SxSW 2022 Interview – not even for a moment do things stand still director jamie meltzer

“In September 2021, artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg covered the National Mall in a blanket of white: one flag representing each life lost to COVID in the United States. Her goal was to both show the epic scale of COVID deaths in America, and to simultaneously express that behind each number was a real, living person. “not even for a moment do things stand still” provides an observational glimpse into this exhibit, dropping into intimate moments of people honoring their loved ones, and interrogating the role of mourning and closure during an unfolding tragedy.” Director Jamie Meltzer on not even for a moment do things stand still which screens at SxSW 2022.

I hear you are back! Tell me about your previous experience here at the festival and what you showed.

I premiered my first feature documentary, OFF THE CHARTS: the song-poem story at SXSW in 2003. It was a music-based documentary, and it was a blast being at SXSW. Then a few years ago in 2020 I showed a documentary short called HUNTSVILLE STATION which I co-directed with Chris Filippone, at SXSW, but that was the year the pandemic disrupted the festival. Very excited for this year’s return, and especially to see films in the theater with people again!

Tell me about the idea this short and getting it made!

Not even for a moment do things stand still  began with an invitation from the artist, Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg, to document her installation, “In America: Remember.” A sea of white flags was planted on the National Mall, with each flag representing one person who had died from COVID-19 in America. We all have some awareness of the death count from COVID, but we’ve grown numb to this massive and growing number; it is nearly impossible to connect with or comprehend. Being among the flags, however, I was overwhelmed by the vastness of death caused by COVID-19; the tragedy enumerated and made physical. With this film I was hoping for a way to experience this loss both in its monumental scope but also in much smaller and intimate ways, and to show how each individual death is deeply felt.

From the start, we had the idea to film quite simply, in a purely observational style with no intervention; filming through a long lens, with a lavalier mic providing close, intimate access to the conversations that happen when someone plants a flag in tribute to a loved one who passed. In this way we could keep a respectful distance, but also gain incredibly privileged access to private moments. Using two camera crews, we spent three days filming on the National Mall, working with individuals and families to capture their flag planting. By immersing viewers in this observational perspective, the film connects the audience with a vast emotional landscape.  In withholding some specifics about each loss, I hope to draw the viewer even closer, to ask them to hold space for each mourner. 

Who are some of your creative inspirations? Any particular filmmaking talent or movie that inspired you for this project?

For this project I took some inspiration from a short about the 9/11 memorial called ‘Footprint’ by filmmaker and friend Sara Newens.

How did you put this together from a technical viewpoint? What sort of cameras/lenses did you use and/or did you have any creative challenges on that end?

We knew we needed to film from afar, to give people being filmed enough distance to respect the moment they were having. We had two crews working with Canon C300 Mk II cameras with Canon Cine Zooms on them and we mainly used the 30-300mm lens. For audio we identified people we wanted to film with and after gaining their permission to film, we used lavalier mics to capture close, intimate sound.

And finally, what is your favourite short film of all time?

I love Patrick Bresnan and Ivete Lucas’ short films, especially SKIP DAY and THE RABBIT HUNT.

This film and many others like it will be showing at South By Southwest taking place March 11-20. For more information point your browser to!

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