Interview with Filmmaker Josef Steiff (JESSE JAMES)

JESSE JAMES was the winner of BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN at the July 2022 Toronto LGBTQ+ Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

“Jesse James” has been an idea I’ve had for a long time. Before becoming a filmmaker, I was a licensed social worker, and I’ve always been interested in stories that are sometimes ‘invisible’ in real life or smoothed over or not talked about. I have not seen many films on this topic, particularly with LGBTQIA+ characters.

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

I recently went back through my files and looked for the very first draft of the script to discover I had written it over 15 years ago, though the germ of the idea is even a little older. In the meantime I’ve made other films and published, but this is the story I kept coming back to.

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

Painful Hope

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

Life. Work. Life. Projects. Life. Early on, finding the cast was tough. Then my worklife caused me to set the project aside shortly after production wrapped. Follow that with the opportunity to direct a feature, which took me away from “Jesse James” for another couple of years, then producing several short films with Todd Lillethun as director, then COVID. It’s been a long road. Despite the obstacles, it’s been an amazing experience. “Jesse James” was the best set experience I’ve ever had as a writer/director. Just an amazing crew and cast. And the postproduction team including composers, singer/songwriters as well as the editor, sound mixing, and finishing team were so great to work with that it was all worth it.

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

I am always excited to hear people’s perceptions and reactions. The folks in the feedback video are the audience you hope for; they really engaged with the film and saw what we were trying to do and why we made the aesthetic choices we did.

Watch the Audience Feedback Video:

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

Evidently I’ve always loved movies; I’ve heard my parents talk about taking me as a baby to theaters because they loved movies so much that neither one wanted to miss out by staying home with me. So they just packed me along, and I was mesmerized. I think as a result I always wanted to make movies, but I didn’t realize until my 20s that I didn’t have to go to Hollywood to do it.

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

Testament from the early 1980s. I feel like it’s a near-perfect film, though as it’s about the aftermath of a nuclear attack, it’s incredibly depressing. I’d guess I’ve seen it at least 25 times, partly because the first 4 or 5 times I’d discover something new and my respect for it just grew. I love Karyn Kusama’s films, so I’ve seen those multiple times. On the other end of the spectrum, my friends tease me for citing Julia Roberts’ films. In terms of LGBTQIA+ films, I’ve seen Parting Glances and Desert Hearts are favorites that I’ve seen many times.

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

I think the opportunity to screen to audiences, whether live in theater or streaming, is one of the most beneficial aspects. The feedback video of responses makes your festival unique and a great experience.

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

I really love FilmFreeway and trust them. They’re my go-to platform for submissions.

10. What is your favorite meal?

If it has mashed potatoes in it, it’s a favorite meal!

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

Like most filmmakers, I’m always juggling several projects at various stages. I’m currently working on a feature script set in a rural industrial town that I hope to shoot in a couple of years, and several people have asked for a continuation of “Jesse James”, so that’s percolating as well.


By matthewtoffolo

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

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