Working in Reality

By: Wiley Schatz

“Working in non-fiction allows for me to experience things I couldn’t otherwise,” says Sasha Waters Fryer, Independent Filmmaker and Associate Professor of Cinema and Comparative Literature at the University of Iowa, “I enjoy being out in the world and meeting people with my camera.”

Waters Freyer describes her own work as “a mix of documentary and experimental non-fiction.” For over ten years Waters Freyer has produced four feature length films as well as five shorts.

“All her work seems to have a close personal connection to her,” says long time colleague and Chair of the Department of Cinema and Comparative Literature Russell Valentino “it seems to come out of her in some organic way.”

Making any feature length film is always a huge undertaking, but Sasha Waters Freyer’s latest film, “Chekhov for Children,” has been ambitious enough to take a total of four years to finish.

Rediscovering the Past

Sasha Waters Freyer

Born and raised in New York City, Sasha Waters Freyer studied her undergraduate at the University of Michigan and the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan and later earned her Master of Fine Arts degree at Temple University.  She eventually came to teach at the University of Iowa in 2000 where she has remained ever since.

“She’s a very enthusiastic teacher,” says Valentino, exemplifying the positive reputation Waters Freyer has built over the years, “She is also a very conscience colleague; if you need something done she wont let you down, that’s not true of everyone.”

In November of 2005 Phillip Lopate, Waters Freyer’s teacher from when she was ten years old, came to Iowa City as the Keynote Speaker for the “Non-Fiction Now” conference.  Back in June 1979, when Lopate was Waters Freyer’s teacher, she along with a dozen or so other ten to twelve year-old put together a full production of Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya.”

“When he came down here, I rediscovered all the video from that play,” recalls Waters Freyer, “Phillip Lopate had written an essay called ‘Chekhov for Children’ and I wanted to make a film about that production.”

The project required gathering as much archival footage from the class as possible, as well as contacting as many people involved with the production that she could.  “Contacting people wasn’t super hard because of the internet,” Waters Freyer says, “some people stayed in touch so once I got hold a few, the others weren’t hard to get.”

Waters Freyer said that one aspect of making the film that was quite hard was working with older formats; “The hardest part of the project working with dead technologies, things like Betamax that just aren’t used anymore were hard to get footage from.”

Interviews were a weeks work editing took significantly longer

According to Waters Freyer, working on the film was not one continuous process.  “The first interviews were shot in the summer of 2006 but because I was teaching, I had a baby, and have been raising a family I would work on it for a while leave it and come back now and again.”

Hitting the Big Time

Once the film was in a presentable state, Waters Freyer submitted it to the board for the Telluride Film Festival.  “Chekhov for Children” was selected to be part of the back lot of the festival.  “I expected it to get recommended for the smaller festivals,” explained Waters Freyer, “I didn’t think it would actually get programmed.”

Sasha's 1979 Class Photo

Once it was selected to be screened at the festival it was easier for Waters Freyer to finish the film having a deadline.  The biggest obstacle in in finishing the film was obtaining a release signature from one of Sasha’s dear friends and subjects of the film whom suffered from mental illness.  Once she screened it for him and got the signature Waters Freyer was ready to premier the “Chekhov for Children” at Telluride.

“Telluride is great because it’s fairly small relative to how prestigious it is,” just one of the many great things Waters Freyer had to say about the festival, “It has a very non competitive feel, there are no corporate sponsors, and it’s all about the films.”

Since its world premiere at Telluride, “Chekhov for Children” is scheduled to screen at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York City, along with screenings in Huston, Texas, St. Louis, Missouri, and Walla Walla, Washington.

As far as future projects go, nothing seems to be decided yet, “I’ve started reading about refugees in Sweden which could make for an interesting subject… there are some small things in the fire but nothing is planned for right now.”

In the meantime Sasha continues live and teach in Iowa City while raising her two daughters Georgia and Ruby with her husband John.  And other than the few months her family plans to live in Stockholm next year, she doesn’t seem to plan on going anywhere; “I prefer to work outside and in counter to the mainstream.”  Lets just say she has no plans on chasing a big film studio job anytime soon.


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