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Interview: Kaleb Wentzel-Fisher on Spomeniks and Experimental Filmmaking

By Amanda Gray

January 23, 2013

It’s 11:22 on a Friday night in Berlin. The rain has turned the once snowy sidewalks into icy pathways, filled with glittery partygoers, slipping and sliding out of the U-Bahn station on to their next destinations. We are late to our meeting with Kaleb Wentzel-Fisher.

We arrive at Kaleb’s apartment in Kreuzberg, where we find him on the living room floor working on a stop-motion animation for his upcoming feature film SANKOFA, with his friend and animator Timothy Armstrong.

We sat down with Kaleb to discuss the process and different elements that go into making a feature film, inspired by the Spomenik monuments in former Yugoslavia. He first saw photos of the strange monuments online. Intrigued, he traveled to Yugoslavia to create a film around them. The Spomenik’s are futuristic looking, which inspired Kaleb to create a science-fiction film wrapped in a documentary. The result, SANKOFA, brings us to an Earth uninhabited by man. We’re told, “Most died, few left for Titan, a moon of Saturn. With them they took the remnants of humanity, what was left of it anyway. But there was an accident, the ships were damaged, and the remnants lost. They arrived on Titan without their history and soon began to lose their memory. Sankofa is a film about the woman they asked to find it.

Kaleb explained to us that the film explores the idea of memory and how we treat our own fiction and reality. The documentary section of the film is actually a real documentary being made, about real people. A play within a play, really.

SANKOFA is currently a third of the way finished and has an amazing crew working on different parts of the film all over the world, everywhere from Berlin Germany to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Kaleb and his film crew already have sparked the interest of a German producer and innumerable supporters, which funded SANKOFA on its Kickstarter.

Making a feature film is a daunting task. The connections, the funding, and the idea all have to fit together perfectly-or so it seems. The independent funding portal Kickstarter boasts that $100 Million dollars have been pledged since they launched in 2009 (the strange and alluring film adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s The Canyons, starring Lindsay Lohan and James Deen was also completely funded on the crowd-funding website). Perhaps we are getting a glimpse into the future of independent films, or perhaps it is already well on it’s way.

WHITEWALL: When did you first see the Spomeniks?
KALEB WENTZEL-FISHER:
It was in a classroom where I was teaching high school about three years ago in Albuquerque, New Mexico. A friend had emailed me a link to a blog. So I found them on the web.

WW: The photos on the blog were of Spomeniks taken by Jan Kempenaers, the Belgian photographer right?
KWF:
Yes, exactly.

WW: Did you already have a solid plan to make a movie, or did you just know that you wanted to see the Spomeniks and that’s how the film came into fruition?
KWF:
Well, I knew that I wanted to make a movie. I wanted to make a feature film, and I had been exploring different ideas. When I realized that [the Spomeniks] were so close, I had to go see them, and I figured that I would find a way to make a movie out of them in some way.

WW: Do you think that your time in Berlin has facilitated this process, or inspired you to make this particular film?
KWF:
Oh, absolutely. I mean, when I left New Mexico I quit teaching high school to further pursue my own interest in making films. Being in Berlin and finding lots of work also facilitated having time and money to make my own projects and because the Spomeniks were in such close proximity to me…it was a 140 Euro ticket…I had to go.

WW: What can you say about the film as it stands right now?
KWF:
We are over a third of the way there, and what I am trying to do now is raise some money to film the science fiction portion of it, and the last third, which is the documentary.

WW: Is there anything in particular you would like to say about SANKOFA in regards to it being your first feature film?
KWF:
I just want to make a movie. I don’t really care where it goes, I mean I do care, but it’s more of an experimental film. It’ll be different. It’s a science-fiction film, it’s a documentary and it’s a mockumenraty. It includes animation, 10 different kinds of formats, like stop motion, time lapse, and ten different kinds of cameras.

I am not interested in making something flashy…it’s not about aliens and wizards. I want it to feel a different way, look a different way. The film’s about memory and I want people to think about what it means to experience a moment, to record a moment and what those two different things mean this day and age.

A strange part of this movie is that because it is about the documentary and how the documentary is being made, there is also a narrative portion about the…documentary [laughs] and even as we sit here working on the project, we have a camera running and even that might make it into the film. So the film has more layers than you can imagine…

WW: Sounds kind of like Ingmar Bergman…
KWF:
[Laughs] Yeah. Well it’s something that makes me sometimes hate all of it, and makes me want to stop doing it. Like, there is a level in our society where we have to always record the moment, and the recording of the recording of the moment. Like you go to a concert and instead of somebody watching the concert, there is somebody with their iPhone out recording the concert. So the last time I was at a show, I recorded somebody’s iPhone recording the concert.

I think it’s this interesting voyeuristic view into our society, every living moment has to be recorded. But what is really the purpose of that? Does it mean anything when you die? When it’s all over…I don’t know. Maybe this is too much.

WW: Yeah, maybe!
KWF:
Well, really I think this is one of the questions, maybe, that my movie asks. When does it stop? Why keep the cameras running non stop?

WW: So, why did the Spomeniks spark this train of thought?
KWF: It was one of the first times I was so in awe of something that it made me want to put my camera down. It made me really think about the experience that I was having instead of picking up one of the six different cameras that I had brought with me.

Kaleb Wentzel-Fisher is a filmmaker and musician from the United States. He has lived and worked all over the country, including Seattle, Minneapolis, Albuquerque and New York. He has recently relocated across the pond, and is now based in Berlin, Germany. Kaleb has been creating films and playing music since his early teens, and he later formally studied audio engineering and production at the McNally Smith School of Music. He is proudly self-taught in video production. Wentzel-Fisher has spent the last decade working on motion pictures, teaching seminars, workshops, and high school courses while continuing to produce his own films and music. Kaleb’s work is based on experimentation within the realms of film and music. He is perpetually striving to discover new, unique ways of telling a story. Kaleb’s films are both popular and successful. They have been featured on MTV, Canal+, IFC.com, in the SilverDocs Film Festival, on Current TV, Vimeo.com and more.

Kaleb Wentzel-FisherSANKOFATimothy Armstrong

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