hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

November 29, 2012

Filmmaking ... the old-fashioned way

Brothers produce documentaries in foreign countries

By Alex Lippa
alippa@hgazette.com

---- — Twin brothers Brendan and Jeremy Smyth have experienced a scenario far too familiar to recent college graduates.

They have ideas and visions about how they can change the world, but little money and support to make it happen.

The brothers are aspiring documentary filmmakers who recently moved to Haverhill after spending the earlier part of their lives in Florida. Both work part-time as servers at Not Your Average Joe’s restaurant in Methuen, but they spend most of their time devoted to their passion of filmmaking — and not getting paid to do it.

The Smyths’ niche is working with 16-mm film. Most filmmakers work strictly with video as technology continues to evolve, but the brothers maintain that the old way of making movies better captures the emotion of the people they feature.

“I compare it to Microsoft Paint,” Brendan Smyth said of doing computerized art work. “Just pretend you are painting on this program for your whole life, and then suddenly someone hands you an actual paint brush and hands you the canvas and you can actually paint on that canvas. How would you go back to Microsoft Paint?”

The brothers are planning a trip to Indonesia, where they will film their second documentary, “Rice for Sale.” The film will focus on the culture of Bali, an Indonesian island rich in history and tradition. The island’s primary source of revenue was the production of rice, which has not only economic worth to the people there, but also sentimental value. Recently, however, the island has been overtaken by tourism and the local culture is getting lost as the island is transformed into a cash cow.

“Everywhere in southeast Asia they make rice, but in Bali, rice is life,” Jeremy Smyth said. “They are biologically connected to rice. Their rice god is higher than their creator god.”

The brothers have been trying to fund this movie for several months using Kickstarter, a website which seeks backers for independent art projects. The project creator sets a goal for money and a deadline which the money must be in by. If the project reaches its goal by the deadline, all pledgers’ credit cards get charged. But if the creator falls short of his goal, he receives none of the pledged money.

The Smyths had a goal of $8,000 and a deadline of last Tuesday. They were far away from their goal just a few weeks before the deadline, but a hard push from friends and a generous donation from a former professor pushed them just past their goal.

“For a two-and-a half-week period, we were getting absolutely nothing,” Brendan Smyth said. “We were on the brink of depression.”

It was a long road to Haverhill for the Smyth brothers, who graduated from the University of Florida with economics degrees because their parents insisted that they study something besides film. After graduating, they were living out of their cars for about six months, they said, while they were making their first documentary, “Por Dinero” — a film about a friend’s struggle while living in Mexico. That documentary was shown at film festivals in Louisville, Atlanta and Costa Rica.

After growing up in Gainesville, Florida, the Smyth brothers felt they needed a complete change, so they moved to Haverhill, where their father lived.

“We just needed to get out of there,” Jeremy said. “This was the only other home we knew of.”

With the money for their film firmly secured, the two can begin planning their trip to Indonesia. For seven weeks starting in February, they will stay with a friend whom they met in Florida and will explore the rice farms of Kaja in northern Indonesia, as well as the tourist attractions of Kelod in the south.

They expect their film to be finished by October of next year.

In addition to producing “Rice for Sale,” the twins also expect to receive a grant from the Haverhill Cultural Council to create a film festival in Haverhill which would begin next May.