Marilyn Jaye Lewis interviews Steven Sebring, the director of Dream of Life, a documentary on the poet /singer/artist, Patti Smith.
Dream of Life was 12 years in the making, and has now shown at a multitude of international film festivals. It was awarded an Excellence in Cinematography prize at Sundance in 2008. Dream of Life is currently showing in limited release in the United States and will be available on DVD in 2009.
MJL: I realize this is a totally subjective thing to say, but up until I saw your film Dream of Life, Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams was the most beautiful film that I had ever seen. In terms of its cinematography, Dream of Life is now up there, in my mind, right next to that classic. I can’t help but notice that the word “dream” features in both titles. I know that Dream of Life is the title of Patti’s album from 1996, but at what point did it also become the title of your film? And at what point did you realize the footage you were choosing to include in the film had a very dream-like quality to it?
SS: We titled the film during the middle of the edit. It was decided upon, due to the realization that [Patti’s late husband, musician Fred Sonic Smith’s] spirit was so much a part of the film’s spirit; it seemed only natural to both Patti and me. Both the film’s feeling and look have a lot to do with the quality of 16 mm film — and the fact that I always shot in whatever natural light there was.
MJL: While watching the film, I couldn’t help but feel that your heart, eye, and camera were inextricably connected. How do you make editing choices under those circumstances — especially when the editing felt as much a part of the poetry of the film as the subject herself. (Not to mention, that you were making the movie for 12 years & must have had a ton of footage to sort through.)
SS: I was able to make those choices with the help of a very experienced, talented and creative editor Angelo Corrao.
MJL: Since you are primarily a photographer, at what points in the editing process did you decide to insert photographs? And did you use them more to advance the story or to expand the story?
SS: I chose during the editing process — using photographs to tell a story of a time, or of moments when I was not personally there.
MJL: Patti’s voice-over is another inextricable element of this film. What was that process like? Did you both view footage together? Or did you choose the footage that resonated most for you as an observer, and then get her input on that aspect of her life?
SS: I chose the footage that resonated most for me and then I got her perspective on that aspect of her life [in voice-overs].
MJL: I believe this is your first feature film. I think it is less a “documentary” and more a life portrait of a vibrant and powerful artist captured on film over the course of 12 years. Considering that, do you see yourself making any more films in the near future? Or do you simply wait to see what inspires you most?
SS: I do see myself making more films in the future. I would like to have my next project be a fiction film, or perhaps another life portraiture, we shall see…