Interview with Filmmakers A’Dora Phillips & Brian Schumacher (SERGE HOLLERBACH: A RUSSIAN PAINTER IN NEW YORK)

SERGE HOLLERBACH: A RUSSIAN PAINTER IN NEW YORK played to rave reviews at the December 2021 DIVERSITY Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

A’Dora Phillips & Brian Schumacher: Without hesitation, in the most general terms we would have to say that Serge himself motivated us to make this film. From the moment we met Serge in the Upper West Side studio apartment (where he had been living for over 50 years) we were inspired by his deep well of experience, and his generous, insightful relationship to art and art making. More specifically, Serge was very open to discussing his vision and vision loss, as well as excited to open his studio and painting practice to our film crew. He was a collaborator and an integral participant in helping to make the film a fully realized vision.

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

AP & BS: The making of the film in its entirety was much more protracted than we had initially imagined it would be, and in total took just short of five years, though we were not working continuously on the film during that time. After spending several days in Serge’s studio with a film crew in 2015 documenting Serge painting the first painting, for practical reasons having to do with timing and a number of other projects that we were involved with, several years went by before we could turn to the footage we’d taken. During those years, we stayed in touch with Serge, meeting with him regularly, continuing to interview him and get to know him better.

In 2020, we brought Bill Latanzi in as the editor and got the idea of a narrative arc based on the passage of time. Thus, we filmed Serge a second time five years after the first shoot (in fact, we filmed him just a few months before the March 2021 COVID lockdown–we were incredibly fortunate to have made it to his studio that winter). Once we did the second shoot, the film came together in under a year.

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

BS: Inspiring, authentic.
AP: Poignant, respectful.

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

BS: Serge was an artist from the beginning of his life to the end, and there are so many aspects to his life that are interesting and compelling in and of themselves. The biggest obstacle we faced in making this film was continuing to present Serge’s life experiences, including his vision loss to macular degeneration, as part of a larger whole of his life as an artist.

AP: Part of what made it hard to present that larger whole was that he didn’t have a lot of archival materials we could draw from. He became a forced laborer during the Second World War in Germany. He left his homeland (Russia) with nothing and eventually came to the United States after residing in a refugee camp, so had little from the first three decades of his life. At the same time, it was hard to get good quality reproductions of his paintings, since he’d not kept great records, and, while we did digitize his slides during the process of making the film, he hadn’t documented all of his work. It made it hard to do his artwork justice.

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

AP & BS: We wished that Serge were still alive to hear the feedback, and were thrilled, and so appreciative of the thoughtful insights and observations.

Watch the Audience Feedback Video:

6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?

AP & BS: After our first interview with him, sitting in his studio, listening to his many stories about art and life. Serge and his studio were reminders of a history and a New York that is fading away. His studio was filled with the layers and textures of that history and of New York, and we wanted very much to capture him there in a way only film can do.

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

BS: Reds, starring Diane Keaton and Warren Beatty.
AP: Howl’s Moving Castle by Hayao Miyazaki.

8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?

BS & AP: The video feedback we received really made the experience complete for us. We were completely satisfied. The opportunity to reflect on this film in an interview that will reach other people is also invaluable. Your festival has been amazing.

9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?

BS & AP: Excellent.

10. What is your favorite meal?

BS: Chopped kale salad

AP: That’s a hard one! Pasta with a simple red sauce is hard to beat, as is roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and a crisp green salad.

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

AP & BS: Yes, we are planning to make a new film about another one of the artist’s we profile, a kinetic sculptor whose works are astonishing. Film is going to be the perfect medium for capturing the movement in his work, and we hope to begin filming him as soon as January.


By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival

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