Sam Berliner is a California-based filmmaker and animator who’s short film Float is set to be one of the highlights of this week’s Stockholm Cinema Queer International Film Festival. As part of our coverage of the festival we got in touch with Sam to discuss his film, gender identity and his tips for young filmmakers.
So you’re based in the US, how did you get involved with a Swedish Film Festival?
I’m based in Berkeley, California and I work up in Seattle three times a year. This trip is for the Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival where I am the Print Traffic Coordinator. I got involved with Cinema Queer Stockholm when they screened my previous film, Dating Sucks: A Genderqueer Misadventure on their QUEER BUS, a mobile film festival that traveled for 30 days from south to the north of Sweden presenting film programs, hosting political discussions, and raising awareness for elections in the Summer of 2014. This summer at Frameline, the San Francisco International LGBTQ Film Festival, Oscar and Melissa approached me about their idea for this special event for Float in this year’s festival and I jumped at the idea!
What’s the idea behind Float?
Float is an experimental short film shot completely underwater of trans and genderqueer folks swimming naked, set to music by trans musician Rae Spoon. It is inspired by experiences I’ve had swimming with other trans people, which is a very rare and special thing because of the complicated relationship lots of trans folks have with their bodies, especially in the context of swimming, bathing suits etc. This film is a symbol of hope for the community and an opportunity for gender-variant folks to be themselves, human beings enjoying the magic and beauty of the water. The film is also unique because we had a completely trans cast and queer/trans crew!
Is there something about the form of a short film that particularly attracts you to the format?
I really love making short films. Not just because they are cheaper to do than features (though that certainly does help!) but by honing your narrative economy you can create moving works of art that can impact your audience and create beautiful moments in a very short amount of time.
And the film is accompanied by Rae Spoon’s music, how did that come about? Did the idea to put the film to music precede the film itself?
I have known for a number of years that I wanted to make a film celebrating gender-variant bodies swimming naked, but it was never the right time and I wasn’t sure what piece of music would fit. I remember distinctly when I realized that ‘Glacier Step’ by Rae Spoon would be perfect for this piece: I was on a bus from Downtown to West Seattle at sunset driving over a bridge with gorgeous views of Puget Sound with my headphones on listening to Rae Spoon’s new album My Prairie Home, the soundtrack for the documentary film of the same name in which they are the main subject. ‘Glacier Step’ came on and I instantly felt calm, peaceful and contemplative, the exact mood I wanted my not-yet-shot film to evoke. I began picturing the underwater swimming while I listened and got goose bumps. That’s when I knew. Goose bumps never lie. A few weeks later when I returned from Seattle to my home in Berkeley I wrote up a treatment for Float and sent it off to Rae, asking if I could use their music. They wrote back soon thereafter saying they would be honoured if I used the piece in my film. I continue to be immensely grateful for Rae’s music and the mood it helps create in the film.
Are you familiar with any of the other films or directors at the festival, and if so who would you recommend as a personal highlight?
Absolutely! I have seen a number of the films that will be screening at Cinema Queer Stockholm, but I definitely would have to give a huge shout out to Appropriate Behavior by Desiree Ahkavan. We went to college together, she is amazingly talented, and this film is hilarious!!!
And finally, what tips would you have for someone just starting to explore a desire to make films?
Oh my goodness, I have so many suggestions! Watch films. Lots of films. Figure out what you like and what you don’t. Are you interested in the acting? The cinematography? The editing? The score? Then watch some more films. Start making short films. Use any camera and editing software you can get your hands on. The technology is a lot more accessible now than ever before. Ask your friends to help out. Collaborate. Collaboration is a central part of filmmaking. Take some filmmaking classes—community college, adult education, weekend workshops, anything that you are able to access. There are tons of books too, but for me I learn best with hands-on classes. Even if you think you know a lot about filmmaking, there is always so much more to learn and to be inspired by. Volunteer or intern or PA for a film production company, film festival, or film production to get your foot in the door, start making your contacts, and get a sense of what the realities of a film career could look like.Did I mention watch lots of films?
Sam Berliner’s Float is screening in a special performance with live music on Clarion Signs Rooftop on Sep 26 at 2000.
You can learn more about the film by watching the Kickstarter campaign video here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/947117179/float-the-movie
For more information on Stockholm Cinema Queer festival, check out our interview with Melissa and Oscar from the festival.