Interview with Filmmaker Sydney Russell (PERFECT STRANGERS)

PERFECT STRANGERS played to rave reviews at the April 2021 DOCUMENTARY Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

We filmed it back in October of 2020, when I was in my final semester of film school. At the time, I was working at the Garden Cafe, aka the subject of the film, and was absolutely in love with the place. I consider the owners, Mandy and Gary, to be my family, and I know all of our regulars by name. I also know their drink orders, their stories, their music, and their shared love of the coffee shop. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it was hard for us all to adjust and keep things safe for everyone. We stopped indoor dining, but managed to keep music alive in the back stage outside. I made this documentary as a love letter to the place, and the sense of warmth and community I feel whenever I’m there.

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

I started planning for it around late August 2020, shot it in October, and then had it finished by December.

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

Warm and inviting.

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

Coordinating times that worked for the interview subjects, crew, and general hours of the shop, as well as making sure we were all as COVID-conscious as humanly possible.

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

I was pretty nervous as I clicked the link to view it, but quickly was overwhelmed (in a good way!) at how kind, generous, and thorough everyone was with their feedback. I appreciate everyone taking the time to view my film and give their thoughts. It means so much to me. I immediately showed everyone at the Garden Cafe and they were so happy as well!

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

It was based on my everyday life at work. I’d wanted for a long time to make something that chronicled some of our more eclectic regulars, and when COVID-19 hit, it was a good opportunity to tell the story of the place and tell the stories of the musicians that make it so special.

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

Probably Todd Haynes’ Velvet Goldmine.

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

From my experience, it’s been an incredibly useful tool that’s helped me keep my submissions organized and has also introduced me to a variety of new and lovely festivals.

9. What is your favorite meal?

Any type of pasta, probably.

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

At the end of April, I am shooting a narrative short film based on a feature length script that I’ve written. I’m so excited to get this project out there and I’m so happy with how it’s coming together!

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