A Final Interview From Ashland Film Festival: In Pursuit of Silence Producer Brandon Vedder
By Reynard Seifert
There were a lot of great films at this year’s Ashland Independent Film Festival. One of them is In Pursuit of Silence — a spirited call to arms for deep listening, bringing to light interesting research on the mental and physical health effects of noise, musing on the metaphysical nature of silence. After seeing the film, one can’t help but hear closer each sound as it rolls in.
Right now, outside my window, I hear three different types of bird, a highway, the wind, the leaves rustling, a tree swaying, several types of insect chanting interlocking rhythms, a crow, my keyboard, the pull tab of blinds knocking against the window frame, the footsteps of my cat, the beep of a horn, and the swell of what must be another section of the highway. And there is also the fact that the sound is always changing. As soon as I began to name all the sounds, new ones crept in and old ones left, making it difficult to pin down exactly when is “now.” Thinking about silence leads to these sorts of thoughts.
Until seeing In Pursuit of Silence, I didn’t realize how much my own recent exodus from Oakland, to Humboldt County and later Ashland, had been influenced by a desire to escape the traumatic noise of that looming cityscape.
I spoke with one of the film’s producers, Brandon Vedder.
Rogue Valley Messenger: How did the idea for this documentary come about? Was George Prochnik’s book the genesis?
Brandon Vedder: Thanks for this really thoughtful intro. Each member of the production team (of four) had their own really specific path to the subject matter and the film. I will tell you a bit about my path. The qualities of silence and solitude have always both fascinated and escaped me in my personal and spiritual life. It’s a quality I have wanted to become more comfortable and disciplined with for about as long as I have been aware of the potential. The last film Patrick (director) and I made together was called La Source. Its a very kinetic inspirational film about a Haitian janitor at Princeton University and his quest to bring clean water to his village for the first time. When we got deep into the edit of that film we were given the opportunity to work with the renowned avant-garde and silent filmmaker Nathaniel Dorsky. He cut 15 minutes out of the film the first time he watched it, which was terrifying. Once we fell in sync with him and what he was after in the film a light really turned on for us. We subsequently read his book “Devotional Cinema” and attended screenings of his silent works at Los Angeles and New York based Museums. We actually became so interested in his very specific filmmaking process that we crested a pitch to make a film about him making his last film on the specific film format he had been using his entire career as it was being discontinued. In true form he respectfully declined, explaining it would change his process in a way that would not be best for the film he was setting out to make. That left Patrick and I very deep into the property of silence without a story to explore it through. That is when Patrick came up with the idea to broaden the scope of the film and explore silence through a variety of different characters after their own version of silence and experts who could speak into our current sonic situation.
RVM: The editing and cinematography were wonderful. How did you go about gathering material, and did you have a plan for how the film would unfold?
BV: We really appreciate the kind words here because these elements were some of the most challenging to define as we went along. In our last film together “La Source” we were almost always handheld and the tone was very active, constantly moving and discovering…sweating with the characters on screen. We knew from the first conversations about this film we would have to take an entirely different approach. We really had to work to create visual manifestations of quiet. We had to compose images that not only supported but deepened the ideas discussed. We found this language in static shots that were very thoughtfully composed so they could linger on screen for extended amounts of time letting the audience see them then get bored with them, then find something new about them, then get frustrated with them, then finally just rest in them. A frame that can accomplish all of this is so rare and took most of our time and creative energy while shooting.
We really looked for stories of people that were seeking their own versions of silence in really interesting and visual ways which took us all over the world…to 8 different countries in total. Patrick always had a running edit going in his head that we would talk through every chance we got but I think this project more than any other in his past really came together and found its fidelity in the edit.
RVM: Was it always going to include so much montage between the interviews? It makes it kind of a cross between an art film and a documentary.
BV: During the post process my producing team and I went to great lengths to try to protect Patrick, our Director & Editor, from any of the producing or non creative pressures so he could just really stay in the really specific place that was necessary to stay synced up with the heartbeat of the film. The challenge was to not fall back on the documentary convention of interview/broll combination. It is the formula all documentarians are taught and find easiest to fall back on but we knew from the outset we would have to strike a much different balance to not make this just a talking head or social issue film but a piece of art that is as experiential as it is informative.
RVM: What are your plans for the future with this film, other projects?
BV: We have some really great opportunities for the films release we are currently working out now. The film will definitely be available widely soon but we are also shoring up a really strong way for non profits, communities, organizations and individuals to set up public screenings of the film. We see the film as a tool and want to make it as easy as possible to have like minded passionate people use the film in their own communities.
My next film centers around faith and the loss of faith. The film centers around the critically acclaimed & once devout musician, David Bazan (Pedro the Lion) after he has left his lifelong evangelical belief system, he struggles to rebuild his worldview & career from the ground up to feed his family of four. The film profiles what Paste magazine calls “one of our 50 greatest living songwriters” as he works to find truth and strike a new balance while incessantly touring and creating and fathering and husbanding.
RVM: The film opens and closes with the same image, a tree in a field. Where is that? What was special about that image for you all?
BV: That image came from a field close to the Trappist monetary profiled in the film in Peosta, Iowa. That image has always been an unbelievable representation of this “silence” we had been talking so much about…centered but dramatic…subtle but striking. I think it was clear from the first time everyone saw that image that is was to be an important and central image in the film.