October 12, 2016
Faculty Profile: Pablo Frasconi
How would you describe your journey as a filmmaker?
My role as a filmmaker was first defined by my parents who were artists whose careers began in the 1940's. At an early age I saw filmmaking as a way to express personal and cultural beliefs that were taboo or not expressed anywhere else in media. My first films as a teenager were an anti-war film during the Vietnam War, and a film that criticized urban renewal in the 1960's for destroying my community. I experienced firsthand in my hometown in South Norwalk Connecticut, the federal government destroyed a neighborhood in trying to "save it". I didn't see these different views being expressed in the media, so I wanted to use film as a tool to speak out. These were some of my early influences.
My Dad was an immigrant from Uruguay. He came to the U.S. with nothing but the goal to become an artist, and he did it! He followed his dreams and made a living doing what he was passionate about and this gave me the motivation to embrace my desire to use art and film to express my beliefs.
Describe some of the obstacles you faced as a young filmmaker.
When I was 18, I was drafted into the Vietnam War. I applied for and received conscientious objector status, but instead of serving my alternative service, I left the US for Nova Scotia, Canada to try to live sustainably on a wilderness Island. I built a cabin and lived with no electricity or running water. Fishing, farming, and manual labor was the way that I learned to live on the earth. This was my way of learning and recognizing the entitlement in which I grew up. I learned more in that year than I did in any other short period of time.
What was the hardest moment of your career?
There are times when you want to leave a set but, instead, try to be best collaborator possible. I freelanced as a cinematographer and an editor for about 15 years. As a young man I was inclined to be an isolated artist, but filmmaking is a highly collaborative art form. And learning how to work with others provided some of the more difficult experiences earlier in my career.
I experienced many challenging moments when I made documentaries, and interviewed controversial subjects. I was forced to ask difficult questions and sometimes come close to accusing the subjects of unethical or illegal behavior. In those cases, learning how to be comfortable in those situations was a challenge.
Documentary filmmaking is a constant bundle of challenges, from fundraising to finding the right subjects. Or figuring out the right questions to ask and assembling the info into some type of story. Filmmaking is one of the hardest, but one of the most rewarding art forms.
What are some of the main lessons you learned as a filmmaker?
Filmmaking has taught me to find out what my principles are, what I believe in, and how to bring those principles into action in every area of my life.
Filmmaking has taught me that when you do that, it may not mean that you are going to have success every time. And I think that we are on this planet to find out what we believe and to try to convey those beliefs to people who are not like minded, and to do so in a civilized and creative way.
Filmmaking taught me to embrace my principles. I'm constantly investigating my ideas and beliefs every time I take on a film.
What is something you wish you knew before taking this journey as a filmmaker?
Was one of those filmmakers who did not have a choice, there was nothing else I thought seriously about doing, except for being a chef. But when I met a few chefs and a few filmmakers, I realized the chefs were having too much fun, and the filmmakers were dealing with the issues of the day. I was inspired to take the tougher route.
Was always a really shy kid, so I would tell my younger self to be more courageous and to speak up. And to learn the value of communication because I discovered that later in life. I'm a different person now compared to when I was 17. Back then it was hard to get five words out of me, but now I talk for a living.
If I were to look back, maybe if I had a broader selection, maybe I would have found some other way to make a difference. Today I'm most interested in philosophy, poetry, critical theory, and conceptual art. Most of my films are based on others people’s writings, or poems and essays. And I try to always have a strong philosophical point of view in my own films.
Who has had the biggest impact in your career?
My dad. He was a graphic artist who came to the U.S. with nothing, but he left the planet after creating thousands of art pieces. And he was able to provide for our family using art.
Was there ever a time you doubted that you would be successful as a filmmaker?
Doubts are a fairly constant part of the creative process. A little bit of doubt is great because it keeps you working. But for me, it was never overwhelming to the point of jumping ship. There always seemed to be a project around that attracted me. And when I say doubt, I mean we have to keep asking questions in order to understand our material in greater depth. So the doubt that I experienced, I did not run away from it. It only encouraged me to make my material better.