Lana Jokel, whose documentary “Larry Rivers Public and Private” won this year’s Filmmaker’s Choice Award from the Hamptons Take 2 Documentary Film Festival, has enjoyed a long career as a film director and editor, but it’s not one her upbringing encouraged. One of three children of a wealthy Shanghai industrialist, she spent her early years in that city before the 1949 triumph of Mao Zedong’s army forced the family to move to Hong Kong.
When, after several years, it was clear a return to the People’s Republic of China would not be possible, Ms. Jokel’s father decided to relocate to Brazil, where he had friends with whom he opened a flour mill. His wife and children followed him to Sao Paulo, where, once settled, the children attended a British school. “We had had a very sheltered, very traditional upbringing in Shanghai, with governesses and servants. There was so much freedom in Brazil compared to China. It was a wonderful time for my brother, sister, and me.”
Ms. Jokel unexpectedly found herself transferred for her senior year of secondary school to the Academy of St. Elizabeth in Morristown, N.J. “I had a boyfriend from the school in Sao Paulo. He was from Yugoslavia, and you can imagine my parents’ dismay. Not only was he a Westerner, he was also from a communist country.”
Ms. Jokel continued her studies at the College of St. Elizabeth, with the exception of a junior year in Paris. “I wanted to stay abroad, but my parents insisted I return to the U.S. to finish at St. Elizabeth.” A family scandal erupted when, after graduating, Ms. Jokel broke an engagement to “a very nice Chinese boy of whom my parents approved but whom I didn’t love.”
Instead she enrolled at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. “After a year I realized my talent as a painter wasn’t so strong, but I stayed on and then married a Harvard graduate student. Once again, my parents weren’t thrilled — he was French — but they finally accepted it threw us an over-the-top wedding in Brazil.”
The marriage didn’t last. Enamored of the arts, but without any clear career path in mind, she moved to New York in her mid-20s. One night at Max’s Kansas City, the legendary artists’ hangout, she ran into Bobby Neuwirth, a friend from Cambridge who had moved to New York and become Bob Dylan’s road manager. “Bobby said, ‘Come join us in the back room,’ and I wound up sitting next to a man named D.A. Pennebaker. When I asked him what he did, he said he made documentary films, and I said, ‘What are documentary films?’ ”
Mr. Pennebaker invited her to his studio, where he showed her “Don’t Look Back,” his film of Mr. Dylan’s 1965 concert tour of England. “I was fascinated, and next thing I knew he was offering to hire and train me. They had just finished filming ‘Monterey Pop,’ and we spent hours looking at the footage. They taught me how to sync up film and sound, and I fell madly in love with the whole thing.”
Several months later, Norman Mailer was visiting the Pennebaker studio. He had just finished shooting “Beyond the Law” and was looking for an editor. Another editor, Jan Welt, was there, and it was decided he and Ms. Jokel would cut the film together. “That was when I learned my craft.”
Two years later she and Mr. Welt edited Mailer’s “Maidstone,” a 1970 film in which Mailer famously wound up in an improvised, but genuine and bloody fight with Rip Torn. “Norman was wonderful to work with,” according to Ms. Jokel. “We all know the public personality. But the private person was very loyal, very decent, and very loving. I admire him a great deal.”
A year after “Maidstone” was completed, Andy Warhol contacted Ms. Jokel. “Andy was known for turning the camera on, walking away, and letting it roll, sometimes for hours. But Paul Morrissey wanted to make a more conventional narrative film, and he and Andy asked if I would edit ‘Heat.’ I cut the film with Jed Johnson, who was Andy’s boyfriend at the time. We started at the Factory in the spring of 1971, but that summer Andy rented a house on Aquebogue Road in East Hampton, and Jed and I spent the entire summer in the editing room. That was my introduction to the East End.”
Once finished, “Heat” was being shown out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival. Before leaving for France, Ms. Jokel decided she wanted to direct her own film and that Warhol would be an ideal subject. She brought her camera to Europe and filmed in Cannes and Dusseldorf, where Warhol was having an exhibition. Back in the U.S., she hired a cameraman to shoot the rest, which included interviews with such art world luminaries as Barbara Rose, Henry Geldzahler, and Philip Johnson. The result was the 53-minute documentary “Andy Warhol,” in which Warhol holds forth on a variety of topics in his inimitable, opaque way.
Michael Blackwood, whose company has made more than 100 films on art, architecture, music, and dance, produced “Andy Warhol.” In the years following, Ms. Jokel edited many of Mr. Blackwood’s films, including “The New York School” and “American Art in the 60s,” both narrated by Ms. Rose, and films on Philip Guston, Robert Motherwell, and Isamu Noguchi, among others.
“After editing for Michael, I wanted to direct my own films,” Ms. Jokel recalled. “While we were editing ‘Heat’ in 1972, Andy had introduced me to Larry Rivers. We became friends, and I decided he would be a perfect subject.” The 90-minute film was undertaken in 1992 and finished the following year.
“Larry was a very colorful, charismatic, outspoken personality,” Ms. Jokel said. “I think the film captures the different sides of who he was. I admired both Larry and Andy enormously as artists and in many ways as people, though there were aspects of their behavior I didn’t always approve of. When you make a film about a person, you have to respect him, but you also have to be honest. I feel it’s up to the viewer to make up his or her own mind.”
Ms. Jokel purchased a house in Bridgehampton in 1992, just before beginning the Larry Rivers film. The main portion had been a winnowing barn in Pennsylvania. “I loved the house and made an offer within the hour. My father’s health was failing. I was a miller’s daughter. How could I resist?”
She recalled her father asking her, “What are you doing making these documentary films? Is this why I sent you to good schools?”
“I said, ‘Dad, happiness means different things for different people. When I see a film I’ve made on the screen for the first time, my heart is thumping so hard I think it will jump out of my body.’ ”
“And he replied, ‘Must you always be so dramatic and demonstrative with your emotions? Why can’t you be more like a normal Chinese, more diplomatic, less theatrical?’ ”
“I told him I didn’t know the answer, maybe it was living in Brazil, but it must have something to do with him. After all, it took a strong will to leave his country and start a new life 12,000 miles away.”
“Larry Rivers Public and Private” will be shown on Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor. Tickets are $15, $13 for senior citizens.