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Victoria Film Festival Interview - "Trimpin': The Sound of Invention" director Peter Esmonde

Trimpin: The Sound of Invention at Victoria Film Festival
by Jason Whyte

The following is a reposting of an interview I did with Peter Esmonde at the 2009 Vancouver International Film Festival. This film screens at the Victoria Film Festival on February 5th.

“An amusing journey through the sonic universe of a creative genius! TRIMPIN: THE SOUND OF INVENTION will delight anyone interested in the mysteries, pitfalls, and sheer joys of creative experiment. Artist/ inventor/ engineer/ composer Trimpin builds a tower of 700+ automated electric guitars, instructs the Kronos Quartet on how to play toy instruments, creates a percussion ensemble out of Dutch wooden clogs, invents a perpetual motion machine -- and that’s only for starters. This film is a cheerful earful . . . Just open your ears and your mind will follow.” Director Peter Esmonde on the film “Trimpin: The Sound of Invention” which screens at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Is this your first film in the VIFF? Do you have any other festival experience? Do you plan to attend VIFF for the screenings?

Both “Trimpin’” - the idiosyncratic subject of my film - and I look forward to taking part in our first Vancouver International Film Festival. At this point, “Trimpin’” and I have taken this dog-and-pony show to so many festivals that flight attendants are starting to greet us on a first-name basis.

Could you give me a little look into your and what led you to the desire to want to make film?

I needed to film the most creative person I could find. I wanted to observe someone working creatively, across disciplines, with various collaborators, using multiple processes and a wide range of aesthetic criteria. For very personal reasons, I needed to observe and learn from a highly creative person not tempted by the lures and snares of a market-driven society -- someone who would not trade in on their creative gifts in order to become rich or famous or fashion a more readily commercial product, but rather reveled in their idiosyncratic differences. I hoped to spend time with someone who – just by the nature of who they were and how they worked -- challenged the basic assumptions and practices of those around them.

Growing up, you were no doubt asked the eternal question “When I grow up I want to be a …” Finish this sentence, please!

When I grow up, I hope to become a child.

How did this project come to fruition? If you could, please provide me with a rundown, start to finish, from your involvement.

3 months research + 18 months shooting + 8 months editing + 9 months marketing - 5 years' savings = 1 documentary feature.

What was the biggest challenge in the production of the movie, be it principal photography or post-production?

The biggest challenge: Winning the subject's trust, repeatedly.

Tell me about the technical side of the film; your relation to the film’s cinematographer, what the film was shot on and why it was decided to be photographed this way.

I am intimately related to the film's cinematographer, and sincerely hope I'll never have to use him as a cameraman again. To shoot well, you need to be extraordinarily open and alert. The footage always betrays your emotional state: If you’re tired or distracted or closed off, it becomes painfully obvious on the screen. And you need to continually evaluate what’s taking place around you in the context of the argument – or arguments -- you’re hoping to make with your film. Ultimately, translating that argument into mise-en-scene equals cinematography. Handling producing, directing, and cinematography chores doesn't give one an illusion of control; quite the opposite.

Talk a bit about the experiences (festival or non-festival) that you have had with the film. Have you had any interesting audience stories or questions that have arisen at screenings?

I'm truly delighted to say that blind people have enjoyed the “Trimpin’” film quite a lot. Trimpin feels that the best questions are usually asked by children; I'd agree with that.

Who would you say your biggest inspirations are in the film world (directors, actors, cinematographers, etc)? Did you have inspirations from filmmakers for this film in particular?

• Dziga Vertov: Eisenstein once called him "a hoodlum with a movie camera, adept at] formalist jackstraws and unmotivated camera mischief." Enough said.
• Dusan Makavejev: For treating film as a plastic medium for disjunctive argument and absurdist laughter.
• Ermanno Olmi: For having the humility to observe without agenda or myopic assumptions.
• Jean-Luc Godard: For his profound mistrust of cinema.
• Nagisa Oshima: For rejecting a promising career in studio 'quality cinema' in favor of the perils of skeptical questioning; for never being content with a single narrative style or grammar.
• Jean Renoir: For remaining a humanist, above everything else.

If your film could play in any movie theatre in the world, which one would you choose?

I like the idea of the old Soviet kino-trains: They'd pull into a train station in the middle of Nowhereystok with their mini-cinema set up in a boxcar. After the locals filed in, they'd screen a silent kinoglaz newsreel while a comrade stood alongside, narrating the film. Sounds like a fun evening to me.

What would you say to someone on the street to see your film instead of the latest blockbuster playing at the local megaplex?

Check it out: no big explosions, no one gets naked, and no one beats you on the head telling you something you already knew. But I guarantee after seeing my film you'll leave the theatre hearing the world a little bit differently. Open your ears and your mind will follow.

No doubt there are a lot of aspiring filmmakers at film festivals who are out there curious about making a film of their own. Do you have any advice that you could provide for those looking to get a start?

Don't let yourself off the hook with excuses -- e.g., 'I don't have enough money, I don't have enough training'. Just go out and start shooting - today. You'll learn as you burn.

And finally…what is your all time favourite motion picture, and why?

Isn't that a bit like asking “Who's your favorite person in the whole wide world?”

This is one of the many films playing at this year’s Victoria Film Festival. For showtimes and further information visit

Be sure to follow instant happenings of the festival and updates on my Twitter @jasonwhyte!

Jason Whyte,

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originally posted: 02/05/10 23:14:19
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