Blogging Tribeca 2009: Interview with Matt Faust of "home"
Interview with Director Matt Faust of the film "home."May 7th, 2009 | Michele Meek
Hurricane Katrina inspired a bevy of documentary films, but none captures the personal loss more artfully than Matt Faust's six-minute film home, which won Best Documentary Short at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival. The Independent spoke with Matt Faust about his experience making the film and its inspiration, the loss of his family home.
I feel like I've seen countless images and reports from the Katrina aftermath, but the sense of personal loss comes through so powerfully in your film, it was like I was seeing it for the first time. Tell me about when you realized you would make a film and how it transformed from a feature (is that correct?) to the short film it is now.
I actually didn't have any plans for what the project would become as far as length, genre, etc., even well into the process. It all came about very naturally and I consciously avoided imposing any preconceptions of what it should be. My only certainty was that my ideas could only be conveyed through film, and my main concern was that the product would be as honest, vulnerable, and universally relatable as possible. The short length was determined by my effort to avoid becoming self-indulgent and including too many memories and photos that wouldn't mean as much to people outside my family.
As for realizing I would make a film, that was a long process. After the storm, I along with thousands of others who were personally affected felt a profound sense of loss that was difficult but necessary to communicate. Rather naïvely, I was surprised to see that most of the post-Katrina dialog did not embrace this task and reach the depths of empathy, compassion, and understanding that I presumed would come naturally. Instead, the truth of the situation became buried under an avalanche of opportunists who saw it as a chance to promote special interests, further political agendas, and make quick development dollars at the expense of people who just lost nearly everything. The wealth of misinformation also helped people indulge their temptations to blame the victims and imagine that they were somehow getting what they deserved.
Seeing all of this, I realized that it was hard for observers of Katrina to relate to the scope and tragedy of what was going on. Unless you were personally living it, it was easy for Katrina's aftermath to become little more than a TV show that would be replaced in a week or two.
I had known all along that I had to make something, even if it was only to be a personal tribute to my family and a memorial to the life we once lived there. But after getting down to the core of what I wanted to communicate and why, I realized that I was distilling the very idea of what home is, and that home and its components (love, family, innocence) had a deep, universal appeal that cuts through façades and reaches the part of us all that still knows what is truly meaningful. Likewise, losing that time and place that represents home, whether through sudden disaster or the inevitable change that comes with time, is also a universal experience. Thus, it became clear that combining those two universal experiences (the fond remembering and subsequent painful loss of home) with my story as an archetype for all Katrina victims would allow me to make something that would hopefully serve my personal purposes while also helping everyone to understand, relate, and empathize.
How long did it take you make? Did you do all of the digital effects yourself?
I spent an entire year after the storm gathering my thoughts and sketching ideas, but it's hard to say exactly how long it took after that because I've worked on it intermittently for a few years now. Typically that meant going months without touching it, and then finding a week or two where I could devote literally every waking hour at a computer. Even my sleeping hours were spent having dreams that often became a new scene or effect.
I did all of the effects myself, which was quite a task for me at the time since I was learning the software as I went along. The effects you see are the result of a long process, but basically I digitized hundreds of old photos and home movies, used them to build photo collages that would become the sets for individual scenes, projected those collages onto 3D models that I built of the sets, populated the sets with the subjects and objects, and then composited the rendered pieces in video editing software. I then edited and polished the whole thing in the same video editing software.
As I watched the film, I realized that although you obviously salvaged some family footage, that many photos, home movies and other memorabilia must have been lost. Is that true?
Absolutely. Possession-wise, we lost way more than we salvaged. Everything in the house was a total loss. But my family actually fared better than most since many of our pictures and movies had been moved to my grandparents' house in Mississippi. Situations like that of my wife are more typical, where there is now no record of what she looked like as a child.
Has the home in the film been rebuilt?
Sadly, no. About a year after the storm, my parents had finished having the house gutted (which means hauling out all of the mud, grass, furniture, trash, dead animals, etc. and stripping the interior down to studs and slab) and were on their way to rebuilding it when the house was completely torn down without our knowledge or consent. I can't give you a definitive answer as to why this happened, but our situation is not unique and there are strong suggestions that point to greed and unscrupulous behavior as the culprit. It's really sad on so many levels, especially since my grandparents literally built that house with their own hands.
Congratulations on the award! Tell me about the Tribeca Film Festival screenings -- did you attend?
Thank you! I was able to attend the final three screenings and the award ceremony. I met all of the filmmakers whose work screened with mine, and they were all very nice, professional, and great to talk to. Richard Gere even made a surprise appearance at the final screening, and I was told that he had good things to say about my film!
The whole festival was extremely well-done and exciting. Even in a city that has at least a million things going on at any given moment, there was a genuine excitement around town about the festival. There were many celebrities around in the four days that I was there, and I even had my picture taken with Robert Deniro!
What's the future of the film?
Well, I've never known what was next for it and that is still the case now. It has shown a tendency to take big steps up, so I'm excited to see what is next.
Any other projects in the works?
Not at the moment, but I'm always on the lookout for another idea that I can be passionate about and hopefully grow into something special.
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