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Comments on "The ABC of ROFFEKE" Screenings (September 2015 at iHub)

I liked all the films especially the one for Superman [“This is Joe”] and the last one which was longer [“ Frontman ”]. I look forward to at...

The Indie Bible

Sunday, January 8, 2023

Interview: Jeff Gross - Writer, Director, Producer of "Return to Eden"

Like in the case of Jonathan La Poma (who at that time - 2015 - had won 67 awards and honors for his projects), I felt that, though I could not select "Return to Eden" - a feature film by Jeff Gross, I still wanted to interview him. He was gracious enough to agree to the interview and I am thankful for the insight and words of wisdom he shared.

ROFFEKE: You are the writer, director and producer of "Return to Eden". In your interview, you say: "In retrospect, I wouldn't say that wearing that many hats is good for your health." How do you take care of your mental health? 

JEFF GROSS: Not that well, it would seem. The making of a film, as I see it, demands a constant state of pushing the limits, of plunging into the abyss and coming up again, time after time. In my estimation, this process is unavoidable, the commitment that is the difference between something that touches people and something that is mediocre, but it is certainly not a recipe for health. To a certain extent, as an artist, the quantity of self-doubt, and the depth of questioning is what pushes you to come up with something more powerful, more pure, more electric. This is a state of severe imbalance and energy depletion which one must be very vigilant about. I have studied Oriental Medicine, which is one of the themes in "Return to Eden" so I have some understanding of how to regain that balance, but have also been fortunate enough to have very talented acupuncturists to help me when I can't help myself. 

ROFFEKE: In the same interview, you say: "I am completely uninterested in film as a product. I am of the school that artists must be the conscience of a society, the prophets with transformation and evolution of consciousness the goal." A ROFFEKE interviewee recently expressed similar sentiments, about the importance of art (and the artist) but he also pointed out the huge cost that goes with that, usually at the expense of the well-being of artists. How can we artists reconcile these two realities, especially in a world that is increasingly becoming fractured and thus (not surprisingly) is increasingly downplaying and even deriding the value of art and artists? 

JEFF GROSS: It's an interesting question. I'm not entirely sure it's possible to reconcile the two. The cost to the artist is unavoidable, being an artist is only rarely, or belatedly, a harmonious existence.  And yes, the artist and art have lost status, have been cheapened. A lowest common denominator culture spreading mediocrity as fast as it can, the cynicism of a Warhol, the stultifying narcissistic mediocrity of a Spielberg, etc... But for consciousness to change we don't need to touch everyone at once. We need to put our visions out there, and hope that we have done our jobs well enough so that we touch what people know deep-down but have never managed to bring to the surface. Clearly we are in a an era of darkness, of madness, but if "Return to Eden" is about anything, it is this is the darkness before the light, the return to a more Edenic consciousness, as prophesied. Does this mean that the status of the artist will be more highly-valued? Not likely. The role of artist and prophet is pretty much thankless, in that sense. Which is why I recommend that you not embark on this path unless you really have to. Unless you absolutely have the calling, the sense of mission. If you're looking at the role of artist as a good lifestyle choice, a path to riches, fame and glee, good luck...

ROFFEKE: You also say in the interview: "…many filmmakers have been neutered by public money, and the mafia that distributes this money, with frequently, terrible taste. It turns artists into high class beggars, waiting for a handout. A lack of dignity, a lack of pride, and a level of indolence and aversion to risk, which makes for unfortunate, predictable results." In your opinion, would technology - such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality, the metaverse etc - make filmmaking more democratic or would it reinforce the already existing faulty systems? What are your general views regarding the above-mentioned technology and the future of filmmaking? 

JEFF GROSS: My words about film making and public money refer to the situation in many countries in Europe. And yet there are people in Europe who pop up from time to time with vision, philosophy and talent. The bureaucratic spirit is the enemy of inspiration, read Nietzsche, read Max Weber, so the further film gets from the charismatic spark, the worse will be the films. As I watched the US fall into chaos during the Trump years, I wondered how it was possible that nobody was making films about that. That no artist was there to stick his neck out and denounce the status quo. And not just the political figurehead, but the entirety of the madness. Which is how I decided I had to make "Return to Eden." As for your question about AI, virtual reality and metaverses, I find the whole thing quite sterile and uninspiring. A cultural direction designed to keep distracted people titillated. Trickery and novelty, instantly forgettable, as opposed to a psychological voyage, an emotional journey deep inside. I have witnessed the impact of film, have seen minds opened, lives transformed, people transported to ecstasy. That's the cinema I'm interested in, unabashedly. I'm not saying it's impossible to have that with AI and the gang, but I've never actually seen it myself.

ROFFEKE: You are a novelist (World of Midgets and The Book of the Earth) and a screenwriter (writing collaborations with Roman Polanski, including "Frantic" and "Bitter Moon"). There are differences between writing novels and writing screenplays but what would you say are the similarities between the two? 

JEFF GROSS: There are indeed differences. A screenplay is 20,000 words, a novel is 50K or 150K words. A screenplay is shorthand, a novel fills in all the colors. A screenplay is two months, three months. A novel is a journey you embark on with not knowledge of how or if you will ever arrive, a mountain so high that you think it is impossible to ever climb. And then, one day, you arrive at the top, and you don't know how. As for the similarities, as far as I'm concerned, the most profound thing we can achieve in art, is rekindling a state of ecstasy in the reader/viewer. This is a matter of rhythm, of pace, a constant awareness of how an avalanche of words or images will transport the heart, reach the deepest part of the soul, elevate the miracle of existence, the astonishing magnificence of human beings, despite darkness, despite madness.

ROFFEKE: Please share some words of advice to up and coming filmmakers, and to creatives in general, especially regarding our role in shining a light - no matter how small - during these dark, turbulent and fractured times? 

JEFF GROSS: When Moses went to Egypt to free the Hebrews, he brought plagues upon the Egyptian to prove that Jehovah was a more powerful god than Pharoah's gods. To prove to Pharaoh as well as the Hebrews. When they were freed, he parted the Red Sea, so that Pharaoh's army was drowned. And then he wandered for 40 years in the desert. The most advanced man of his era unable to find which way was north? Forty years, two generations, time enough for a generation to be born from the loins of slaves, and then create a second generation who had never known slavery. A generation ready for the mission of imposing a new civilization. This is where we are now, ready to exit the desert, ready to create the next civilization. The return to Eden, the opening of the heart, call it what you will. For this, we need wisdom, deep insight, artists and revolutionaries, missionaries and prophets, catalysts. "Return to Eden," is pretty much all about this question, among other things, about how consciousness works, and the vital importance of shining that light "No matter how small" as you say, Mildred. You will face endless resistance and opposition, you will have to pick yourself off the ground any number of times, you will want to give up, try something else. My advice to artists? You will need relentless optimism, perfectionism without concession, energy, endurance, pride, humility and heart. Or at least, that is my method. Up to you to find your own.