Isaiah Zagar is known in Philadelphia for his intricate, larger than life mosaics and his contribution to the revitalization of South Street. For the past 40 years, he has covered the walls of derelict buildings with his deeply personal art, chronicling the lives of his family, friends, and neighborhood. Jeremiah Zagar grew up surrounded by his father’s art, and was immersed in the dream world his parents had created out of paint, glass, and found objects. At his mother’s request, Jeremiah decided to film their lives, and get to know his father.
The result is a remarkably personal, and poignant documentary about a family, love, and art, called In A Dream. It premieres on HBO2 tonight at 8 p.m. and will rerun August 24th and 28th. (New Yorkers note: There’s a free screening at the Brooklyn Museum this Sunday at 2 p.m.) Flavorpill caught up with the younger Zagar to discuss what it was like filming his family and what he’s working on next.
Flavorpill: When your mother suggested that you film your father, were you at all hesitant?
Jeremiah Zagar: Not at all. In fact, I was thrilled by the prospect. I saw it as a challenge. He didn’t simply interest me as a father; I found him to be a fascinating subject, and my goal was to create a series of intimate unique interviews with him. I felt that if I couldn’t get my own father to emote on camera how would I ever be able to make a film about anyone else.
FP: Do you feel, in retrospect, that making this film was the best way to get to know him?
JZ: There is a scene I love in the movie Kinsey, where Liam Neason who plays Kinsey asks his sexually repressed ultra religious father a series of questions pertaining to the older mans sexual history. In the scene, Kinsey’s father breaks down and for the first time Kinsey sees him not only as a paternal figure but simply as a flawed human being. It’s a moment that happens in many lives, where fathers and sons become peers. It’s an important moment and it happened for me through film. I am very grateful for that.
FP: Your entire family was willing to share very personal moments on camera. Would you feel comfortable exposing yourself in the same way? If not, what makes your father, mother, and brother different?
JZ: I am not, I think because I’m a filmmaker, and I know the power of the medium too well to be natural in front of the camera. In truth, I don’t know how they did it.
FP: Like your father, you have continued the tradition of documenting your family. Why do you think both you and your father focus so much on the life of the family in your work?
JZ: I was doing an interview with Agnes Varda from the Portland Film Festival — she went first to talk about The Beaches of Agnes and I then I spoke about In A Dream. One of the questions they asked her was why she had made so many films about her husband and she replied very simply because “I love him.” For me and for my father I believe it is the same, we tell stories about people and things and places we love. Family comes first.
FP: Do you feel, as your mother says in the film, that your parents lived in a “dream world,” for many years? What does this idea of a “dream world” mean to you?
JZ: We lived in a dream world that my father and mother built together, made out of tile and mirror, paint, concrete and a deep family mythology. My dream world is similar to that of my parents only instead of being built form concrete its built from celluloid and digital video, and it is made up not only of my nuclear family but also of my film family, (every name you see in those credits at the end of In A Dream).
FP: What’s next for you? Do you anticipate working on films with your family again?
JZ: My producer Jeremy Yaches and I have a number of projects were working on some narrative, some documentary. At the moment none are about my family. One of them is called Wait For Me and we are doing it with Ross Kauffman and Geralyn Dreyfous who worked on In A Dream with us. It’s sort of a meditation of grief.
In A Dream comes out on DVD September 29th.