Interview with Filmmmaker Max Westerman (MY FRIEND, THE MAYOR: SMALL-TOWN POLITICS IN THE AGE OF TRUMP)

MY FRIEND, THE MAYOR: SMALL-TOWN POLITICS IN THE AGE OF TRUMP is the winner of BEST FEATURE FILM at the Los Angeles LGBTQ+ Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

I had just taken a course in filming with small cameras (I shot this movie with a handicam and my iphone). And I was looking for a topic to try my news skills out on. My friend Sean Strub presented me with a perfect opportunity when he told me he was running for mayor. As a TV correspondent in the U.S. I had done stories on him before (then with a professional crew). So I knew he’s good on camera and has an interesting take on things. And since he’s my oldest friend, I also knew he would forgive me if my rookie camera work wouldn’t result in a professional movie.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

It took me several years. Which seemed forever. As a TV journalist I was used to seeing my stories on the air within a day. But making a documentary is an entirely different process. More like writing a book; drafting, editing, re-editing. Putting it aside to do other things. Coming back to it after other people have taken a look. Acting on their criticisms. Meanwhile, paying the bills. The movie cost me less than $10.000,- to make. I recouped some of it when I sold it to Dutch public television. It was aired in the Netherlands last November, just before the U.S. presidential elections.

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

Hopeful and feel-good.

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

Believing in myself. I didn’t think my material was good enough, until a friend (and his wife) looked at it and told me it had to be a movie. That friend, Roeland van der Manden, actually became the editor. We had a lot of fun putting it all together. It was quite different from my previous day-job as a correspondent; no deadlines, no stress, just pleasure. And meeting some great new talents along the way. Such as the young composer who volunteered to do the terrific sound-track: Rick Kooijman.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

Since it was watched by half a million Dutch TV viewers, I knew the movie gave people good vibes. But the feedback video gave me more details on why. Your critics are used to watching with a keen eye; their comments are very thoughtful. The viewer at the end of the video summarized it well, when he said this documentary about politics in a small town made him reflect on what has been lost nationally, such as “respect for different opinions, cordial communication and valuable debate”. As he put it, “How can we get back to that at the national level, that’s the biggest question I felt this documentary presented.”

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

As I said, the idea fell into my lap. But I didn’t know how it was going to work out. Sean was an unlikely candidate for the job of mayor in a Trump town – being a left-wing Democrat, openly gay and HIV-positive. What if he lost? Would I still have a movie? Would I have thrown away the two months I followed him around on the campaign trail? I wonder how many documentaries are never completed because things don’t pan out the way their makers envisioned.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

Black Orpheus – Orfeu Negro in Portuguese. Made in the year of my birth, 1958. It’s a love story set in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. It has an all-black cast; imagine that, decades before Hollywood grudgingly started including more Afro-American actors. Black Orpheus is a gorgeous movie that made me fall in love with Brazil. It won the Oscar for best foreign movie (which went to France though, the country of its director) and put the sensual sounds of Brazilian bossa nova and samba on the international map.

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

I love this platform, but found out about it only after we had pitched to several festivals individually; what a drag! In one fell swoop FilmFreeway made life so much easier for us. Making documentaries is hard enough; we really deserve this time-saving tool.

9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

As, by Stevie Wonder. Songs in the Key of Life is my favorite album. To me it exemplifies the beauty, creativity and energy of America.

10. What is next for you? A new film?

Mulling over ideas. A book, a movie, as long as it’s a good story, preferably again with a positive message.

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