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Joel Fendelman on “Needle Through Brick” (Watch it Now Free!)

Joel Fendelman on "Needle Through Brick" (Watch it Now Free!)

In “Needle Through Brick” –  available in its entirety at the bottom of this page courtesy of SnagFilms – filmmaker Joel Fendelman explores the struggle of between traditional culture and the modern world told through Chinese Kung Fu masters living in Souteast Asia.

“Needle Through Brick”
Director: Patrick Daly
Producers: James Adolphus, Joel Fendelman, Patrick Daly
Editors: Siobhan Dunne, Michael Furth

[Disclosure: SnagFilms is the parent company of indieWIRE]

The doc, “Needle Through Brick” is available free on SnagFilms (and at the end of this article). This interview with Joel Fendelman is part of an ongoing series of SnagFilm filmmaker profiles that will be featured weekly on Indiewire. SnagFilms is the parent company of Indiewire.

Give us the 140 character description of your film.

The struggle for survival of traditional culture in the face of a modernizing world, told from the perspective of Chinese Kung Fu masters.

So what’s the full story here?

“Needle Through Brick” is a documentary about the struggle for survival of traditional culture in the face of a rapidly changing and modernizing world, told from the perspective of traditional Chinese Kung Fu masters living in Borneo, East Malaysia. The story explores the history and culture of Kung Fu and asks deep and important questions about how traditional culture can be kept alive in a world that is forgetting about it.

On the simplest level, it’s a film about the real deal Kung Fu master. Not the ones we see in the hollywood movies that live on a mountain top with superpowers but the everyday one that struggles to get by like the rest of us.

What brought you to moviemaking?

I grew up in Miami Florida, my father ran an art cinema. I remember taking school field trips to the theater and on my birthday I could choose a movie to watch with my friends, all to ourselves. I am pretty sure this planted the seeds but in high school I was also a trick skater and loved making videos of myself and friends doing tricks. When I went to college I really honed my skills as an artist where I began telling stories with short films. With documentaries I really loved the process in making one because I was able to learn so much about my subjects and in turn myself. The deeper I got into making films, the more I craved the self-expression. Needle Through Brick was a collaboration between myself, Patrick Daly and James Adolphus, all of ours first feature length film.

Talk inspiration for “Needle Through Brick…”

Patrick Daly who conceived the idea was living in Borneo at the time where he began studying traditional Kung Fu with a master there. After a year of training he gained access to a whole network of masters who he realized wanted for the first time to share their story. This was an extraordinary opportunity because these masters were so secretive they wouldn’t share their secrets with people from a neighboring village much less a foreigner. The masters saw the writing on the wall that if they didn’t share their some of their art that it would be lost forever so they agreed to be filmed. I think I speak for the entire crew that we were all attracted to the idea of filming Kung Fu masters and playing a part in preservation of their traditional art.

Daly on dealing with many dialects…

There were many challenges in making the film as there is in any indie film but I’d say the consistently most challenging thing in making the film was dealing with the variety of Chinese dialects. Most of the interviews were spoken in Chinese so we had to have a translator on set at all times. I know when Patrick was interviewing the different masters he didn’t know what the masters had said until the end of the interview and sometimes not even until the transcripts were made.

When it became time for translating we had to have a variety of different translators for each dialect. We had to subtitle each clip of footage. It must of doubled the amount of work in post.

Pondering audience reaction…

I think in watching the film, the audience will be surprised in the reality of the Kung Fu masters. I know when I first headed to Borneo, I had big fantastical ideas of seeing these monk like masters that lived on top of mountains and walked on water. I imagined them flipping around with swords and such. After the first interview and demo, I was quick to realize these were all things of my imagination and that the real Kung Fu master was a normal man who had a working class job who was struggling like the rest of us. The ones we met were restaurant cooks, shoe salesmen, landscapers and insurance brokers. They held normal jobs and struggled to get by and even more so to find dedicated students in today’s day and age. I think after their initial realization the SnagFilm’s audience will appreciate this honest look at art and the people behind it.

Considering Errol Morris…

I love Erroll Morris films and one’s by the Maysles brother’s. Needle Through Brick is not very much like these films at all but I like to think maybe some of the artistry seeps in.

What’s up next?

Patrick and I just finished another film, a feature film about a Muslim boy in Brooklyn who befriends a group of Jewish kids who mistake him for being Jewish. please check out the trailer www.david-themovie.com

We are on the festival route now.

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