Queens World Film Festival

Jules Rosskam – Paternal Rites #QWFF2019

Play Podcast
11 min. and 48 sec.

“Nobody in the same family grows up in the same family”.

Play Podcast
11 min. and 48 sec.

PODCAST| Samantha Sartori interviews Jules Rosskam, director of the film Paternal Rites.

To listen to the interview, click on the ► icon on the right, just above the picture

Jules Rosskam today received a Special Jury Prize for World Social Impact at the 9th Annual Queens World Film Festival (amazing films from around the world and around the corner). We met Jules and talked about the making of his very personal and unique documentary, what it was like working with Neely Goniodsky on the animations, and how his family reacted to it and how their perspective changed after its world premiere at MoMA film.

Paternal Rites is a first-person essay film that examines the secret underbelly of a contemporary Jewish American family as they grapple with the aftereffects of physical and sexual abuse on their present-day lives. It is also a groundbreaking film about the nature of trauma and memory itself: the ways in which trauma encrypts in uncanny ways; the function of speech and narrative in the process of decryption; and the role of film and filmmaking in the practice of healing. Paternal Rites draws inspiration from podcasts like This American Life and Radiolab and the long lineage of LGBT essay filmmakers in the U.S. such as Jenni Olson, Marlon Riggs, and Richard Fung. Functioning as the film’s primary conceit, in the fall of 2013 filmmaker Jules Rosskam and his partner, Alex, set out to retrace a road trip that Rosskam’s parents, Marilyn and Skip, completed in the fall of 1974—just prior to his birth and their transition to suburbia and parenthood. The viewer hears audio diaries that Marilyn and Skip kept during the course of their four-month journey and sees photographs and travelogue footage recorded on Super 8: barely perceptible, grainy, and quickly receding signs and landmarks carry the viewer along their route: Boston, Mobile, Savannah, Chicago, Portland, Vancouver. The visual field of Paternal Rites is dominated by bright, pristine, and nearly-still images of the American landscape, which haunt the viewer with their splendor and banality, and with the layering of still images over live-action footage. Paternal Rites also utilizes the white screen, where colorful animations and beautifully rendered, hand-painted 16mm film are used to evoke the psychoanalytic process of memory’s retrieval and trauma’s repair. Implicit throughout is the filmmaker’s queer and transgender subjectivity, which floats to the surface of the screen as the viewer is confronted with fragments of home movies of his childhood—iconic in their unremarkability—and hears audio recordings of contemporary conversations between Rosskam and Alex, who functions as Rosskam’s partner in life as well as in this project of decoding his past on screen. Together, they create a stunning visual portrait about the power of film to transform us.

To discover more about the film, click here.

  • Reporter
    Samantha Sartori
  • Guest
    Jules Rosskam
  • Interviewee role
  • Film title
    Paternal Rites
  • Festival section
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