Lisa: It’s always funny to have people with me in the studio who do somewhat like the things that we’re doing here, and these 2 individuals, I resonate with them. We have Christoph Gelfand and Caroline Losneck. Caroline is a documentarian, radio producer and experimental installation artist. It’s the radio producer by the way that I’m resonating with, having never installed anything so I can’t claim that.
She seeks off the radar venues for her documentary work from building slated for demolition, public parks and flooded city streets to empty campgrounds. Caroline is an independent radio producer and her work is featured on Maine Public Radio, in PR, marketplace, and WMPG community radio. Her new film appears on the New York Times Op-Docs series.
There’s many more things on this list. We’ll talk about some more of them as we go along. Also we have with us, Christoph Gelfand who is an award-winning director, writer, and video artist. He was trained on celluloid and the State University of New York at Purchase where he learned the importance of each frame. His short documentary Chasing Buckner, portrayed the rise and fall of infamous baseball star Bill Buckner, and received praise from ESPN, the Boston Globe and New Hampshire Public Radio.
His short documentary film has received national acclaim and was profiled extensively in HDVideoPro magazine. He shares with us his newest short film which was featured in the New York Times Op-Docs series with Caroline. Thanks so much for coming in.
Christoph: Thank you.
Caroline: Thanks for having us.
Lisa: Now, Caroline, I only read half of what you sent me because you actually have other really interesting things that you have been doing. I love that you guys are in search of the story. Not only in search of the story but the best way to put it out there and you’re doing it in lots of different ways. You’re doing radio, you’re doing art. How did this come to be what you both decided you wanted to do? You’re both pointing at each other now, so one of you is going to go first.
Caroline: Take it away.
Christoph: As a unit or individually?
Lisa: Christoph, let’s start with you.
Christoph: I guess, I would say both by my natural inclination to capture imagery and by process of elimination that I couldn’t be in an office of any sorts so I knew that I had to find something that could both support me and occupy me artistically that was something more of a feeling, so I think I naturally wondered into walking around with a VHS camera and evolving into more complicated machinery and recognizing how amazing documentary storytelling can be.
Lisa: How about you, Caroline?
Caroline: Yes. Similar to Christoph, I guess, I maybe by default but maybe not, I feel like I have … I don’t know what’s on that list. I can’t remember what I submitted as my bio because it’s a long and complicated bio. I’ve had jobs of every sort in every type like a lot of different people in Maine, I think, do, like everything from carpentry and renovation to radio producing. I think in my mind, I always suspected I wanted to be doing something with documentary storytelling but I wasn’t sure the direct path to get there.
I feel like I’ve done a lot of different jobs, but within those jobs, I’ve always been drawn to the stories of the people who are in them. Whether it’s the person’s house I was working on when I was working as part of a carpentry crew or you could probably say for any job I’ve had, I’ve been drawn to the stories. Then maybe I was a little scared to start doing it for a long time so I was just gathering ideas, and themes, and approaches while I was doing all these other things, so sort of by default maybe.
Christoph: One thing, I think that’s funny is that there is a meta-aspect or collaboration in that as much as we like other people’s stories, we look at each other’s stories. Our own personal life and daily stories weave into our collaboration I feel like.
Lisa: What is it about Caroline that you find so interesting?
Christoph: This is funny because we recently did another interview and we were workshopping ideas on how we were going to formulate how our partnership evolved. We both lost fathers in 2011 and that was definitely a large part of our finding a common ground and understanding that sense of loss and what our parents meant to us and their value to our creative nature.
Caroline: We both met through a mutual friend and I think Christoph had an early idea of something that we could work on together which was also about the fisheries in Maine, about elder fishermen. The first time we met, we went out and instead of really talking about the ideas we were going to have, we ended up having a conversation that was mostly about the loss of our dads. It immediately, I think, built trust between us and established this common ground of like we understood each other through that somehow.
I think it just built this relationship of trust and common understanding that allowed us to quickly be able to work together because that’s not always the case. It’s working with other people on projects. There’s a lot of personalities and you don’t really have time to bring your personal life into work and a lot of times it’s actually discouraged but I think we found a way to embrace our experiences in history, in common life things as part of our work and we found a way to weave it into our work.
I hope or we hope that it comes through in our projects, I guess. Maybe there are elements about our dad actually in the movie that we made and some things that we were working out in it that you wouldn’t necessarily know if you didn’t know us but I think maybe once you spent some time talking to Christoph, you might find that there’s things that we he was going through in his life at the time that he was able to get out in the process of making a movie about somebody else.
Lisa: Tell me about that. Give me some examples.
Christoph: Caroline alerted me to one that I guess I hadn’t even realized in the subject of our film, James Sewell, spent a lot of time. He describes spending 16 years attending to have a baby. My wife and I spent some time, a good deal of time trying to have a baby and finally have 8 weeks ago.
Christoph: Thank you. I guess, finding that piece of James. I guess having Caroline tell me that that was probably why I put it in. It made sense of it. It definitely resonated for me. It doesn’t necessarily attach to my father but it’s definitely a very personal element that related to James’s story. It’s serendipitous when those 2 worlds can collide, the personal and the creative. That brings obviously a greater meaning to the story and our connection with our subject.
Caroline: Can I talk about that a little more? For a very short film, we spent so much time in the editing room and we worked with the New York Times editors on the version that appeared as part of the Op-Docs series. We were revising and it was right around the time Christoph’s due date, for the baby was coming up. We had a lot of audio of James Sewell, the subject of the film that we had left out and decided it didn’t have a place in this film.
At one point, Christoph just casually hauled in the line about me and my wife had tried to have kids for 16 years. He’s like, “Who would have tried kids for 16 years?” I’m like, “You.” Maybe not that long. It was just this moment of casual … Christoph did it casually but then later it came to me that he and his wife were about to have a baby and I think there were, I wouldn’t say it was pressure, but just the sense of unknown, what’s going to happen. I think it was really nice that he put it back in there because I probably wouldn’t have. Yet, it made the character James be really this more complicated person, which is something we always really wanted to have, happen in this movie. I wanted to say that.
Oh, and then one other thing I wanted to say about that was we just got back from the Camden Film Festival and as part of the film festival, there’s something called the Points North Forum where the documentary filmmakers or people from the documentary world, attend different workshops and one of the workshops there was an editor who, I don’t remember her name, Andrea, somebody.
Caroline: Somebody said basically if there’s something in the movie that you care about, make sure that it’s in there in some way and your job is to see if you can make it translate to the audience. It was the simplest way of saying what I think I’m trying to say is like if there’s something that you really care about, if you’re a good filmmaker or a good storyteller, you’ll find a way to make that translate to the audience and then they’ll care about it too. I think hopefully, that’s what happened in our movie.
Lisa: It’s interesting as you’re talking, so even though you’re talking about this next generation, you’re talking about your own child. It does have something to do with your fathers because you’re talking about creation and recreation and the next iteration of self. There’s something about that whether you are consciously considering it or not that still appears.
Christoph: Yeah. I haven’t taken the time to go that psychological into that process but the more I explore it, I’m sure James’ duty to his family and my taking on a fatherhood role and certainly all of these aspects of responsibility and duty certainly come into play. Considering what he’s gone through in his life. I think that’s certainly an inspiration to those of us that are in similar positions of family and such.
Lisa: It is quite something. He’s a scallop diver, scallop fisherman and he actually lost an arm in a snowmobile accident. When I think about how hard it is, just start with being a scallop diver or start with being somebody who’s lost an arm and then you’re trying to combine those things and then you’re trying to support a family or exist in the world in general. I mean, you’ve got a lot of stuff to move in order to keep your life going forward.
Caroline: Yeah. He’s not only a scallop diver, right now, he’s diving for urchins and he fishes for tuna also. His world is constantly filled with these jobs that I would say are dangerous and risky. What really struck me about him was his ability to move on but also not … It’s like he embraces these challenges without fixating on them but he still acknowledges them. It’s like his whole life isn’t about having done these things with 1 arm and he downplays it.
In a way, he doesn’t ever really talk too much about what it is. While we were in the process of making the movie, Christoph and I talked a lot about how we wanted to portray him in the best way and we struggled with the opening because it felt like we didn’t want to set it up as a movie about somebody who lost their arm. We just never wanted it to be simplified like that because we knew he wasn’t a very simple person and we wanted to show …
The challenge was to show in a very short amount of time, that the Times gave us 5 minutes basically, that there is this complicated person who, in addition to loosing an arm, he also has this family responsibilities. In addition to that, he X, Y, Z, fill in many number of things. It made us think a lot about just how do you not simplify people in a short amount of time.
Lisa: It is an interesting as you’re talking, I’m thinking about the articles that we do that are wellness articles, the ones that I wrote for Maine Magazine and I get 1,200 words. I get 1,200 words to essentially distill somebody’s story wellness concept down. It’s 5 minutes for life. That’s the world that we live in these days. You can do longer forum things like there is a huge demand for the short form.
Christoph: Certainly something that I feel like I somewhat, I don’t want to paint myself like Raymond Carver but I seem to be able to make short things so I think our challenge is to make longer things but I’ve not exceeded I think 22 minutes in my filmmaking career. Certainly the short subject affords you a summary version of someone’s life but it is challenging to fit in those key aspects that really speak to them and to you as a filmmaker about who they really are and what makes them tick because it’s very hard to find that without having a Scorsese voice-over that just tells you the whole story in 5 minutes.
Caroline: I think it had to do even in a short film like the one about James Sewell. It’s okay not to provide answers. Christoph and I talked a lot about just … We didn’t want to feel the need to close the book or end the story. In a way we wanted the ending to be an opening and so that was a solution to not having to simplify or distill somebody down to amputee dives for scallops as a way to keep the themes broad and wide open so that lots of different people could relate.
Most of us haven’t lost an arm but there’s a way in which you can tell that story where all of us can probably feel what he felt like. We didn’t lose an arm. We don’t feel that way because we lost an arm but we felt that way from maybe a loss of a parent or a significant life change or something like that.
Christoph: I would say that if you could describe Caroline’s MO in a couple of words, it would be more like create questions rather than answer questions. I think that there’s an editing process of the film, there’s a lot of turns where my natural inclination would be to present this one way and she would say what if we just leave it like this without saying too much and then let the audience, challenge the audience to create ideas themselves without us telling them.
Lisa: I’m thinking back to how we started this conversation which is how do you make a living from doing something that you love. It’s what you’re talking about. You’re using available resources to do what you’re loving and you still need to make a living. You still need to pay a rent and take care of your new baby and this is what I guess in Maine, we’re all poking around in that, everywhere we are but we have to be more creative about it if we really want to do something different.
Christoph: I mean, I myself make documentary work for hire and that’s how I’ve found myself. Continue to do it both personally and professionally but yes it is certainly a challenge to find that balance of what you are driven to make yourself and what you’re hired to make. I think what kind of opened my eyes is my prior film, Farm had received a lot of attention and it drove me to the fact that of all the things that I have out there and to the public eye that that was one of the pieces that people were drawn to the most as opposed to the pieces for hire.
It awakened me to the idea that making my own work could lead back into different types of work for hire. I think that he is a convergence somewhere. I’m still looking for it. Maine is certainly challenging in terms of its economic climate to necessarily solely exist as a filmmaker or as an artist, I’d say.
Caroline: It’s an entire episode on its own. Just this week, I texted Christoph in a moment of darkness where I was like, “Oh my gosh, documentary filmmaking is a rich kid’s game.” Then I waited for his reply. I think what you said about in Maine, in particular, the economy is such that I feel like most people I know who identify as an artist or creative of some sort, hold down multiple jobs, myself included. I mean, when I leave here today, I’ll probably spray paint on the side of a house and hopefully, I mean, I think the challenge is to find what you said is about finding the balance of what sustained you creatively, emotionally, and physically, and financially, but still continuing to keep your eye on the passion that you have.
For Christoph and I, I think, it’s nice that we found this creative partnership because we push each other to stay … We’re accountable to each other and we push each other to stay focused on, I think it’s the passion. It’s the things that we want to make or the documentary films we want to pursue or the projects, whether we work on them together. It’s nice to have a sounding board in somebody you trust who has the background to keep you on it. In my dark days, I might send them a text like documentary filmmaking is a rich kid’s game and he’ll support me with a nice text back or a ridiculous comment that makes me laugh. I think hopefully I do the same thing for you.
Christoph: I was going to say if we had a combined office, it would have one of those police forensic pin boards with all these strengths tied to different stories, until it was one giant knot of strings. That is kind of if left to our own devices, and if we had the means to constantly do this and not worry about our own families or households or income that I think we would just be weaving that ball of yarn deeper and deeper.
Lisa: Sometimes it’s good to be balanced by reality.
Christoph: It is. I think we would be remised and not recognizing our partners in the process because I feel like it’s very hard to let someone just delve into their own private passion and world and of course they are involved in their own ways but with the over project, Caroline and I were out until 3 or 4 in the morning on the Presumpscot and with this project, we’re up at 3 in the morning, heading down east to get on a fishing boat where we didn’t know where we’re going to end up or when we were getting back. I think there’s a lot of patience and understanding that comes with that and allowing us to be weird.
Lisa: How can people find out about the short film that you did that’s now in the Op-Docs New York Times line up and also the additional work that you’re doing?
Christoph: The Op-Doc entitled Diving for Scallops is obviously still up on the Times site. A longer version called Diver which played in Newburyport Film Festival and in a couple of weeks, the New Hampshire Film Festival and hopefully some other film festivals down the road will still be available to watch and hopefully online in some presence or another. Then my site is truelifemedia.com, and Caroline.
Caroline: My personal site is carolinelosneck.com so you could …
Christoph: We have a couple of different projects coming up also regionally based that I don’t think we’re ready to publicize until we know exactly more what they’re going to be about but I’d say certainly you can also follow us at truelifemedia and @carolinelosneck on Twitter.
Lisa: We’re prolific twitters.
Lisa: Good. We’re leaving people with an assignment. Go find what you’ve already done and also a mysterious prologue to what might happen in the future. Getting people all interested. You’ve been speaking with Christoph Gelfand, an award-winning director, writer and video artist and also Caroline Losneck who is a documentarian, radio producer and experimental installation artist. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for both of you and thank you for the work that you do and being here today.
Caroline: Thank you so much for having us. It’s been nice to chat.
Christoph: Thank you.