Filmmaker Christopher Seufert on two Cape legends
Filmmaker Christopher Seufert is hoping to wrap up feature-length documentaries this year on two late Cape Cod legends: the eccentric artist Edward Gorey and Henry Beston, the naturalist who wrote “The Outermost House” about his experience living in solitude on Great Beach.
Q. You do a lot of different kinds of photography and filmmaking.
A. It’s tough to specialize on the Cape, but most of my business is video, specifically documentaries. I have three projects on the shelf waiting for my attention. One is about the documentary maker Albert Maysles. I spent a week with him in the Czech Republic back in 2005. It’s a short, half-hour portrait.
Q. Was that intimidating – turning the camera on a guy who’s a giant of the genre?
A. It was. I was in the middle of making a documentary about Suzanne Vega, and I traveled to the Czech Republic to show it as rough cut. I was grouped with Maysles in the press conferences; we were the two American filmmakers. It was astounding. They would alternate questions with us. To have Albert Maysles listening to my viewpoints on documentaries was definitely a career moment for me. My background is in anthropological filmmaking, essentially in the verite style, where you let the person’s point of view out on the world and get out of the way as much as possible. I’m always trying to get a purer experience of that. The Gorey one is something I did in my 20s. He died before I was finished. We have about 60 hours of stuff, probably not enough for a pure verite treatment, but certainly enough for a great documentary.
Q. You live in Chatham?
A. I grew up in Chatham. I went to school in Connecticut, then went to grad school out west, at Cal State-Hayward. I moved to Australia, lived in Italy, Manhattan, Boston, Cambridge, Somerville. I moved back when my wife and I got married. It’s hard to live here and do this type of work. My wife [Lisa Genova] is an author, and it suits her lifestyle pretty well. But we just love the beach, and my kid goes to same elementary school I did, which is kind of fun. I’m pretty much a hometown boy. I like to think you really can’t appreciate it here until you get over the bridge.
Q. Tell me about “The Outermost House’’ documentary.
A. My partner is Don Wilding, who runs the Beston Society. That’s been a passion of his. It’s an interesting thing; Henry Beston pretty much created the genre of nature writing, but the thing that really makes the documentary we’re doing is we’re focused on his experience in World War I and his recovery out in the dunes. It kind of coincides with the centennial of the war, 1914. We’re hoping to get some distribution later this year. It’s also about his influence on the creation of the National Seashore. JFK had a copy of his book on his desk.
Q. Is there much footage of him alive?
A. There’s none. Zero. And I refused to accept that for a long time. I did an exhaustive search. I’m pretty good at finding stuff, and I didn’t find a scrap. We have an actor doing reenactments. We put a mustache on him and dress him up. We thought we’d do one scene, but it just clicked. It’s more of a traditional Ken Burns-type thing. Beston was a stretcher bearer over there, and he had some pretty graphic experiences. So it’s also a veteran’s story that rings true today. It’s a part of Beston and “The Outermost House” that people haven’t really heard about. You get the sense that his whole life was on the line out there: ‘Oh, now I get why he’s taking this so seriously, these flocks of birds flying in front of him.’
Q. The Cape is full of cultural stories.
A. The best thing about the history around here is there’s a lot that has global significance. Anytime an anniversary like World War I rolls around, people are always looking for stories that haven’t been told. I did something a couple years ago with the Marconi Wireless Museum about a wireless operator’s role in messages from the Titanic as it was sinking. He was in Nantucket at the time and later he was in Chatham. That was 2012, the Titanic anniversary. That was neat to cover, kind of hyper-local. Lately things have been hopping. I have more projects than I can handle right now.