DOX met the renowned filmmaker Jay Rosenblatt to speak about traits in his films – like loss, death, Jewish identity and being a filmmaker. Rosenblatt is the programming director of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival [See previous article].

– My films are not really narrative, says Jay Rosenblatt in our interview, when we met him last year in Nyon, where Visions du Reel had a retrospective on his films.  “I am using archival shots in my films. I am looking for an arc, a narrative arc, I cut sometimes at the peak of the arc and sometimes where the rhythm stays interesting.”

TRULS LIE: What are your thoughts on using text and commentary in films? Like the text that’s being read, the voices – like your film with the sign “sleep” when you see a dog sleeping?

Jay Rosenblatt
Jay Rosenblatt

JAY ROSENBLATT: In that film called Afraid So some of the images are very literal. Sometimes it is very satisfying for the viewer to see something that corresponds otherwise. I also like to work with metaphor like in Phantom Limb where there are some sections that are completely metaphorical – like the sheep shaving scene in slow motion It is very intense to watch cause the sheep is so vulnerable and we are hearing all these very intense voice-overs. I didn’t know at first that I  would have the comments on the soundtrack, I didn’t know the music I would have, but I knew there must be a slow, extremely slow motion of sheep shaving.

Afraid So
 – The shave represented loss because the wool is being taken off – but not death. It is loss but renewal because the wool grows back. A perfect metaphor for grief. The film ends with birth. It is a film about death that ends with birth.
– Even my films with my daughter – I call them comedies – there is a sense of loss because she is getting older. It’s like they move away from you, she was changing so much. I was falling in love with that age.
First about grief, then about suicide, and emptiness of life. You again and again make films about people dying; why are you so concerned about death? 
– Well, I mean it is obvious, isn’t it? I had this early very dramatic death of my brother in my life, and it marked me forever. But it is something we all deal with – some people by being in complete denial and some people deal with it very directly. A loved one dies, when you are young or older, your parents, your friends. And ultimately our own death – it is the human condition. What else can you deal with? You can deal with love, you can deal with sex, you can deal with a life of forming things, but to me you can’t fully deal with life unless you deal with death. In Phantom Limb one man says when he fully, fully faced death, he had a pure respect for life and really appreciate every moment that he is alive. A lot of us including myself just have not dealt well with death or grieved well enough.

We are disturbed about these existential topics seen in Rosenblatt’s films, and keep on asking:

– In the suicide film, The Darkness of Day, you have some distinctive examples, for example the Sanders couple who kill themselves when they were old, not to bother their children with their life. They just left a message and some burial advice. What do you think about that?

– In that film I wanted to show different types of suicide, like historical moments where all of a sudden a town has a lot of suicides; I have Hemingway with his genetic component of a family often committing suicide; then Primo Levy, making it through the Holocaust, going through all this trauma and then later, maybe because of deep depression, committing suicide. The Sanders couple made a very rational decision, they felt like if they lived a full life – sixty years of marriage. They didn’t like what they saw ahead, they didn’t want to be taken care of by their children and wanted to leave this world together. I thought it was very beautiful. I didn’t want to have any moralistic judgment about suicide, I think the normal judgment around suicide is very damaging, not only to the person that is suicidal but to the survivors also – people are so ashamed. They feel responsible, they make up stories, they don’t tell the truth, they say their loves ones died from some other reason.

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