March 18, 2019

Two aging identical twins artists who share a passion for art, but don’t have much else in common is the focus of director Trisha Ziff’s feature documentary WITKIN & WITKIN. Salem Film Fest program director Jeff Schmidt caught up with Ziff ahead of her film’s New England Premiere at CinemaSalem on Saturday, March 30 at 4:30 p.m.

Jeff Schmidt: SFF audiences were first introduced to you when we screened THE MAN WHO SAW TOO MUCH at SFF 2017.  Can you tell us a little bit about your background and your approach to filmmaking?

Trisha Ziff: I come from a background in photography as a community activist and photo curator. THE MAN WHO SAW TOO MUCH was the third film in a series of 4 films I have made tangentially related to photography. WITKIN & WITKIN is the most recent and the final film in the series for now.

JS: How did you first become acquainted with the Witkin brothers and when did you decide to make a film about them?

TZ: I knew Joel-Peter Witkin’s work for a very long time, was fascinated by his work, and met him while crossing America in Albuquerque over 20 years ago, but had no idea he had a brother who was a painter. Totally independently I went to an exhibition of Jerome Witkin’s work in Los Angeles, and fell in love with a painting which I saved up and bought and both a photograph and painting hung on my walls for years without my knowing they were identical twins. When I discovered this, I thought it would be so interesting to make a film with them both.

I visited Jerome in Syracuse while screening THE MEXICAN SUITCASE, and asked if he would be interested and then I flew to Albuquerque and asked Joel and he agreed too. First came the exhibition in Mexico City, an amazing show of both their work; then a book; and then both the book and the exhibition became an integral part of the film.

JS: While the film showcases Jerome’s paintings and Joel-Peter’s photography and gives viewers a sense of each brother’s aesthetic and artistic process, it’s also a peek at family dynamics and sibling rivalry. How early on in the filmmaking process did you recognize the film would me more than just an exploration of their art?

TZ: For me it was always more than art. I am not so interested in making art movies. I think art is an expression of life and so, for me, I was far more fascinated by their lives. That is not to diminish their art. I have huge respect for them as artists, of course. That is why I made the film, but their histories, their sister, the women in their lives, seeing them in the autumn of their lives, that for me was what I found the most interesting! And of course how they work and how they related to each other.

JS: What do Jerome and Joel-Peter think about the film?

TZ: I think they both used the word “fair.” They have been amazingly supportive despite the fact the film has some hard truths they say about each other. For me it was important to give them the space to be open and honest but also not get involved, just witness. Watching them see the film for the first time at the Los Cabos Film Festival was for me a bit scary, but they were great!

JS: What motivates you as a filmmaker?

TZ: Good stories, life, discovering stories within stories. WITKIN & WITKIN is about relationships, not art. It’s a film about growing older and reflections on life. It’s not an art film! I think for me to make any film, I fall in love with my characters and they become a part of who I am. Or there is a tension which is another kind of love, but that generosity of my characters, their trust, is I think an extraordinary experience.

JS: What do you hope people will take away from WITKIN & WITKIN?

TZ: A sense of kindness, perhaps, of being understanding of those we are close to? It’s not only identical twins who have tension between them… I think most siblings do… perhaps a moment to reflect on those relationships.

Tickets are on sale now for WITKIN & WITKIN and can be purchased online at https://salemfilmfest.com/2019/movies/witkin-witkin/

Jerome Witkin will be present for a Q&A after the film screening.


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