When a film features real people played by themselves, enacting their own stories in their own environment, is it fiction or nonfiction or something in between?
In the case of “Bob and the Trees,” the debut feature of Diego Ongaro, the truthfulness of the result renders such distinctions moot. The story of the real-life Bob Tarasuk, a 50-year-old Berkshires logger trying to survive the wild winter weather of February 2014, transcends individual circumstances and becomes a universal, Jobian metaphor.
Ongaro — Paris-raised and an ex-New Yorker — met and befriended Bob in his adopted hometown of Sandisfield (population 824), where he has lived in a cabin with his wife and daughter for the past eight years. Ongaro does get out some, though, calling in from Prague while en route to the recent Karlovy Vary International Film Festival where “Bob and the Trees” was on the program.
The film can be seen at the Woods Hole Film Festival on July 28 and Aug. 1. For more information go to www.bobandthetrees.com.
Q. From Paris to New York to Sandisfield. Not the usual career arc for a filmmaker.
A. If you told me that a few years ago I would be here I would never have believed it. But that’s what happened. We spent a year in Brooklyn and things didn’t work out. So we looked for something very different in lifestyle and ended up completely by accident in the Berkshires and bought the cheapest house we could find.
Q. How did you stay sane?
A. Not knowing anyone, we made a bunch of friends and one of them was Bob Tarasuk. Bob had been a forester there for 35 years and he works with his son and son-in-law [who plays his son in the movie], who are also loggers. They’d take me out on jobs and show me the ropes. Growing up in Paris, it was completely foreign to me. When I saw the conditions these guys lived under and how hard it is and the knowledge required, and how charismatic a character Bob was, I felt there was a story here.
Q. Why not a documentary?
A. I like to control things and like to have a beginning and end, and a timeline when I know when I’m going to finish the project. And I like to add my own little quirks. So I stick with fiction. With a documentary you don’t know what’s going to happen. Which can be exciting. And I made sure this could happen while we were shooting the film. Allowing for improvisation and taking advantage of things that weren’t really in the script. Stuff that came up in real life that we added.
Q. For example?
A. The snow. That winter we were hammered.
Interview was edited and condensed. Peter Keough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.