Ezra Soiferman, 28, is an exceptionally gifted filmmaker. Born and raised in Montreal, Ezra is still extremely passionate about his sense of creativity and his city, "I've always been a proud Montrealer," he says during an interview in Westmount. MAN OF GREASE was recently featured at several showcases throughout North America and was also nominated for a Jutra Award for Best Documentary.
The hilarious MAN OF GREASE was edited by 22 year-old Mika Goodfriend and had its TV premiere on TVO's the View From Here and has already been seen at six international film festivals since premiering at the Montreal World Film Festival last September. The film chronicles the career of Tony Koulakis, charismatic chef/owner of Cosmos Restaurant on Sherbrooke St. West in Montreal's NDG district.
Soiferman picked up filmmaking at Bialik High School "doing class projects on video rather than on paper, pushing the boundaries a little." After that, he got the filmmaking bug in college, where he made a series of short films for classes at Dawson College. After Dawson, Soiferman applied to NYU's Tisch School of Arts in their film and television department, and was accepted. He lived in New York for four years attending classes graced by film legends such as the Coen Brothers, Spike Lee and documentarist George Stoney to name a few.
In New York, Ezra often ventured out into the streets to take photographs, to meet "real New Yorkers" and to familiarize himself with life in the Big Apple. It was during this time that he began noticing scores of vans with Quebec license plates parked overnight on many of the city's streets. And without fail, beside each one was a stand of Christmas trees. After a little poking around, Soiferman discovered that these Quebecers came to New York annually from Thanksgiving through Christmas to sell the trees to New Yorkers for up to US$200 per tree. This unique phenomenon was not left unnoticed, as it planted the seeds for the film TREE WEEKS.
Soiferman returned to Montreal in 1995 and after a nine-month stint at Robin Spry's Telescene Film Group, he teamed up with filmmaker Adam Steinman to produce and direct TREE WEEKS. The two went to New York together on their own money to shoot the film.When they returned, they applied for and received an investment from the Quebec government's SODEC to complete the film. Soiferman and Steinman succeded in producing a fabulous documentary film that received mass critical appeal and highlighted their unique talent of turning ordinary stories into magic. The film has since gone on to play nationally on CBC Newsworld's ROUGH CUTS as well as on SRC, RDI and in the New York region on the MetroChannel.
The subsequent passages are excerpts from my meeting with Ezra Soiferman on a cold Montreal morning at a cozy bistro in Westmount:
How did you come upon the premise for your NYU short film, PRESSURE DROP?
"PRESSURE DROP was my thesis film at NYU.An 18-minute short comedy I co-wrote, co-directed and co-produced with LA filmmaker Marc Ostrick.He and I met in film class and became very good friends. one night we were sitting around talking about our grandparents, about my grandfather's glaucoma and we started to brainstorm on this concept of glaucoma and this phenomenon that we'd read about people actually smoking pot to lower the pressure of their eyes. So PRESSURE DROP was actually derived from a topical story and we just played upon it.
The film "worked" and since completing it in '93 we've been invited to show it at over 18 film festivals around the world. It picked up a number of awards and has even spawned a feature-length screenplay which we're looking to shoot soon enough. The short, because of its timeliness kind of became this cult classic about seniors, glaucoma and pot. Marc and I estimate that there are probably over a thousand copies of the film circulating around dorm rooms and senior citizen homes!" [more PRESSURE DROP info available at: www.pressurderop.com
Do you feel that there are other Montreal based documentaries just waiting to be filmed by yourself or any other filmmaker?
"The documentaries that I could make here are endless, I see ideas all the time.Some of them make it to the next step of not just being an idea but being an idea that I mark down. And others actually turn into films.
I pay very special attention to documenting not just subjects but ideas, concepts, titles, names… all sorts of little things that pop into my head.I have a pad that I keep in my back pocket and this is something that a teacher at Dawson (Paul Labelle) taught us to do.
Montreal has endless stories that could make great films. Obviously my time and resources are limited, but I hope to be able to make many films about quirky aspects of our city over the coming years. I think in spite of the political issues that tend to scare some of us out of town, there are some priceless and timeless things going on around us here."
Where can people view MAN OF GREASE?
"Well, the film's really been picking up steam.So far it's been at The Montreal World Film Festival, we sold out three screenings there and got amazing coverage from the local and national press… it played at the Halifax Atlantic Film Festival which is the big Maritime festival, then it played at Columbus, Ohio at The Columbus International Film And Video Festival, where it won the Bronze Plaque Award for Best Documentary. The film had its Canadian premiere on TVOntario [Feb. 28, 2001] and the week after that I was in San Jose to see it at CINEQUEST, which is a big American festival that has been gaining a lot of attention in recent years. Spike Lee was there, Billy Bob Thornton, and several other notables, in addition to tons of great 'unknown' indie filmmakers.
And the folks who saw it at CINEQUEST seemed to adore Cosmos' chef Tony Koulakis' story. They couldn't stop laughing at this man's bizarre greasy-spoon and his return to Greece after thirty years away from his home country. Lots of positive feedback and lots of video sales out there.
People in Canada who want to get copies too can email me for more info.My address is email@example.com. The film is 50 minutes and is totally hunger-inducing." [The link for more MAN OF GREASE info is: http://homepage.mac.com/ezrasoif/PersonalPage.html
What noteworthy actors or Hollywood insiders have viewed PRESSURE Drop?
"Billy Crystal has seen Pressure Drop. Oh yeah, I sat next to John Ritter at a screening of it at the Just For Laughs festival, and he was chuckling right along. A few others that I know of who have seen PRESSURE DROP are Jackie Mason and Daryl Hannah."
What future projects are in the works for Ezra Soiferman?
"The latest project that I'm working on is one that I've been working on since July.It's a television series called BurlyVision and it's on a US collegetelevision network called The Burly Bear Network, owned primarily by Lorne Michaels. It's not available on TV here in Canada yet, but you can see big chunks of the show at www.burlybear.com.or http://www.burlybear.com/shows/burlyvision/index.html .
BurlyVision is a show all about the world of short films and I'm the producer and host. Mika Goodfriend is the soundman and editor and Mia Quint, also from Montreal, but living in Toronto now, is the co-host.On BurlyVision we show shorts, interview short film directors and drop in on festivals where they show shorts.It's filmed entirely in Canada with filmmakers from around the world flown in for interviews. The series broadcast to over 550 colleges or college towns across the States on their closed-circuit or cable systems.
My latest short film is a collaboration with Christos Sourligas who works at Just For Laughs.Christos came up with the name and the concept and we directed it together. It's called VOMIT BOY. It's a 7-minute short starring the excellent young Montreal comedian and actor Mike Paterson and Mika also worked his editing magic on this one. It's the story of a super hero who goes around helping people "in times of vomit."We filmed it at the St-Patrick's Day Parade and it's going to be around town this summer and hopefully on the Net soon too."
What are your long-term aspirations?
"More movies, diversifying into feature-length comedies and feature-length documentary films. Continuing always to make short films. Lots of other art,too. I do some music, photography and songwriting as well."
What keeps you in Montreal?
"Lots of aspects of Montreal keep me here.Primarily, I find that this city is comfortable, livable and inspiring.It's not an overbearing city, it's not an over-polluted city, and it's not an expensive city.And I'm a big fan of the winter. I love the fact that we're so close to the country; a half an hour drive gets you into the woods where the air is clean and the water is cleaner.
I really believe in Canada and in the fact that we've got nearly everything we need right here.I intend to be based in Montreal and travel the world to shoot films.
Ezra Soiferman and his Perpetuum Productions can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.