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You Helped Make His Film Possible

You can catch a free screening of Sweet Old World, which was filmed in South Pas and features the SPHS Marching Band, 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Community Room.

Filmmaker doesn't live in South Pas, but he's definitely an ingrained part of the community.

His wife, Maryann Nielsen, grew up in town and was named at in May, and both of their daughters are students at .

Zeiger's latest feature film, Sweet Old World, highlights the unique talent South Pas has to offer—starring SPHS graduate Jacques Colimon, along with the entire SPHS Tiger Marching Band. 

The film is about the relationship between Brian and his teenage son Ethan, which becomes strained in the years since Ethan's brother Michael was killed in an accident—a storyline that heavily mirrors Zeiger's own life. 

You can of Sweet Old World 7:30 p.m. Friday in the .

In the meantime, we asked Zeiger a few questions about the film:

Patch: How long have you been working on Sweet Old World?

DZ: I began the script ten years ago, but wasn't able to begin filming until 2010, when I received a Guggenheim Fellowship. From the time we started pre-production, it was a two-year process.

Patch: Tell us about your background in filmmaking. Have you also been interested in directing and writing films?

DZ: My film background is in documentaries, which I have been making since the early nineties. Before that, I was a still photographer. I've made both feature and television documentaries, and have focused a lot on high school. In 1999/2000, I made one of the first reality series, "Senior Year," for PBS. It followed fifteen kids through their last year at Fairfax High in L.A., which happens to be my alma mater—a wonderful experience.

Patch: You have won numerous awards for your documentary work. Was it difficult to transition to a feature film? Is this your first feature film?

DZ: Sweet Old World is my first narrative feature, and it was incredibly challenging. As a photographer, I worked for several years with theater companies in Atlanta, and I have always approached my documentaries as stories. I love fiction in all of its forms, and knew when I started making films that I wanted to dive into it. I'm always striving to learn, to never repeat myself. I love the surprises, the completely unexpected moments that come with every new film, especially with fiction. The more challenging, the more interesting and satisfying.

Patch: The father-son relationship seems is a recurring theme in your films. How have you pulled from your own life experience to create these relationships on camera?

DZ: My own life provides much of the raw material, or the starting point, for my films. In the case of Sweet Old World, it is the second time I have revisited the most painful experience of my life, the death of my son Michael when he was ten years old.

Eight years later I made a film, a personal documentary called The Band, about his younger brother Danny when he was in his high school marching band. Many of the ideas for Sweet Old World came from that experience.

Patch: Former SPHS student Jacques Colimon is the lead in Sweet Old World. How did you meet him and decide to cast him in the film?

DZ: My plan for Sweet Old World was to make the film in the midst of the real world of SPHS, and for the lead actor to be from that world. During the 2009/10 school year I spent a good deal of time at the school, meeting kids and particularly getting to know the marching band. Jacques was not in the band, but he was in the theater program and he really stood out to me. We took an acting/directing class together, and his natural, seamless manner made it clear that he was who I wanted for the lead role.

Patch: What role does the SPHS Marching Band play in the feature?

DZ: I have a beef about most films made about high school and teenagers—they never look or act like real high schools and real teenagers. Being a documentary filmmaker, my obvious solution to that was to make the film in the midst of a real school, with real kids.

So with tremendous support from SPHS and the district, we made the Tiger Marching Band the world that much of the story takes place in, including band director Howard Crawford and one of the students becoming characters in the story.

We both filmed scripted scenes in the midst of the band and made documentary moments of the band part of the story. In the beginning of the film the band is just learning, confused and disorganized. By the end, they are performing an intricate routine to complicated music, creating a kind of metaphor for the father and son story of the film.

Patch: Where was the film shot in South Pasadena?

We filmed all over South Pasadena—, , the , the streets, and . The South Pasadena Film Commission was wonderful, opening doors for us and making this extremely low budget film possible. It also helped that we have a lot of family in South Pas who made their houses available.

Patch: What else should residents know about the film?

DZ: Sweet Old World is now on the festival circuit, starting in Atlanta in March and Kansas City in April. We won't know what kind of distribution will be possible with the film until that has played out for a few months, so this is the only chance to see the film on the big screen for a while. The South Pasadena community made it possible for this film to be made, and this screening is a small way for me to say thank you.

This screening, as I have written before, is dedicated to . Much of the story of Sweet Old World revolves around photographs, and Michael, a photographer and longtime friend, did a beautiful job creating those for us. Michael, who was only 61, died suddenly a little more than a month ago from a brain aneurysm.

For more on the film, click HERE.

Click on the above video to watch the movie trailer. 

Patch Asks: Have you seen Zeiger's work? Will you come out to see the film Friday?

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