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VIFF 2015 Interview: THE SANDWICH NAZI director Lewis Bennett

by Jason Whyte

"The Sandwich Nazi is the funniest film you will see at VIFF this year. And I'm not saying that to brag about our filmmaking abilities. I am saying that because our documentary subject, Salam Kahil, is one of the funniest people you'll ever see on screen, or in real life if you ever meet him. He's also a Vancouverite, a former male escort, and someone that donates hundreds of meals to people in the Downtown Eastside every month. You'll be shocked. You'll laugh. You'll cry." Director Lewis Bennett on THE SANDWICH NAZI which screens at the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival.

A Vancouver movie! Great! This is your first movie, right? And are you coming to attend the screenings?

Yeah, this is our first time at VIFF. We have submitted lots of shorts over the years but those assholes have never accepted any of them! I'm just kidding. We're super grateful to be included in the lineup this year and it's been worth the wait! I've seen tons of films at VIFF over the years and it's cool to think that people in my neighbourhood will be going to see our film.

Great to hear you are coming! So tell me more about yourself and how you got your start.

I am a chubby dude from Langley, BC. I went to BCIT and took the FilmFlex program in 2005 and I have been making lots of silly videos and short films since then. THE SANDWICH NAZI is my first feature film. I guess I got to this point by having a good work ethic and by prioritizing creative work over financial rewards and material objects. I just keep making more films and hopefully they are slowly getting better.

So besides the guy himself, how did THE SANDWICH NAZI come together as a movie?

I didn't really want to go in with a pre-planned narrative structure for the documentary. That didn't sound like fun and it didn't feel honest for this particular project. I just wanted to shoot the film and hope that there was a storyline that we could find as we got closer to the end of production. We started editing and there wasn't an ending for the film so we kept shooting and luckily an ending revealed itself.

There were three main collaborators on the film including Calum MacLeod, Benjamin Taft and myself, as well as a number of other amazing contributors such as Lindsay George. We would typically shoot with a crew of two to three people but sometimes I would shoot and record audio by myself. The footage that was shot by me looks terrible! And because the crew was so small, we all had to take on a number of roles within the production, so we shared B-camera and sound recording duties.

I edited the film with story editing help from Calum and Ben and we brought on folks to help with Mark Lazeski on sound design, Jake Handy on music, Derek Pante on motion graphics and Seve Schelenz on colour correction. There were a number of other friends and family members that helped in a myriad of ways and I owe them dearly for their contributions and support.

While you are working on a movie, what keeps you going? What drives you?

The big things that keep me going are coffee, rap music, and phone calls to my mom when I am feeling shitty. My musical tastes tend to skew towards depressing indie rock but rap gets me pumped up when I'm feeling sluggish. When we win a Best Documentary Oscar for The Sandwich Nazi then I'll have to give a shoutout to the West Coast hip hop collective Odd Future, specifically Earl Sweatshirt and Tyler, the Creator.

My mom is just the best. She always knows what to say when everything goes to shit. It's like having a free therapist that you can call at any hour of the day even if you're drunk.

So what was your biggest challenge with this project, and how did you over-come it?

We raised $8,000 on Indiegogo but we had to pay for the rest of the production with our own money so everyone was working for free and donating their time and we were constantly asking for favours and deals. Filmmaking is an extremely expensive and time-consuming endeavour so we were definitely getting burned out at the end of the production. We were working full-time at our day jobs and then spending every free moment on the film. It takes a serious toll on your relationships, finances, and health. I don't know if I have really overcame that yet, to be honest. We finished the film but it's going to take some time to bounce back from it.

If you had to pick a single favourite moment out of the entire shoot of the doc, what would it be?

I think we had that moment on day one of the production. Ben and I were driving back home from the deli and we couldn't believe what we had just experienced. Salam had made us laugh the entire day and we were hooked on him as a person and as a documentary subject.

For the aspiring filmmakers who read our site, I would love to know about the tech side of the film and how it was shot.

The film was shot by two very skilled cinematographers, Benjamin Taft & Lindsay George on three cameras (Canon 5D, Canon C300, Panasonic GH2). Ben and Lindsay are both way more talented than me so I typically let them choose the framing of the shots but I would offer insight and suggestions on what to be shooting. We would all ask questions to the people that we were interviewing but I usually took the lead. Calum and I would often switch up on the other duties, such as shooting B-camera and recording audio.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie at VIFF?

It will be cool to share the film with local audiences since we shot it all here and since Salam lives and works here. I'm hoping that people will see a different side of their city as well. Salam is doing a lot of great work in the Downtown Eastside and I'm happy that we can show that to people in this community.

I'm also pretty sentimental about having two screenings at the Rio Theatre. I have lived on Commercial Drive since I moved to Vancouver so it's my local theatre and I have always wanted to have a film screen there. The theatre is huge though, so we need to get our shit in order to make sure we have a big crowd. The Rio sells liquor and I think this would be a great film to watch while enjoying a beverage.

Where is this movie going to show next? Any theatrical release?

We will still be screening at a number of film festivals around the world until the end of the year and then we'll hopefully have a release of some kind. We should have some news on that front soon.

What would you say or do to someone who is talking, texting or being overall disruptive during a screening of your film?

I probably wouldn't say anything. I'd probably just secretly hate them until the end of time and it would slowly eat me up inside. I might also follow them home and throw a brick through their window. I'm still undecided though.

There are many aspiring filmmakers reading us for our articles and reviews on If you could offer a nugget of advice to them on how to get their start, what would you say to them?

I am a pretty firm believer in the fact that you're going to have to make a lot of crappy work in order to hone your skills and get better. When you're starting out, don't worry about budgets or cameras. Shoot with the camera that you can get access to and work around your limitations. And just keep making stuff! Start with some shorts.

And finally, what is the best movie you have ever seen at a film festival, and why?

Someone told us to go see Ben Wheatley's SIGHTSEERS a few years ago at TIFF and we were pissing ourselves laughing. It's a very weird and funny film but I was extremely surprised and delighted by it. I recommended it to a friend recently and he hated it, but screw that guy. He has no taste in films anyway.

I saw a number of outstanding films at Hot Docs this year. My three favourites were PERVERT PARK, WELCOME TO LEITH and FINDERS KEEPERS. PERVERT PART is a pretty heartbreaking portrait of a sex offender community in Florida directed by Frida and Lasse Barkfors, a husband and wife team from Sweden and Denmark, respectively. We saw it in a big theatre in Toronto and this massive audience slowly exited the theatre at the end of the screening, solemnly shuffling out onto the street. The film was so powerful and sad that it probably ruined all of our evenings. That's an impressive feat in my opinion.

Be sure to follow THE SANDWICH NAZI online via the official Twitter feed at @thesandwichnazi, follow Lewis Bennett at @lewisbennett and on Facebook!

This is one of the many films screening at the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival taking place in beautiful Vancouver from September 24th to October 9th. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to or use the VIFF app for Android and iOS.

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte

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originally posted: 09/28/15 18:09:19
last updated: 09/28/15 18:18:41
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