HFF 2015 Interview: John Antonelli, Director of Sea Change


2015 Heartland Film Festival Official Selection Sea Change is a half-hour documentary that follows the grassroots efforts of Ikal Angelei, a 31-year-old Turkana native, to halt construction of the Gibe III dam in Ethiopia in order to protect the indigenous people who rely on the Omo River and Lake Turkana as their vital source of water. When Ikal left Turkana to pursue her Masters from Stony Brook University, she felt that she might be leaving her homeland forever. She admits to having a great degree of resentment for the place that had contributed to the deaths of her parents at an early age. When Richard Leakey, who was a mentor to Angelei at the Turkana Basin Institute, informed her of the impending Gibe III Dam, Ikal was forced to rethink her position.

We spoke with Director John Antonelli about his film:

HF: What is your film about, and how did the project come to be?

JA: The film is about Ikal Angelei who had left northern Kenya to go to college in the USA but returned home when she learned that the GIBE III dam was being constructed. The dam will drastically diminish the water supply to her homeland and threaten the survival of her people and their culture.

HF: What was your role in the production?

JA: I coproduced, directed and cowrote.

HF: Why did you submit to the Heartland Film Festival? Have you been to the Festival before?

JA: My film Unfair Game was at Heartland in 2014 and I was impressed by the whole operation, the staff, the quality of the films, the venues and the audiences. They are the most attentive audience I’ve ever experienced.

HF: This year’s tagline is “Movies That Stay with You” – what lasting effect will your film have on moviegoers?

JA: I hope that Sea Change will instill an awareness about indigenous people and their crucial rights to their land, their water, their resources, their culture. I hope that the film opens a window for people into that world or enhances their awareness if it already exists.

HF: What has inspired you to become a filmmaker?

JA: I became aware in the Sixties, during a time of protests over the Vietnam War and riots over racial conflict,  of the importance of sharing alternative, independent opinions and ideas. Fortunately I’ve been able to follow that path of exploring and presenting those viewpoints through my work.

HF: What is something that you know about filmmaking now, but you weren’t told when you started your career?

JA: I wasn’t aware at the outset how important everyone’s contribution is to the process – every crew member and editing staff person as well as every single person who is being filmed. We aren’t always necessarily in sync but we are all participating.

HF: What are some of your favorite movies? What’s your favorite worst movie (you know it’s bad, but still love it)?

JA: Citizen Kane still inspires me. All of Robert Altman’s films. Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry is one of my recent favorite documentaries.

HF: How many film festivals has your film been a part of? What do you like the most about the festival experience?

JA: This film has played at Mill Valley Film Festival (my hometown). Heartland is only the second showing. The festival experience is invaluable in the way that I can watch an audience of strangers respond to our work and, more importantly, to the content. When I hear comments and questions form the audience, it helps tremendously to understand what might and might not be working. The Heartland audience is particularly good at this in my experience with Unfair Game.

HF: Heartland Film Festival moviegoers love filmmaker Q&As. Let’s say a Festival attendee wants to earn some brownie points—what is a question that you’d love to answer, but haven’t yet been asked?

JA: “How did you get to be such a brilliant filmmaker?” kidding. I don’t know. Actually the thing I like most is when a question completely surprises me. I’m never excited about the budget question or “what are you going to do next” question.

See Sea Change in Short Program 9: Concerned Citizens

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