PSIFF: Spirit / Will / Loss

By Heidi Simmons

It’s ten o’clock Friday morning, January 2nd, the first day of the Palm Springs International Film Festival, and there is already a labyrinth of compact lines in front of the Camelot and Regal theaters. These lines will be the norm through January 12. Filmgoers wear jackets, gloves and hats to deal with the lingering low temperatures, but their faces are bright and sunny with cinematic anticipation.

Behind the scenes, the PSIFF headquarters are abuzz at the Renaissance Esmeralda. Volunteers man the Hospitality Suite with coffee, sweet rolls and fresh picked fruit. The pressroom is organized with friendly faces who wrangle media requests. And the Film Society graciously welcomes arriving filmmakers from all over the world.

Zeberiah Newman, Erinnesse and Patryk Rebisz already don their photo badges, which hang from turquois lanyards that identify them as filmmakers. Like a trail of breadcrumbs, they have put up posters and spread postcards to generate interest and get people to attend their documentary film SPIRIT/ WILL / LOSS.

Their excitement is tangible and their energy is contagous. Like new parents, they are proud and eager to share their baby. SPIRIT/ WILL / LOSS is a project close to their hearts that reflects their own artistic sensibility, passion and integrity. This child of theirs was conceived in 2009 and only came to full term two weeks before its world Premiere at PSIFF.

“We didn’t want to compromise our vision. We considered every second of images and kept making changes until we were all satisfied,” said Erinnesse co-director and editor. “We love the film and it is better than what thought it could be.”

There were times when Erinnesse fired herself from the project in order to get a fresh look at the material. “It took me awhile to find the right rhythm in the cutting,” she said. Erinnesse listened to avant-garde musicians during the process to enhance her editing mojo.

SPIRIT/ WILL / LOSS features three artists who each overcome a disability to continue to do what they most love. Alice Wingwall is a blind photographer, Graham Sharpe is a hearing impaired musician and Katie Dallam is a sculptor/painter who lost half her brain. The book When Walls Become Doorways: Creativity and the Transforming Illness by Tobi Zausner, Ph.D., served as source material.

“I was only interested in making this film if we could explore what lies underneath the process of creating the art,” said Patryk, co-director and cinematographer. “I didn’t want to simplify the artistic process as many art documentaries often do. I wanted to capture, in images, the moment when the artist has creative inspiration and see how it translates.”

Indeed SPIRIT/ WILL / LOSS is a film that explores the process of creating art. The film itself is an artistic achievement filled with transcendent images and music. The documentary is a celebration of the creative process and the triumph of the artistic spirit.

The Rebiszes and Newman are all artists. Newman is a Juilliard trained actor. Erinnisse is a film and television editor and Patryk is an art school graduate who has worked on hundreds of film projects and commercials. SPIRIT/ WILL / LOSS is their first project together under their company banner Tupelo Productions. The three did limited fundraising and invested their own money.

Erinnisse and Patryk married during the making of the film. “We’ve been married two years but it feels like fifteen,” said Errinesse sweetly. The co-directors learned a lot about each other, the film business and the creative processes very quickly. “We would see things so differently and then come to a place where we saw it brand new.”

For Patryk, SPIRIT/ WILL / LOSS was much more intense than he thought it would be. “There were so many decisions that had to be made on the spot. I often had to rethink my approach,” he said. Patryk is from Poland but has lived in the states for half his life. “I read literature and philosophy to help expand my thinking. I always saw the film in terms of ideas,” he said. “It was important because I wanted to go beyond traditional content.”

Photographer Wingwall and sculptor/painter Dallam will attend the SPIRIT/ WILL / LOSS premiere along with the filmmakers for a Q&A after the Saturday showing.

Tupelo partner and co-producer Newman has a home in Palm Springs. “Palm Springs is such a special place and the city is so supportive,” said Newman. “It is the perfect place to premiere SPIRIT/ WILL / LOSS. We’re honored to be here and share our film with the community and filmgoers.” Local business Ernest Coffee is sponsoring a reception for the film.

SPIRIT/ WILL / LOSS will have its world premiere Saturday, January 10, 1:30 PM at the Camelot Theatres and will show again Sunday, January 11, 2:30 PM at the Palm Springs Regal 9. Newman wants everyone to know that tickets are available at the box office even though online tickets say, “sold out.”