Trying to encapsulate Hugh Hefner into a two-hour biopic is no easy task – I would imagine it's comparable to covering a wasp's nest with a bowler hat. It's nearly impossible to do, and you're more than likely going to get stung.

Moviefone met with Oscar-winning Canadian filmmaker Brigitte Berman, whose latest movie 'Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist, and Rebel' not only surmounts that task, but excels at it. Berman expertly whittled the final product down to just over two hours after some 80-odd edits (and an original seven-hour runtime). The documentary shows us a side of 'Hef' that we've never seen, and it's one you'll never forget.

The gregarious, animated Berman spoke with us about Hefner's reaction to the film, how fearless he really is, and what was most touching about the filming process.
Trying to encapsulate Hugh Hefner into a two-hour biopic is no easy task -- I would imagine it's comparable to covering a wasp's nest with a bowler hat. It's nearly impossible to do, and you're more than likely going to get stung.

Moviefone met with Oscar-winning Canadian filmmaker Brigitte Berman, whose latest movie 'Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist, and Rebel' not only surmounts that task, but excels at it. Berman expertly whittled the final product down to just over two hours after some 80-odd edits (and an original seven-hour runtime). The documentary shows us a side of 'Hef' that we've never seen, and it's one you'll never forget.

The gregarious, animated Berman spoke with us about Hefner's reaction to the film, how fearless he really is and what was most touching about the filming process.

I'll say it bluntly: I had no idea about any of the things Hugh Hefner has done, other than what I see in celebrity magazines. I think that's true for most of my generation. Are you getting that reaction from audiences?
Yes, absolutely. Especially the younger generation. We screened the film in Miami, and it was lovely -- there were these young girls there, probably 16 or 17 years old. My co-producer Victor marched up to them and asked them, "What brought you out to see this film?" They said, "Well, it's Hugh Hefner!" I think they'd seen 'The Girls Next Door.' Then they said, "We're so glad he's not an a******!" [Laughs] It was their way of saying that it was surprising for them, to see him in this light.

What drove you to make a film about Hugh Hefner?
In 1981, I came out with a film about jazz musician Bix Beiderbecke ['Bix: Ain't None of Them Play Like Him Yet']. It just so happens that Bix is one of Hefner's favorite musicians. He will play Bix a lot at the [Playboy] Mansion. When my Artie Shaw film won the Oscar, Hefner did some research on me and discovered the Bix film. His assistant called me and asked for a copy of the film. I thought it was a prank, because they said they were calling from the Playboy Mansion, so I asked for a letter from Hefner in writing. A few days later I got a lovely letter from him. We shipped it down right away, and that began our really good friendship.

Hefner is absolutely fearless, wouldn't you say?
He is, truly. He's fearless in being a playboy, he's fearless in being an activist and he stands up for human rights. He's fearless all the way. He does it all in public. He says his life is an open book, and that offends a lot of people. Some people take it harder than others.



It's also amazing how involved he was -- and still is -- in American politics and issues.
If you look through the past 50 years of America, he's been at the center of almost every important issue. Not only there, but also fighting for it and acting on its behalf. Not necessarily marching, but having people on his TV show, in his magazine ... it's all done in a very public way. He's actually put to use all of the money that he got from his empire, and I respect him for that. I mean, he's saved the Hollywood sign twice!

How do you condense someone like Hefner into a movie? Were you ever overwhelmed or daunted by the task?
I wasn't. I have enormous faith in the whole filmmaking process. I had done it with Bix, I'd done it with Artie Shaw. You need patience, that's for sure. You have to do it the hard way, there's no easy way.

Well, you managed to capture him in a very compelling way.
One scene that was very important for me to include is near the end, where you see Hefner walking down a pathway, completely alone. You never see him alone in the rest of the film.

That shot makes him seem like just another ordinary man.
That's what I wanted to show. It's the same when he goes to his high school reunion, and all these classmates are posing with him for pictures, he's dancing with them, all that. And he even holds the class banner in the photo. Can you imagine any other celebrity doing that? Mel Gibson? George Clooney? I don't think so.

How did Hefner react to the film?
I showed him a longer version, because I wanted to make sure there were no factual errors. He has such an encyclopedic mind, I knew he would be able to point anything out that was wrong. At the end, he said, "I know exactly what you're doing. It's great." He was moved, deeply moved. He said, "You get me very well."

You also show both sides of the coin -- those who hate him, those who love him. It's balanced.
Showing both sides is absolutely necessary when you're making a film like this. Otherwise, what's the point? That's why I didn't include narration. I wanted people to decide for themselves. If there's any guidance in this movie, it's the music.

What would you say is your favorite part of the movie?
I love the cartoons. I put them in just because they make me laugh. They're in his style. But you know ... one of my favorite parts has to be the babies. [At one point, Hefner flies a planeload of Vietnamese war orphans to the US on his Playboy jet] It took me totally by surprise, seeing the 'Big Bunny' in the sky transporting all of these war orphans. That's the paradox. He has a true sense of being, of humanity, in every aspect. It's quite wonderful.

It's all well and good to make judgments about Hugh Hefner -- people will, and they do, and they have, and they will continue to do. The point of me making this film is to show that he is not everything you think he is. There is a lot more. Before you make up your mind completely, know the other side. Walk around the vase and look at it from all aspects, and then decide.

'Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist, and Rebel' shows in theaters in Toronto on Friday, August 5, Montreal August 13, and Vancouver August 20. It opens in New York City on July 30.

Moviefone's interview with Hugh Hefner