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Friday, June 10, 2011

Q+A with Found Editor Davy Rothbart on Why His Heart Is an Idiot

Posted By on Fri, Jun 10, 2011 at 8:30 AM

Davy Rothbart
  • Davy Rothbart
Never underestimate the human interest in the intimate details of other people's lives. It's not all voyeurism and reality television, it's also the desire to relate, on the most basic level, to the weird rituals among our species. Sometimes we're jubilant in love and sometimes we're alone, sobbing into a video camera.

Over the past decade Davy Rothbart has nurtured this universal desire as editor of Found magazine by scrapping together street-found notes and photos from people around the world. He chooses the most compelling pieces and includes them in the magazine. They are the notes of the unknown.

Now the tables are turned, and Rothbart -- and his love life -- are on display in David Meiklejohn's new documentary My Heart Is an Idiot, which screens Friday and Saturday at the Roxie. (Rothbart and Meiklejohn are traveling across the country with the film.) The documentary explores Rothbart's relationships and struggle to understand love as he tours the country doing readings from Found. While it sounds melancholy, there's plenty of humor as well. Rothbart gets some solid love advice from unexpected places -- Newt Gingrich, Zooey Deschanel, and Ira Glass among others

What's it like traveling with the documentary?

I was pretty nervous about what people would think of the movie. Would it be entertaining to them? But also, it's a pretty raw and personal story -- what would they think of me after they saw it?

But the feedback has been awesome; people have said they were really captivated with the story. And I do some regretful and reckless things in the movie, and people are relating to the movie in a lot of interesting ways.

What regretful and reckless things did you do?

Without giving away too many surprises, I think love brings out the best in people and the worst in people. It can bring you to the highest of highs and lowest of lows.

David followed my brother Peter and I on the Found reading tours and intended that to be the subject of his film. But after a few months on the road with us, when he got home and looked at the footage he found that what he'd actually documented was the ups and downs of my love life.

He really caught everything. He kept the camera running. People really let their guard down; they forget the camera's even there. He caught me doing funny things, humiliating things, underhanded things, and just trying to make sense of things. With relationships, for some people it comes easy, but for many of us it's complex and difficult.

How long was he on tour with you?

From July 2005 to July 2006. He filmed 250 hours of stuff. When we got home, my mom asked me to clean out a closet and it was filled with old VHS tapes. In high school and college I'd shot a bunch of stuff, and the first tape I popped in, some girl had just broken up with me and I was sobbing in front of the camera. I remembered how I felt alone in my dorm room, and it felt a little less alone with the camera, just someone to talk to. Of course I took it over to David and was like, "You've got to do something with these."

Rothbart and friends
  • Rothbart and friends
Do you feel exposed now? Everything's out there for the world to see.

Yes. I'm used to writing about myself or the things I've done but I always have more control in those situations because I can choose what to include. So I definitely pushed the envelope of what felt comfortable for me, and we went beyond it sometimes. I felt really exposed before we started sharing it with people because I really didn't know how people would respond. But I've been really happy that people have responded so generously, so I'm relieved and more comfortable.

Still, though, every night I get a little nervous. But I'm okay with it. A couple of drinks help.

Do you worry people are going to feel like they know you now?

One thing I've found is that because people do feel like they know me, they come up and share really personal things with me, they feel comfortable and feel like they know me in an intimate way.

It's like the same way you get all the weird intimate details through Found about people you'll never get to meet.

Absolutely. I've been publishing other people's most private, secret, personal things for almost 10 years, so it's the least I can do to put myself on the line in the same way. Of course, in Found it's anonymous. We take their names out. But yeah, it's only fair to share myself in the same way.

My Heart Is an Idiot screens six times this weekend at the Roxie Theater, beginning at 7 p.m. Friday. Rothbart will be there, along with Meiklejohn, to answer questions after each screening. Admission is $10.

For more events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section.

Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.

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Emily Savage


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