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We love a good documentary, and when one of them surprises us with its format, atmosphere and narrative technique, we know that it will stay in our memory for a long time. Demon Box, by filmmaker Sean Wainstein, is not just a documentary about his family memories and his fears, it's a short piece loaded with sensitivity, creativity and a great touch in storytelling.

1. Olá Sean! Could you tell our readers a bit about yourself and your work?

I can try! That’s a big and vague question though. I think I’m trying to understand myself through what I express in my personal film and other art works. I’m not sure If that’s because there’s some truth in my conscious and unconscious choices that I have the benefit of examining after I make a piece or I’m just too lazy or afraid or busy or exhausted to look at my life directly. It would certainly be cheaper and probably take less time to look at things directly instead of through film. So far we’ve learned that I’m inefficient. 

2. Your film Demon Box won the Finalist award for Best Experimental Documentary. Did you expect such a result? And how has the response to your film been so far?

Demon Box has had an interesting journey. It’s a film as much about failing to make a film and failing to express something as it is about its revelations. Within that failure to express is the expression and the emotion. I’ve worked on the film for ten years. It’s probably/hopefully/maybe stopped evolving… for now. I’m grateful when festivals take a chance on it. It seems to always get a very engaged response from audiences and I’ve been fortunate to win some awards… but it’s a difficult film to place with a programming block in a non-experimental festival. Even in an experimental festival, I don’t think it’s THAT experimental. It doesn’t fit anywhere… which, I suppose makes it the MOST experimental. 

3. Actors Liam Hill and Michael Jordan also won awards at our festival. Fantastic artists. Tell us a bit about them and your great team.

Film is often described as “hurry up and wait”. Things take time. You finally get everyone in place then you have to adjust something. This felt like the way for the whole project. Liam, Michael and the whole cast came aboard very close to when we rolled. We didn’t have that much time to prepare and they were both playing real people (Liam is a version of me and Michael is a combination of my two grandfathers). I’m impressed with their dedication to the craft, their generosity as performers and their patience with me as the film evolved. Liam, who is now a young man, was a wonderful, curious kid who brought that innocence and curiosity to the role. Michael understood perfectly where the character was coming from and channeled that emotion but was also willing to take off his clothes, get gelled up and climb out of a box in the floor… and then transform into a demonic deer creature. There’s no acting school that teaches you that.

4. What does it take to make you, as a filmmaker and a human being, feel that producing a certain movie is something that cannot be ignored?

I wish I knew… so maybe I could ignore it. I honestly don’t know but it is a compulsion. For me it’s the curiosity to see if I can achieve it or where the story will go. Marcel Duchamp said something about not wanting to make art when he knew how it would turn out. If it’s not surprising and risky for me, I don’t think it will be for the audience. 

5. Your movie has the magical charm of a quality mainstream production with an extremely refreshing touch of experimentalism. Where did these hybrid visions of filmmaking come from?


I’m grateful for the incredible collaborators on the project. My cinematographer Brendan Steacy is very accomplished and someone I’ve worked with for a long time - with budgets large and tiny. This film is about memory - both real and emotionally real. As it peels back time, the film goes through different modalities and has different looks for different time periods and emotional lenses. The central story with the the boy and his grandfather is a memory of a memory so it wants to feel like classic cinema - almost like a Spielberg-inspired recollection - because we often see our lives and past moments in cinematic language of that time (or maybe that’s just me). So that combines with some more documentary filmmaking with natural light, super 8 archival material and even animation. The whole mess of it and fragmentation and how they overlap is where I hope people find anomalies that lead to understanding… or even just feeling.

6. Within the whole that is a movie, which part do you believe is the most important? Why?


Hrrrmmmm. Good question. I still always cry when I see my son climb on the bed at the end. For me that is important… where the story goes next. I’m beyond fortunate that I was able to film my grandfather at 100 years old before he passed away. That’s also personally important to me. I still believe that the moment of the teenager about to step in front of the bus is one of the most important moments that I wanted to convey properly. Hopefully I did. What I experienced then was this freedom from learning that I could kill myself. Having that knowledge and knowing that was a choice meant I had other choices - I wasn’t powerless… I could change my life. Expressing that felt important. Which is why I say it bluntly. 

7. For you, what should a filmmaker avoid doing at any cost in their career?

Tough question. I don’t think there’s anything a filmmaker should or shouldn’t avoid. Make work or don’t make work. Make commercials. Sell out. Fart in a swimming pool. Quit. It’s all experience and life takes you where it takes you. Just be open and know that it’s a process and a journey and you are where you’re supposed to be… and that you’ll probably be somewhere else tomorrow. Embrace the change and try to find what moves you.

8. What is your big golden dream as a filmmaker?


To spend less of my own money telling stories. But I suppose that would mean I would’t get to tell my stories. But the I wouldn’t create a pit of financial desperation around my movie making experiences. So… yeah. I’ll take some money please. 

9. How do you imagine the future of cinema, as a whole, with the seemingly inevitable revolution brought by the development of "Artificial Intelligences"?

What’s with all these tough questions? Can’t we just step on some eggs? 

I don’t know, man. Film is certainly a wasteful medium. There’s a lot of human power and electric power and garbage that goes into making images. I think that will get more and more efficient. Partly there’s always been a shift toward lower entry costs as technology evolves. Everyone has a phone in their pocket that they can use to tell cinematic stories. But now you can just tell a computer to put Tom Cruise and Charlie Chaplin in your horror comedy fan fiction re-creation of Brokeback Mountain. I don’t know… that might be good. And a person has chosen to ask AI to do that. Or there might be a volume of stories and imagery that gets created but never watched… much like the photos everyone snaps on their phones and then never looks at again. Does it matter that film may be less precious? Is photography less precious now? I don’t know. Let’s step on some eggs. 

10. During the screenings of the awarded films at the first Experimental Brasil, there was an artistic performance inspired by your film. How do you feel, seeing that your work can generate something like that, in a city with a reality so absolutely different from yours?


I so wish I could have been there to experience that live. I love it! I love artists reinterpreting works and being inspired (or disgusted) enough to create something new. I feel honoured. Is reality different there? I don’t know. My grandfather escaped concentration camps and came to Brazil under an assumed name. My father was raised in Bahia. He experienced his own related generational trauma - likely less acknowledged and spoken about… but he was dealing with things too. Emotions don’t really acknowledge boarders and creativity emerges from everywhere. I like to think that the spirit of creativity connects us deeply across space and time. 


I have a dual citizenship so… spiritually, I’m there. 


11. What movie (or movies) have significantly affected you, not only as a filmmaker, but as a human being?


I watched COME AND SEE for the first time days after my grandfather died. That affected me deeply. I Tarkovsky’s STALKER affects me. But also Verhoeven’s ROBOCOP. I think filmmakers making anything as honestly as they can is what moves me. An early film that had an effect was Jan Svankmajer’s surrealist stop-motion film ALICE. The meta-nature of that storytelling really embedded deeply in a way where I still think about the phrasing…. And I’m not sure if it’s due to the translation or if the translation adds to the surrealist nature. I’m realizing these are all Eastern European filmmakers so I’ll add Sarah Polley’s STORIES WE TELL - an astounding, casually innovative film that provides some DNA building blocks for Demon Box. 

12. If you could meet your favorite filmmaker in person, what would you ask him/her?


I’m not going to name someone because you didn’t technically ask me for a name. You were too busy crushing eggs with your toes. 


I enjoy talking with artists about their process… and that’s before making something, during the making of it… and even years later. You spoke earlier about the compulsion to make things, I wonder if that inner voice that’s asking the original question is silenced (forever or for a time) or moves on to a different question or just asks the same question louder and more aggressively as if you didn’t understand it in the first place. 


Mostly I’m fascinated by people. Everyone has a story. Filmmakers are storytellers. I like to try and understand what compels people to tell stories at all. Where does that urge come from. Why are we so convinced our stories and our points of view are worth telling. Why does anywhere tell stories or make anything aside from the necessities we need to live? Why did I forget to type question marks earlier? Or maybe we’d just talk about books or omelet recipes or gardening. Or maybe we’d just sit and draw together. That sounds fun. 


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