THE WILD ONE – Interview with Director Tessa Louise Salome

Filmmaker Tessa Louise Salome’s latest feature film is the wonderful documentary, THE WILD ONE, about Jack Garfein.  Tessa answered Gadi Elkon’s email questionnaire about the film and much more!

“The Wild One” illuminates an unsung artist, Jack Garfein—Holocaust survivor, Actors Studio figure, and controversial filmmaker—who channeled his memories to propel his defiance of censorship in postwar America.

The documentary is narrated by Willem Dafoe.

Tessa and Gadi talked about meeting Jack, working with Willem, creating multiple story telling elements for the film, and the vast traveling needed to film this doc!  The movie is holding it’s world premiere today at the Tribeca Film Festival.  Enjoy our chat with Tessa and GO SEE this informative, inventive and intriguing documentary!

Interview with Director Tessa Louise Salome.

1. How did you come across Jack’s story?  What made you want to step back into the director’s chair for this film?
Seven years ago, one of Wes Anderson’s producers introduced me to Jack, who was living and teaching in Paris then.  I was blown away by the magnitude of his story, by his passionate and multifaceted personality.  And by the fact that relatively few people knew of his work — his two censored films, his career on Broadway, his influence on actors…His story was too singular not to be filmed, and I knew it had to be done in a way that would reflect his own avant-garde spirit…that would push the boundaries of the documentary form.
2.  One of the elements I loved was composer Gael Rakotondrabe contribution to the film.  Can you talk about working with Gael previously and what y’all wanted to do for this documentary?
One of the first things I do apart from writing is to think of the score for the film.  It’s my third collaboration with Gael Rakotondrabe. He has a wide range of talents.  He’s a great musician, a jazz pianist, a composer who’s collaborated with artists like CocoRosie, ANOHNI (formerly Anthony and The Johnsons) and Robert Wilson…For The Wild One, he started composing really early on, right after meeting Jack actually, before the shooting.  He crafted a real musical universe, with several themes, that each reflect the many layers of Jack’s life.  He managed to bring all of these elements together to form one piece.
3.  What was it like getting Dafoe to narrate?  How many days did you have with him?
It was such a great joy to have Willem on board.  We had one day in the studio total, and he was as charismatic as ever, but he also performed with great sensitivity and insightfulness.  He gave it his all, and he was looking at the slightest facial expression I might have to know if he was using the right tone, the right rhythm.  He’s an outstanding technician, but above all, so humble and caring.  We are so lucky to have him with us.
4. Interview wise how did you work with Boris on the visual look of the interviews (not your typical talking head feel at all)?  Order wise who did you get first and so on?
Jack is someone who’s complex to capture on camera.  He’s a natural-born dramatist, and his testimony — it takes on a sculpted intensity.  It was a real challenge from the beginning to figure out which camera, which optics, which set-up would best encapsulate the incredible whirlwind of his life and the way he tells it.  There was also this whole part of the cinematography revolving around memory, where we filmed a 6-hour interview with Jack inside the Babelsberg Studio in Germany — in its mythic Marlene Dietrich Hall, where Fritz Lang’s Metropolis was shot.  We used this studio as a real testing ground for capturing his past — working with these suspended screens and archival projections to give the footage an unusual and arresting look — to allow for a more intimate, immersive viewing inside this space “outside of time”.  This space of memory.
5. Can you discuss your process of  editing together Jack’s harrowing survival from Holocausts camps with his epic rise as a young writer/director and mixing it all with the reflective interviews?  How long to spend on each area or segment?  When to cut?  When to utilize the coverage in the forests?  How did you piece this all together?  Was that process easy or difficult for you?
The film was a long journey.  Thrilling, but complicated.  We went to film Jack’s birthplace in the Carpathian Mountains — which became a kind of motif for the epic nature of his story.  We also filmed in various theaters in New York, Los Angeles, Paris and Berlin for the interviews and used the archival projections as visual springboards for interweaving the many layers of his life.   It’s a challenge to tell the story of such a bold spirit — such a full and meaningful life — such inspiring and unbelievable events side by side.  But it was also one of my favorite parts, working with Simon Le Berre, the editor, to find this balance.
6.  Petite Mason Productions is a strong talented group of filmmakers and artists, can you talk about it’s creation back in 2006?  Also how has the company adjusted/changed/grown over the last decade plus?
It was soon after I started working as a filmmaker that I felt I needed real independence.  I wanted to control the financial end of my projects and to be free artistically, so I partnered with another producer-director, Chantal Perrin, to start our company.  We produce our own films but also those of other writer-directors whose projects excite and inspire us.  One of the projects we’re currently producing is Colors of White Rock by a Mongolian director, Khoroldorj Choijoovanchig.  It’s a character-driven story about his incredible female truck driver braving the country’s mining highways — supported by the Sundance Institute.  Another is a forthcoming experimental art film by Nicolas Premier, commissioned by Warner Media’s artist studio OneFifty, that grew out of his ambitious transmedia series Africa is the Future.
7.  How did you hear that the film was accepted into Tribeca 2022?  I noticed in an interview with Tribeca Artistic Director Frederic Boyer that Willem maybe attending the festival with you, if so what does that mean that Dafoe obviously wants to highlight your work?
I think that when he chooses a project, he’s deeply committed and does everything he can to support and champion it.  But he never stops working…so I hope he’ll be able to be there with us for the premiere.
8.  Your films have traveled the festival circuit across the world what are some personal highlights from your festival runs?
My films have traveled more than I have.  I was impressed by the organization of Sundance’s festival.  They take great care of their artists, and the quality of the films is exceptional.  But I’m French so, of course, every year I’m at the Cannes Film Festival, which is a where I actually discovered the cinema of Yorgos Lanthimos with his film The Lobster.
9.  What filmmakers influence you as a director (doc or narrative)?
I actually find myself very drawn to Yorgos Lanthimos’ cinema.  It’s strange to say, but, artistically, emotionally, I feel “at home” watching his work.  It’s the same thing with French director Leos Carax.
10.  Only a few weeks from the World Premiere what are your feelings like? How long will you be in NYC?  Any films or fellow filmmakers you are hoping to meet or catch up with?
I have just finished post-production of the film, which was a real marathon.  We worked so hard with the crew — days and nights to finish on time — that I’m still waiting to come back to earth, so to speak.  I’ll be in New York for the whole festival and would love to see Pratibha Parma’s My Name is Andrea, about a pioneer of women’s rights.  And a fiction film by Anna Jadowska, Woman on the Roof.  Both promising and intriguing.
For more info on Tessa’s production company, Petite Mason Production.
And The Wild One is having its World Premiere today!  For more info – Tribeca Film Festival 2022.
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