Interview with Filmmaker Melissa Lesh (PERSON OF THE FOREST)

PERSON OF THE FOREST was the winner of BEST FILM at the March 2019 Documentary Short Film Festival in Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Melissa Lesh: Leading up to Person of the Forest I had been directing short conservation/natural history films, so when I was approached by Tim Laman and Trevor Frost to edit and co-direct a film on orangutan culture I quickly took the opportunity. Knowing the critical state orangutans are in also motivated me to pour everything I could into this story.

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

It was about five months total, starting with discussions about the footage and the storyline in September, to our first festival deadline in February.

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

Orangutan culture

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

The biggest challenge was sitting down with terabytes of footage that had been collected by many people (scientists, field assistants, cinematographers) over ten years and working it into one cohesive narrative.

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

It was interesting to see how many people focused on the conservation message. I am glad the impression was strong when it came to the impacts of palm oil, which became a main point of discussion after the film.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

I was approached by Tim Laman with the idea of making a film on orangutan culture, from there I conducted the interviews and constructed the story. My main goal was to make orangutans as relatable as possible, showing how similar we are, drawing parallels and ultimately why we should protect them.

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

That is hard to say. The first film I have a vivid memory of watching, and the one I believe that had the most impact on my life (at a young age) was Microcosmos.

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

I like it. It’s easy and straightforward. Definitely my favorite online submission platform.

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

Probably Fallin’ by Alicia Keys

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

I am currently working on a feature film in the Peruvian Amazon about wildlife reintroduction and mental illness. I am excited to share it when we finish production/post production hopefully by the end of 2020!

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