Returning Filmmakers Share Lessons Learned Behind the Camera
By Kristin D’Agostino
Whether telling the story of a missing child, a Chinese theme park, or life in a secluded Alaskan village, three Salem Fest filmmakers returning this year all share a common trait. Suki Hawley, Mak CK and Nick Brandestini are all master storytellers who love exploring uncommon themes and are not afraid to ask deep and- sometimes controversial – questions. They return this year with exciting new insights to share with Salem audiences.
Fans of Suki Hawley’s 2012 film BATTLE FOR BROOKLYN, which she co-directed with husband Michael Galinsky, will no doubt enjoy hearing the New York based filmmaker discuss her new film WHO TOOK JOHNNY, co-directed with Galinsky and David Beilinson, which explores the infamous thirty-year-old case of missing child Johnny Gosch. Hawley’s last film told the story of a man fighting to save his neighborhood from a developer. The two films are similar – Hawley says – in that they both showcase main characters who fight hard for something they believe in against incredible odds.
“In the end, while success isn’t obvious, the person has done the right things and succeeds personally,” she said.
Mak CK’s last film- THE WORLD’S MOST FASHIONABLE PRISON, which came to Salem in 2013, told the story of a fashion designer who runs a fashion rehabilitation workshop in a Philippine prison. His new film, LITTLE PEOPLE BIG DREAMS, tells the story of ‘Dwarves Empire’, a Chinese theme park where dozens of little people perform for anyone who pays a $16 entrance fee. Mak CK said that the documentaries are similar because they both throw a spotlight on communities that are largely misunderstood.
“I hope that both films allow viewers to challenge their own perceptions and prejudices,” he said.
Nick Brandestini, a filmmaker based in Zurich, Switzerland last came to Salem in 2012 to discuss his film DARWIN, which offered audiences a glimpse into an isolated community in Death Valley, California. Brandestini says that though the stories differ in style – the first shot in vignettes without a story-line, the latest delving more deeply into people’s stories – they share some common traits. Both reveal life within fascinating communities and are full of beautiful imagery of nature. “The first film was about the desert. The new one is about the tundra, whiteness, snow.”
Brandestini said he was drawn to his subject: Five Native Alaskan teenagers coming of age in Barrow, Alaska- because of the area’s ancient traditions and remote nature. “Lonely Planet said about Barrow there’s nothing to see there,” Brandestini said. “I’m a curious person. I like to experience places like this where not many people go.”
As expected, filming their latest documentaries offered ma insights and challenges for the three filmmakers. Mak CK said of filming ‘Dwarves Empire,’ the little people theme park: “I wrestled with how I felt about it during the making of the film. I’ve come to realize morality comes in different shades of grey…”
Suki Hawley learned a more somber lesson in talking with Johnny’s mother, Noreen Gosch, who has fought tirelessly to uncover the true story behind her son’s disappearance.
“This world is very creepy and somewhat corrupt,” she said.
According to Nick Brandestini, Alaska proved a wonderful training ground for coping with life’s unpredictable nature.
“Every year the Alaskans go whaling in the springtime at a certain time when the ice breaks off so they can walk out on it and get close to the whales. This happens at a different time every year. While making this film, I had to learn to let go and take things as they come. I learned to become a relaxed person.”