Featured Filmmaker: Leah Wolchok, Director of VERY SEMI-SERIOUS

Matthew Diffee - Very Semi Serious

Cartoonist Matthew Diffee

Leah Wolchok - Very Semi-Serious

Leah Wolchok, Director of Very Semi-Serious

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tonight at 5:30pm at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Castle Theater, The New Yorker cartoonist Matthew Diffee presents VERY SEMI-SERIOUS, a documentary he is featured in that explores the world of the legendary magazine and its role in popular culture.

We caught up with Leah Wolchok, the film’s director, to find out more about her inspiration in making the film and the overall experience. Enjoy!

1. Tell me about your film, VERY SEMI-SERIOUS. What can the audience members expect?

On the surface, VERY SEMI-SERIOUS is a film about being funny and making art. But the unexpected subtext of the film, which emerges through the stories of our main characters, is much more complicated. There’s something else going on. This phrase, simple as it may seem, uttered in the opening sequence, echoes as a metaphor throughout the film, as we go deeper into the narratives of cartoonists whose work for an insider institution belies their experience as outsider artists.

2. What drew you to making a film like this (pun intended)?

The transcendent power of humor is what first drew me to the project in 2006, when I developed the idea and contacted Bob Mankoff. Cartoonists, I soon discovered, are not unlike documentary filmmakers. Although their works of art are single images—snapshots of a moment in time—cartoonists, like documentarians, are astute observers who create art as a form of social commentary that elevates daily life from the mundane to the profound.

3. Tell me about the state of the publishing industry and the role of technology. How that is affecting the world of cartoons, and how did that shape your film?

When I first started shooting the film, the future of the publishing industry was in peril. Newspapers and magazines were closing their doors and the cartoonists wondered if their craft would be forgotten. Over the years, as the smartphone and tablet versions of The New Yorker have found new audiences, cartoonists now worry less about the future of the form and more about the future of cartooning as a viable career. Are cartoonists now just another breed of online content makers, theircartoons no longer valued as a work of art?

VERY SEMI-SERIOUS is a film about appreciating the beauty of static, single-panel images in our interconnected and over-connected lives. It’s a film about discovering the value of subtle, contemplative humor in a culture dominated by shock and awe. It’s a film about learning to laugh at the imperfection of human existence, and in turn, learning to laugh at ourselves.

4. What do you personally bring to this film as it’s director?

I can’t draw. I’m funny-ish. So why am I the right person to make this film? I have a mild personality. I listen. I wait. I don’t try to fill the silence with chatter. I have slowly and steadily built deep relationships with the cartoonists I’ve filmed over the last several years. Those relationships are what has allowed me to create a more nuanced portrait of a community, a deeper approach to a film that everyone expects will just make them laugh.
The transcendent power of humor is what first drew me to the project in 2006, when I developed the idea and contacted Bob Mankoff. Cartoonists, I soon discovered, are not unlike documentary filmmakers. Although their works of art are single images—snapshots of a moment in time—cartoonists, like documentarians, are astute observers who create art as a form of social commentary that elevates daily life from the mundane to the profound.

When I first started shooting the film, the future of the publishing industry was in peril. Newspapers and magazines were closing their doors and the cartoonists wondered if their craft would be forgotten. Over the years, as the smartphone and tablet versions of The New Yorker have found new audiences, cartoonists now worry less about the future of the form and more about the future of cartooning as a viable career. Are cartoonists now just another breed of online content makers, their cartoons no longer valued as a work of art?

VERY SEMI-SERIOUS is a film about appreciating the beauty of static, single-panel images in our interconnected and over-connected lives. It’s a film about discovering the value of subtle, contemplative humor in a culture dominated by shock and awe. It’s a film about learning to laugh at the imperfection of human existence, and in turn, learning to laugh at ourselves.

I can’t draw. I’m funny-ish. So why am I the right person to make this film? I have a mild personality. I listen. I wait. I don’t try to fill the silence with chatter. I have slowly and steadily built deep relationships with the cartoonists I’ve filmed over the last several years. Those relationships are what has allowed me to create a more nuanced portrait of a community, a deeper approach to a film that everyone expects will just make them laugh.


The Featured Filmmaker series is coordinated and written by the Maui Film Festival’s Filmmaker Liaison and Social Media Director Sara Tekula. Click here to see all of the Featured FIlmmaker posts and be sure follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to get live updates from the festival.