Driven to tell stories
Jesse Kreitzer.

Driven to tell stories

Award-winning filmmaker Jesse Kreitzer, a native of Marlboro, returns to screen his works and to raise funds for new films

BRATTLEBORO — A filmmaker with local roots - and who strongly believes in the stories he wants to tell - will return to the area to screen his short documentary and narrative films to raise funds for a coal-mining folktale inspired by his own family history.

Boston/New England Emmy award-winning filmmaker Jesse Kreitzer, a native of Marlboro, will screen his short films on Aug. 3 at the Latchis Theatre: “Lomax” (2014), a spirited reimagining of folklorist Alan Lomax's journey through the Mississippi Delta; “Pearlswig” (2007), a portrait of Boston's number-one amateur celebrity autograph hound; and “The Restoration Project” (2011), the personal story of a frame-by-frame rejuvenation of a decayed 8mm family film.

He also will show some of his most recent work that has never been screened publicly.

In 2007, Kreitzer received a Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellowship Grant in film/video. He won a regional Emmy as outstanding promotional film in 2012 for “The Folklorist.”

A Master of Arts candidate and instructor at the University of Iowa, he is raising funds to complete his latest project, “Black Canaries,” his thesis film.

Kreitzer will also discuss his plans to film “Black Canaries,” a film sponsored by Central Productions, a Cambridge, Mass.-based nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting films and filmmakers operating outside of the mainstream.

A portion of the evening's proceeds will benefit the organization. Admission is by donation.

Chris Gaines, executive director of Central Production, praises Kreitzer's “ability to capture poetic moments and bring them to life on-screen.”

Childhood in Marlboro

“My family moved to Marlboro because of the reputation of its elementary school,” says Kreitzer.

His parents, Bob and Luann Kreitzer, had recognized his interest and talent for storytelling at an early age and thought this school was a special place that could foster those gifts.

When he was in the third grade, Marlboro Elementary got Kreitzer behind a camera to tell his stories in his first film.

“The assignment was to go into the woods and find the elusive fisher cat,” says Kreitzer. “Of course, I never found it, but in the short film I made, I could play the broadcast journalist venturing into the wilds of nature.”

When he was just a junior in high school, Kreitzer managed against very stiff competition to be admitted into the Center for Digital Art in Brattleboro from 2001 to 2003, under the mentorship of its co-founder and director, video artist Michel Moyse.

“It was quite unusual for someone so young as I was to get into the program,” says Kreitzer, who still maintains close ties to Moyse and the center.

There, he produced a 30-minute narrative film, “Prophet” (2003), which he wrote, directed, and edited and for which he designed the sound and worked the camera.

Kreitzer then studied film at Emerson College in Boston where, in 2007, he received his bachelor's degree in visual and media arts. He graduated magna cum laude, and he received the Graduate Award for Achievement in Photography for his frame-by-frame restoration of an 8mm home movie, a process documented in his film “The Restoration Project.”

“I discovered five 8mm films made by my paternal grandfather, who had been a photographer,” says Kreitzer. “One of these films was of my father shortly after he was born, but it had decayed too much to be played. Because of the personal importance of the film to me, I undertook a painstaking frame by frame reconstruction.”

Another film that Kreitzer made while an Emerson student, “Pearlswig,” concerns an amateur paparazzo in the Boston area.

“He wasn't your traditional celebrity nuisance, but rather for 40 years he tracked famous people to take their photos with him,” he says. “The pictures were never intended for the public but for private collection.”

Kreitzer describes this film as exploring “the nature of celebrity and the artistic process.”

He then entered the MFA program at the University of Iowa, where he made “Lomax,” the film that won him a regional Emmy.

The film follows folklorist Alan Lomax, who worked for the Library of Congress from 1937 to 1942 and spent a considerable amount of time in the South. Equipped with 500 pounds of recording equipment powered by his car battery, he made more than 10,000 field recordings of music and interviews with many legendary folk, blues, and jazz musicians, from Lead Belly and Big Bill Broonzy to Jelly Roll Morton to Woody Guthrie.

This past year, Kreitzer has been touring the film festival circuit, where “Lomax” has been shown to enthusiastic audiences.

Kreitzer chose to further his studies at the University of Iowa, partly because of the excellence of the program, but also to explore his maternal family roots, the relatives who were from this part of the country.

“My current project 'Black Canaries' is a tribute to my ancestors, who were coal miners from this area,” he said.

“Black Canaries” is a folktale about the miner's plight against a land gone rogue,” Kreitzer writes at the “Black Canaries” Facebook page.

“In 1907, the Maple coal mine collapsed and killed the Lockwood family's youngest boy and hauling mule,” he writes. “To keep his surviving family warm against the winds of the vacant prairie, Father has no choice but to continue [dredging] the depths and extract[ing] coal from the ruinous mine.”

The father soon discovers a rare mineral that when distilled and ingested through tear ducts releases an intoxicating spirit. In his consuming desire to exhume the family mine for its riches, Lockwood's wife and children witness “the destructive bond between people and the land to which they are captive.”

'Independent film ethos'

“My narratives are quite original, and some like 'Black Canaries,' are stories never told in quite this way,” he says.

Committed to what he calls the “independent film ethos,” he has no desire to go to Hollywood and make commercially popular films.

“I consider myself a regional filmmaker dedicated to a sense of place,” says Kreitzer.

Although he has made many diverse films, he finds some threads that run through all his work. Kreitzer is attracted to rural stories, which he suspects might have to do with his upbringing in Vermont.

“I like stories about nature and the country, and I want to explore the rural way of life,” he says.

“I suppose I may be reacting to the divisive nature of life in the cities that I have lived in after leaving Vermont,” Kreitzer continues. “In my work, I want to sustain and encourage others to connect with nature. My films involve both a bit of nostalgia and an attempt to honor my ancestry.”

“When I graduate from Iowa, I have every intention of coming back to Vermont, where I hope to make my first feature-length film,” he adds.

Kreitzer has already written the screenplay to this film, “The Caretaker's Wake,” which concerns a Vermont father who loses his elderly mother, and then - while keeping the activity a secret from his family - takes care of a dying woman, perhaps to atone for the other loss.

But that is still down the road.

Right now, his task is to raise the money so he can begin filming “Black Canaries,” which, with its $40,000 budget, is his most ambitious work to date.

“Filmmaking is very costly, even with today's current tools to make it more democratic,” he says. “Filmmakers must advocate for their work, all the time.”

“That is why I have to reach out to the public like at the Latchis to help support what I do,” says Kreitzer.

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