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Sumner Burstyn

Q and A with producer/director Sumner Burstyn

1) When did you first become involved in filmmaking and why? I was a columnist for the NZ Herald and a free-lance features writer for Metro, Grace, the Listener and many other NZ publications. My husband had been making feature films and high end TV series in the US and Canada for years. We were living in Hawkes Bay and wanted to work together and just sort of fell into a good idea for a film about a local hero Peter Proctor. We ended up following him to India with our camera and made a film about the biodynamic revolution he had sparked there. One Man, One Cow One Planet did very well and we began to follow another local legend Peter Karena. We made This Way of Life gradually over three years and it turned into a small hit. Our new film has evolved in a similar way, over time, growing from an idea for a film about a horse whisperer to a much deeper story.

2) Why did you choose your particular genre? I like hunting for the core of truth, often hiding in plain sight.

3) How easy/hard is it for a woman to have a career in filmmaking? I've not considered it a woman issue. Depending on the kind of films we are driven to make it's hard for everyone. Probably horror or juvenile male adolescent themes not so much, but certainly observational documentary, where you don't know what you'll get and the onus is on the filmmaker to find a story within the obvious story.

4) Your biggest success to date? This Way of Life has won awards at top festivals such as Berlin; it's sold to 22 countries and was shortlisted for an Oscar. We hope to better that with our new film Some Kind of Love (working title)

5) What are the biggest challenges? Financing and the NZ funding system.

6) The best lesson you learnt and how? Let the subject talk and don't turn off the camera when you think its over.

7) Any advice for aspiring filmmakers? There is a social value to making documentary. To uncover hidden truths, to document the human condition and find an audience that appreciates your work is also a massive privilege. Documentary matters to society but I'd say choose another way to make a living.

8) Why do you keep doing it? What's the drug/the high that sends you back to the camera again and again? To turn on a camera and have someone trust you enough to tell you about the things that matter most to them. It is visceral and real and immediate and intense. To then take that material and shape it into a film that people want to see is such a privilege. If we get to make another film we will feel very lucky.

Contact: Cloud South Films: 001 604 2902060


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