Thursday, March 29, 2012

Meet the Filmmaker: Nate Simms

This Sunday, April 1, at 7:30 p.m., the Saratoga Film Forum welcomes local photographer and filmmaker Nate Simms to screen and discuss his documentary Brunswick. The Film Forum spoke with Mr. Simms via e-mail about the film.

What is your background as a filmmaker?

I was an amateur still photographer for a few years, but always with the goal of trying to do something useful with the images. Those thoughts just shifted over into video when I first started working on this project [Brunswick], but I never had any formal training at all. This was really just a “figure it out as you go” type of thing. I guess the first time I ever filmed anything was the first day of working on this.

Tell us about the film and the issues it deals with.

To me it’s a few different stories being told at once. There is a personal story of a farmer and his relationship to his land and to another family he had known his whole life, but there is also a larger cultural and political story of how and why we collectively do things in America. That sounds pretty grandiose, but basically the root issues and topics to me would be things like farming, development, local politics, connection to place and land, trust, betrayal, and so forth.

As I understand it, the theme of the film is that Brunswick is trying to balance economic development with retaining its essential rural character. What are the tradeoffs? What are the challenges? Are there any solutions?

Well, that could be a really long answer, but any talk of economic growth assumes that we believe we should be living in an economy where “growth,” as it is commonly understood, is the goal. I guess I don’t buy into that entirely, so I am starting from a different place in that discussion. Despite the fact that towns like Brunswick talk a lot about how they value their rural character, it seems to me that they are not exactly being proactive in figuring out ways to actually help farmers make a better living (or to make a living, period), or encourage smarter building practices, or whatever. Although “solutions” is not a word I would want to use, I think the first step in progressing away from the current mess is to reject a few commonly held ideas (like what an economy should look like, or what constitutes success, etc.). That, of course, might not be possible.

Is Brunswick the only town you know of that is dealing with these issues?

I would guess that most towns are dealing with these issues everyday. Conflicts of interest in local government, farmers or land-owners facing tough decisions about what to do with their land, etc...Brunswick is just an example in my mind of what’s happening everywhere and a lot of people who have seen the film have said that their town was experiencing the same or similar problems.

What would you like viewers to come away with after watching Brunswick?

It would be great if people who maybe didn’t know what was going on in their town checked into it a little. When I started filming this, I knew nothing at all about what was happening in the area on that level and it was interesting to watch things unfold. Ultimately, even if someone doesn’t like the film, they might find themselves in a discussion about the issues raised and that would be cool.

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