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Filmmaker Letter

Filmmaker Letter

After the Wedding

by director Bart Freundlich

Emotional Landscape

As a kid, if I couldn’t fall asleep I would lie in bed and replay the key sequences from a film I’d seen. Shot-for-shot, or at least the way I remembered them. Superman, Tootsie, Terms of Endearment, Risky Business, Kramer vs. Kramer, Star Wars. This is how I first learned about film making.

I was born in 1970 in New York City and my sweet spot for movie watching—when it really wriggled its way into my unconscious—was between ’75–’85. It is amazing how powerful those memories are: how those characters, locations, dialogue stick with me to this day. I’m not sure I knew at that point what I was responding to. I thought of movies primarily as entertainment, but it turned out to be deeper than that. What fascinated me was getting to connect to these characters (who all seemed like real people), and to feel with them. The first time I sobbed as a semi-formed human was at the end of Terms of Endearment. It was so bittersweet and cathartic. I remember understanding something on a level that I couldn’t yet articulate. Something that made me feel connected and unsettled at the same time; people are complicated, not all bad or all good. Difficult, unfair things happen to all people, no matter how moral or noble they are. Life is temporary and deeply complex. Even in my beloved Star Wars series, these archetypal characters are real human beings. And, as much as I loved the light sabers and X-wing fighters, what really elated and engaged me were human connections: the hope that Han Solo and Princess Leia would get together… the tragic realization (spoiler alert) that Darth Vader was Luke’s father.

Sometimes to this day, my memory plays tricks on me, and I think I actually know a character or was part of a scenario that in fact I just experienced as a two dimensional projection. For a long time, I didn’t know who was behind these stories or the conscious creation it took to deliver them to me. I found that out later when I discovered foreign films and American independent cinema. In my mind I marveled; “You can have films that don’t resolve at the end? Where you don’t know who to root for? Where an image placed—just so—can actually evoke an emotion?” Then a few years later, when I went to NYU, I was introduced to Avant-Garde film: Stan Brakhage, Hollis Frampton, Michael Snow, Maya Deren, Andy Warhol—filmmaking that barely had character… or anything recognizable, for that matter. Stan Brakhage ripped off moth wings and taped them to the negative, had it developed, and the ensuing patterns of light was his finished product. It was weird and far out and awesome. The only meaning was whatever it made me feel and think.

It was this eclectic mix of films I saw from childhood through my mid-20s, that combined to shape the stories and tones I continue to pursue as a filmmaker today. The common denominator: the painting of an emotional landscape—both on the screen, and within me.

My hope is that my current film After the Wedding gives you the opportunity to sit safely in the dark and taste all the bittersweetness of being alive—that joy and heartbreak that is recognizable to everyone.

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