Desert Dreamers

A Documentary Film


A Film by Frank Suffert

Filmmaker Interview (excerpt)

What inspired you to make your film? What's your particular interest in the subject matter, and why did you decide to address the subject in the form of a documentary film?
: I've always had a fascination with the desert. Having grown up in a very picturesque landscape in the middle of Germany. I was first drawn to the desert when I came across the Southwest on a road-trip from New York, where I studied at NYU, to California. Somewhere at the western end of Texas and into New Mexico there were these fatalistic wide open spaces that wouldn't end. As a cinematographer I was struck with awe.
Desert Dreamers started as a fictional feature-film screenplay I was writing: I had set my adaptation of Shakespeare's Tempest in the desert somewhere between LA and Las Vegas. When I realized that I didn't know much about the characters I was describing, I set out on a research trip and took my camera along. Over the next two years I collected a series of interviews and character-studies on tape, some of which make up the film. It was a fun and enlightening journey and I hope that is what transpires to the audience.

How has the experience with Desert Dreamers and what did you learn from it?
When you shoot a film for two years on your and then edit it for another year mostly alone, you loose perspective. You need constant feedback. Working with my wife, Lillemor, as a producer was a great benefit; she was there and encouraged me when I was ready to give up. Rachel Raney came in at a critical point when I had worn out the welcome of friends and family who had to sit through many versions in the evolution of this film. Filmmaking is a collaborative process and the experience with Rachel Raney showed me that the right collaborator is worth her or his weight in gold. So, if I can't find someone to help me for free, I'll go out and hire the best help I can get. Don’t try making films on your own!

Did you, or have you since, explored other broadcast and/or distribution outlets for your film? What are the pros and cons of broadcast on PBS vs. other distribution possibilities?
PBS is a very exclusive club to be part off and I'm glad I got to join it with my first documentary. Since then the film got picked up by an international sales agent and was shown in Cannes and Asia; I don't have the latest sales reports but so far several territories in Europe and Asia picked it up, others are interested. Desert Dreamers was also be shown at EFM during the Berlin Film Festival, the Venice Free World Film Fest and we are proud to that it got accepted to the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival. The DVD is selling on and soon several museums and gift-shops in the Mojave will carry the DVD. Because it is a timeless piece, I hope it will have a long shelf-life. PBS really opened the door to all that.

What's next for your filmmaking career? Other projects in the works?
My wife and I started a film about the climate change. I know that there are several films about global warming in the works and already out -- not at least Al Gore's film which inspired us, but this will be a big one. We are working closely with the UN. So far we visited the Earth-Science Institute at Lemont/Columbia in New York and interviewed many scientists from the UN, NASA/JPL, SCRIPPS, the USGS, NCAR, several universities, and a few other organizations. Our particular angle is still a secret but it will hopefully help to bring much needed progress to the issue. What we have learned so far, the situation could be potentially much scarier than the media has portrayed so far -- but there are solutions. We are currently talking to several industry funders and will be applying for grants over the next few months. We have also assembled a great core-team of producers, writers, and scientific advisors. Anyone who would seriously like to get involved is much appreciated and can contact us through our website:
Currently we are also cutting a trailer for a documentary on Japanese War Brides. This is a film we are producing with Velina Hasu Houston, Ph.D., a well-known playwright and professor at USC, who talks about her and her family's experiences with racism and discrimination as the daughter of a Japanese War Bride and an African American GI. 
Next we are preparing the production of two European-US feature film co-productions -- and maybe one day I will even finish that script for which I shot Desert Dreamers as research.