EDITORS NOTE: This is the first in a series of interviews, conducted via email, profiling first-time feature directors who have films screening at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.
Celebrity photographer Steven Sebring‘s feature directorial debut “Patti Smith: Dream of Life” is described by the Sundance Film Festival as a “hypnotic plunge, a breathing collage of this legendary musician/poet/painter/activist’s philosophy and artistry that feels as if it sprang directly from her soul.” 12 years in the making, “Dream of Life” examines Smith’s “interior terrain,” the ideas, losses and memories she wrestles with in addition to tracing her outward adventures. The film utilizes music, narration, graveyard pilgrimages, performance, political rallies, archival footage and verite moments with her working-class parents, children and friends to examine this punk pioneer. In the Sundance catalog, Caroline Libresco says of the film, which will screen in the festival’s documentary competition, “From raw, intimate sessions in her apartment to formidable incantations delivered to roaring crowds, Smith’s expression is unmeditated by pretense or artifice…’Dream of Life’ reaches for the ineffable in Patti Smith.”
“Patti Smith: Dream of Life”
Director: Steven Sebring
Producers: Margaret Smilow, Scott Vogel, Steven Sebring
Cinematographers: Philip Hunt, Steven Sebring
Editors: Angelo Corrao, Lin Polito, Margaret Crimmins, Greg Smith
Sound: Tony Volante
Please introduce yourself…
My name is Steven Sebring, I am a photographer and was raised in Arizona. I’ve lived now in New York City for about 15 years.
What initially attracted you to filmmaking and do you explore other creative outlets?
Being a fashion and celebrity photographer led me to the idea of making my stills come to life, that was very interesting for me. Other creative outlets involve book publishing, creating photograph exhibits, and art installations.
Have you made other films?
I did not go to film school. I have experimented with film on my own for years. I have directed short films for some fashion clients like Coach and Donna Karan. I love bringing fashion into film and vice versa.
What prompted the idea for “Patti Smith: Dream of Life” and how did it evolve?
I photographed Patti Smith for Spin magazine back in 1995. That was the first time we met. I became so interested in her that I convinced her to let me start filming when possible. By self- financing the film, touring, and traveling with her on and off for years the movie came to be… 12 years later we have “Dream of Life.
Elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film.
My approach to making this film was let it happen organically. There is no way to rush a film with a subject like Patti Smith. Patience and bringing in my experience as a photographer helped a lot. That is also how the style of the film became what it is. Unusual in it’s approach and structure.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?
The biggest challenge I faced was just keeping my stamina going for 12 years, yet always knowing that this was a very important film that needed to be made. We do not have distribution yet but people are very interested in Patti Smith. She is unique. An extremely private person yet very influential… Going into this I had total respect and trust in her. We were just setting out to do something that felt new and positive to us.
What are your specific goals for the Sundance Film Festival?
First of all both Patti and I are very honored to be a part of this film festival. Our goal really is just to get as many people to see the film as possible to hear what she has to say. She will be also doing a live performance at the festival too.
What are some of your recent favorite films?
Anything Kurosawa, Wells, Hitchcock or Fellini
How do you define success as a filmmaker, and what are your personal goals as a filmmaker going forward?
I think success is defined as having your vision come true no matter how long it takes you.
Are there any upcoming projects you’d like to share?
Fashion campaigns, celebrities to photograph, books and installations to create, and of course more films to make!!
Please share your thoughts on the state of independent film today…
Being new to the industry of filmmaking it seems to me pretty scary! Just dealing with costs of publishing rights kinda makes it hard if not impossible to do exactly what you had planned.
But with that in mind, it can make you a more creative filmmaker. The way I look at it, the more difficult the challenge the better.
indieWIRE’s coverage of the 2008 Sundance FIlm Festival is available in iW’s special Park City section.