Lights, camera, road trip: Harpur Fellow films cross-country documentary
To see their vision through to completion, many filmmakers rely on backers for financial support and encouragement.
Samson Nesser found both through Harpur Edge. During the summer before his senior year, he received $4,000 through the Harpur Fellows grant program, enabling him to take a cross-country road-trip for a film project.
“As a cinema major, I’ve always wanted to make what is essentially a road trip film that tells a story, especially telling the stories of people you might not necessarily be intrigued about at first,” he said.
The coronavirus pandemic sparked his idea: He wanted to focus on the restaurant industry, and how restauranteurs managed to survive and even thrive in an unprecedented and uncertain economic environment.
Accompanied by a cameraperson to help with the filming, he headed to a restaurant and bakery outside Chicago, finishing at another restaurant and bakery in San Francisco. From there, he and the cameraperson flew back with the camera and their footage.
He had planned another interview in Salt Lake City, but it fell through due to scheduling conflicts, he noted. To fill out the documentary, Nesser expects to shoot at an Italian restaurant founded by an Ecuadorian immigrant in his native Westchester, and potentially another segment at a restaurant in Martha’s Vineyard, where he has family, over the winter.
“I wanted to tell stories of people who are normally underrepresented,” Nesser said.
To that end, he chose immigrant business-owners, and focused on how they both support and are supported by their communities. Located in Parkside, San Francisco, an Asian restaurant owner hosted fundraisers and street events during the pandemic, and the community supported his business in turn, Nesser said. The Chicago-area businessman, originally from Lebanon, was also able to keep his restaurant open during during the height of the pandemic; he lowered prices, kept all his employees on the payroll and turned to Internet sales to sell baked goods.
He has now begun the editing process and is facing some tough questions about his artistic vision.
“I’m talking to a few friends and some filmmakers about how I could frame the story. I went on a road trip, so I could make it a story about my journey and these people’s journeys throughout COVID. But then, I ask myself: ‘Am I taking away their voice and their story?’” he mused.
He hopes to have editing largely completed by the end of the year. Ultimately, he would like to benefit the participating restaurants in some way, as well as hone his filmmaking skills. Ultimately, he plans to submit it to film festivals for greater exposure.
After graduation, Nesser plans to pursue a career in the film or television industry. He’s currently working on a feature film script with a friend that they plan to pitch to studios next year.
“My goal in life is to tell stories that can move and inspire people, whether as a narrative or documentary film,” he said.