Peter Sasowsky’s documentary Heaven + Earth + Joe Davis premieres at Raindance Film Festival 2011 on Saturday 1st October. He is also the founder and director of Serious Motion Pictures, a script to screen production company that produces documentary and narrative films, corporate communications, and media for foundations and philanthropies.

(by Kristina Tarasova)

What was Joe Davis like to film and spend time with?

When someone is passionate about something, really passionate, that energy surrounds them and draws in other people and affects them. I spent nearly eight years taking various trips with Joe as well as spending much time with him at his home base in Cambridge. Over the years we have become close friends and I’ve really benefitted from exposure to the interesting and energized people who materialize when he’s around. I’m not just talking about artists or scientists. He has a very egalitarian view and is truly interested in people from all walks of life.

Would you agree that the film supports his ideas and takes on his subjectivity?

My goal in the film was to give the audience something of the experience that I and other people have had, simply to have a sort of organic exposure to Joe and his ideas as you might at a long night in a pub. To that end, I didn’t try to explain or defend his work, but rather to give enough of a taste that you can understand what he’s after. By nature of the form of documentary, the view is mine, not his, but I tried to remove myself as much as possible from the viewpoint. To the question is it supportive of his views, I can only say that I undertook this out of a desire to share what I see as a positive philosophy. He certainly has his detractors, but I’m not one of them. I was more interested in the internal struggles and outcomes.

The film is at times unconventionally and chaotically edited. Is this your personal style, or did you feel it would be congruous with the artistic character of Joe Davis?

The entire process was sort of unconventional. I set out with the exact idea of having no idea whatsoever other than that I would shoot handheld, use a wireless mic and attempt to capture poetic moments. Anyone who has sat in an edit room can tell you this is madness. In the end, (and somewhat to my own astonishment) I think I did succeed in capturing what I was after. Setting that more poetic vision into a narrative structure was an ongoing battle and one where I found myself quite alone at many stages defending my choices. I tried to find some device where the viewer could imagine all of the ideas going on at different times in Joe’s head, but film is not a particularly divergent media – no matter what, it works within a set frame and if you want people to think outside that you have to create either some transcendence or some disorientation. In the end, I think the “chaos” can approximate Joe’s creative milieu and that’s one of the reasons I kept on in that direction.

What kind of film projects do you have planned for the future?

I’ve got a feature that I’d like to do that explores the current state of the American experiment particularly as it relates to the impact of branding and viral marketing on the impulse and institutions of art and culture. I know that sounds like a documentary, but it’s actually a narrative through the eyes of a young eastern European nanny. Feel free to show that to any interested parties with funding! I’m just finishing up a short film set in the Mojave desert which also deals with themes of commerce and art. I’ve got a documentary that I’d like to do on the marshlands outside of New York City as well. Descriptions of all current work (including more commercial projects) is on my website

What is your favourite documentary?

Hard to pick a favorite, but I’ll say that “Burden of Dreams” is up there. I’m also a fan of Chris Marker who makes my narrative structure seem girder-like. Most recent favorite is “Black Power Mix Tape” which is drawn from found footage by Swedish television of the Black Power movement in the States in the 60’s and 70’s.

Are you proud to be an Earthling?

Pride would presuppose that I’m happy with what we earthlings have done. I can’t claim that categorically. I am very happy to be an earthling. Despite how hard it can be, the possibilities are endless and things to appreciate are absolutely everywhere if you know how to look.

Reeling The Real is a website dedicated to the discussion of all kinds of moving image including documentary, film essays, archive re-use, artists' moving image and more.

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