An Interview with Ryan Feldman (Director)
We Became Friends, Not Just Grandmother and Grandson
Q: Why did you choose to film your grandmother, who you had not met in over 15 years?
RF: Well, she approached me at my grandfather’s funeral. When I went to my grandfather’s funeral, it was very sad because I felt a sense of emptiness at not ever knowing him. And everyone who was there, I really felt like they were just showing up and going through the motions. And when she walked up to me and asked if I was Ryan, it really hit me emotionally. I felt immediately like I wanted to have some sort of a relationship with her. I was curious, especially by the way she approached me. We were both there and both kind of alone. No one was really talking to her, and I’d been out of touch with my family as well. It felt like we were meant to connect.
Q: Even though you hadn’t met her years, it seemed like you were able to have very frank conversations with your grandmother.
RF: I would say we had the freedom that strangers share in our openness with each other. We were brought together by our blood, and so there was a trust. We knew each other and trusted each other. But, we opened up more like strangers do, I think, because we were honest with each other. Which is unusual, at least in my experience, with family members. I think at first her openness, her honesty was so intense. I think she was like that her whole life, in terms of talking about her pain. A lot of people would shy away and never speak to her because of that, but to me it was like a relief to meet someone from my family that would really tell the truth about what they were feeling. It was very fulfilling for me, and the fact that I listened to her established a trust right off the bat. Also, in the 15 years that went by without meeting, our roles of grandmother and grandson had disintegrated. So, by that time, we were ready to be friends. I think we both were willing to take that step right away. Friends don’t always have to be polite, or put on airs, or be formal, and that allowed us to have a lot of fun.
Q: Were their any times during the years you shot this film where you found it difficult to film your grandmother, or where you wanted to stop filming?
RF: There were times when I was shocked when I started to film something. There’s a moment in the film where she cries. She breaks down, and she’s praying. I think I physically move and you see the camera almost sway. It was hard, because that was a moment where I thought, “This is really intimate.” So, yes, this was something I questioned a lot. But it is something I kept in the film because it shows her spirit. She prays in her own personal way, and she cries in front of the camera and she doesn’t care. I just thought that was so brave of her and so generous that I didn’t want to hide it. On top of maintaining her dignity, it was important for me to not show her as a victim of her vulnerability. People enjoy her spirit and her amazing personality and the very unusual relationship we still continue to have, even though she was deteriorating. When you are laughing, you’re not laughing at her frailty, you’re laughing at the absurdities of life, which goes beyond any sort of personal thing. I hope this will be universal. That is what my aim was.
(Compiled by Tanno Emi)
Interviewers: Tanno Emi, Kawada Kozue / Interpreter: Imai Isao / Translator: Christopher Gregory
Photography: Kaito Yoshimasa, Shimizu Kai / Video: Kaito Yoshimasa, Shimizu Kai / 2007-10-06