentary short “Knife Skills.” While dining with a friend in New York, the filmmaker met Brandon Chrostowski, who was about to open what he described as “the greatest French restaurant in the United States” in Cleveland, Ohio. When Lennon learned that the staff of “Edwins,” as it was eventually named, was going to be almost entirely made up of men and women recently released from prison, “I knew within five or ten seconds that there was a potential film there.”

Adds Lennon, “My great, good fortune was that chance encounter happened before he had started, so I was really able to capture the foundation of this restaurant.” When it came to ingratiating himself with the staff, “they had so many things to worry about: find a new place to live, find a new car, find a job, repair your relationship with your family. And then hovering over all of that is this nagging sense that maybe there’s some flaw in me that I need to fix. So they had other things on their mind than me. They were just glad to have a friendly person around. I had no issue with them.”

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Lennon won an Oscar for Best Documentary Short for “The Blood of Yingzhou District” (2006). He competed once more in that category for “The Warriors of Qiugang” (2010) and once in Documentary Feature for “The Battle Over Citizen Kane” (1996), an eye-opening look at the fight between Orson Welles and William Randolph Hearst over Welles’ 1941 masterpiece. That film also brought Lennon an Emmy nomination in 1996, and he contended at the TV Academy twice more for “Unchained Memories: Readings from the Slave Narratives” (Non-Fiction Special and Non-Fiction Directing in 2003). He won a News and Documentary Emmy in 1985 for “To Save Our Schools, to Save Our Children.”

“Knife Skills” recently made the Academy shortlist in their Best Documentary Short category. It competes against “Alone,” “Edith + Eddie,” “Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405,” “Heroin(e),” “Kayayo,” “116 Cameras,” “Ram Dass, Going Home,” “Ten Meter Tower,” and “Traffic Stop.”

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