Screening: Family Tree + Interview with director Sebastian Sommer

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interview / Jason Banker

pictures / Violet Moore

Sebastian Sommer is a filmmaker from New York City and is the next big thing in indie film. An auteur in the making, he has made countless short films that have gotten him attention, one of which (Ego Death) premiered with LADYGUNN TV. His latest film ‘Family Tree’ explores concepts of anti fame, celebrity, and suicide while showcasing an ensemble of up & coming female talent. Sebastian spoke with Jason Banker, a fellow filmmaker who’s feature film ‘Felt’ just played at the IFC Center in NYC.
Since we both collaborate, and hang out with other NY filmmakers, talk a little bit about the current film scene? And how you do or don’t fit into it?
There is definitely a film scene in NYC but they are all older than me. People my age who are getting recognition are all making performance art and making films that play in galleries, not actual films. I feel like I am waaaaaaaaaay younger than my contemporaries and a lot of people don’t give me credit where for that, maybe because I’ve only been working with short films thus far. I’m only 22 and I’ve already collaborated with artists and performers that no one my age has worked with. I have accomplished a lot, all on my own, I’m only going up from here.
“Family Tree” feels drug induced. The actors share a joint, and the editing style explores a psychedelic perspective. How do drugs factor in your work or life?
I don’t like drugs. In fact I am anti drugs. I don’t think drugs should exist. Just kidding. Smoke weed every day.
Casting eccentric personalities seems like something we both share in common, and in particular women with strong voices. What is it about these sorts of people that draw you in?
I find that they make really good performers and that is so important to a movie. My least favorite thing is a boring picture. I would much rather watch something that makes me angry as opposed to making me feel indifferent or sleepy. At the end of the day I want you to feel something after watching my films. I feel like performers are that vessel.
Are there challenges you find in being a male director with a largely female cast?
Not at all, I love women. More than men to be honest.
There’s a certain amount of improvisation involved on set. How does that play into your approach to directing?
I think improvisation is very important when trying to unlock the truth in cinema. A lot of filmmakers I like have used improvisation, I’m more the kind of filmmaker who finds things on set, I feel like there are filmmakers who know exactly how every scene is supposed to be…like a science, they have it calculated. I’m all about finding the gold in the moment and part of that process is using improvisation. If it feels more natural for the actor to do something that’s not written in the script, let’s try it out and see how it goes, it might be brilliant.
Death is a motivating factor in the film, and the ending suggests a group suicide. What are your personal thoughts on death?
I was going to say that I fear death just like everyone else does and then I really thought about it and I don’t fear death.

More Sebastian here.

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