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Interview with director Joshua Gaestel

  • Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking is your way of telling stories?

It was probably while working for my local PBS affiliate. I’ve always loved movies, but when I started editing videos I had shot myself I started finding all these abstract connections between the sounds and images. I found that I could communicate ideas that always felt too big for language alone. Maybe a great poet can do this, but I am not a great poet. In the film editing process, marrying sound with picture and timing, I feel much more capable of expressing myself fully, and more capable of exploring what I like to call slippery ideas.

  • Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successful filmmaker?

No, not at all. Just start making films. You will have to educate yourself, though, and really go all in on it. Read all the books on filmmaking you can get your hands on, watch a ton of different sorts of films from different cultures, and then just start making movies. Like right now! You will need to find likeminded artists, though. Good films aren’t often made by one person. I think the more talented artists you can collaborate with, the better.

  • Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?

Both are very hard, but I would say it is harder, at least for me, to finish a project. Filmmaking, even tiny indie films like ours, are really big projects. You have to want to finish the thing, cause there are going to be a hundred reasons to give up along the way. I found it very difficult to manage my role as a husband and a father of a two-year-old son, my full-time job, and the writer, producer, director, and editor of this film. Thank god I had some great local artist to work with, or the film never would have been finished.

  • What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?

How important it is to create space for the talent of all the great artist you have assembled to shine through, and help lift the tide of the project. It just makes a much better final product. If you try to control too much, which I sometimes do, you can kill the beautiful, delicate thing that happens when
different artists come together for a common goal. So if you are lucky enough to get talented folks to work on your project, listen to them! If you’re the director, you still have to be ready to make the call when it’s time, but listen as much as you can. And embrace the random nature of the world. Things will go wrong, it’s almost guaranteed, but often you can find unexpected opportunities if you don’t panic.

  • What were the production realities from casting through editing that you had to accommodate? How did you navigate those compromises or surprises and still end up with a cohesive film?

Well the biggest was our lead actor, the amazing Tracy Grammer, tore major ligaments in her knee while we were shooting. It was just this freak thing that happened, and she fell in an awkward way. No real reason, nothing we could have anticipated or avoided as far as I can tell. The only way we navigated that was by staying calm and focused. But most of all it was the calm and graceful way Tracy handled thins really scary set back that enabled any of us to stay calm, and to finish the film at all. I will never
forget the way she handled that adversity, with such grace and calm. It was one of the most inspiring moments of my career and my life. It continues to inspire me. Namaste, Tracy.

  • What was the hardest artistic choice you made in the making of a film, at any stage in production?

Whether or not to fully real what happened between Mae and the Man in the Woods felt like a tough decision, but in the end the choice I made feels correct, and even obvious in hindsight. We had shot some other stuff, but I think what happened is ultimately clear enough, and by leaving a few graphic shots out, I hope we were able to invite the audience deeper into the conversation, and opposed to just telling them what I think is right or wrong. If you wanna send a message, post something on social media or something. I would rather try to start conversation with art that leaves some room for the audience to have a bigger experience. That’s the goal, anyway.

  • You are a collaborator. How have you discovered members of your team and how do you keep the relationship with them strong?

I have some connections I have kept from different jobs over the years. I go out in my community and check out different artist’s work when I can. I also reach out directly to folks who seem serious about finishing projects. Sometimes there are missed connections, but you can’t take it personally. Folks are busy, and sometimes they don’t want to, or just can’t see things through to the end. Just stay positive and keep going, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by the most amazing people, even if it is not who
you thought it might be when you started out.

  • What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?

I want any audience I am lucky enough to get. I think you can’t worry too much about that stuff. It just gets in the way of the work. I think it will negatively affect your art, and can make you sound just like everyone else. But you’re not, thank God. And you should never try to be. I think you should follow what sparks your interest and stay true to that idea, not some imagined audience. How could you know what they want any way?

  • What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?

Well, I am just starting to get films into fests, and it’s in the middle of a global pandemic, so I can’t really say. Even in these socially distanced times it has been providing exposure and connection, which is lovely. And what more could you ask for, really? I don’t think you should look to them for confirmation of your talent or success. No one owes you anything just cause you decided to make art. I really believe the process of making art the real reward. But I do think they are a great place to access the film community, and a broader exposure for your art. I definitely plan to submit my future films, cause it is one of the best paths to exposure I am aware of.

  • Do you believe that a filmmaker should be original and fresh or he/she should stick to classic but safe cinema style?

I believe you should do what you love, follow the ideas that excite you the most. Leave the rest of that stuff to the critics. Just go make art!