When he first began shooting, Jeremiah Zagar, 27, intended to use his film camera as a means of getting to know his father Isaiah, famous in Philadelphia for creating breathtakingly unique mosaics on many of the city’s buildings.
When he first began shooting, Jeremiah Zagar, 27, intended to use his film camera as a means of getting to know his father, Isaiah, famous in Philadelphia for creating breathtakingly unique mosaics on many of the city’s buildings.
In the seven years it took to film “In a Dream,” Zagar got much more than he bargained for. The documentary, playing next week at the second annual Salem Film Fest, gives viewers an inside glimpse of Isaiah Zagar’s tortured mind, as his son uncovers secrets never before revealed to his family.
In a similar vein, “Life. Support. Music.” by filmmaker Eric Daniel Metzgar tracks the life of Cambridge-based musician Jeremy Crigler after he suffers a devastating brain hemorrhage onstage that wipes away his memory and ability to physically function. Crigler’s family comes together to help him rebuild his life and slowly ease back into the world again.
“In a Dream,” the darker of the two films, centers around the moment when Isaiah Zagar admits to his son that he is having an extramarital affair. In the scenes that follow, the Zagar family falls apart. Father moves out, brother checks into drug rehab, mother struggles to start a new life. And just when the audience thinks it couldn’t get much worse, suddenly things take an unexpected upward turn.
Though dark in mood, “In a Dream” is a visual feast of color, following Isaiah Zagar as he works at creating stunning mosaics out of bottles, tile and mirror. In piecing together the film, Jeremiah paid tribute to his father’s colorful art by creating a kind of collage that incorporates slides, Super 8 footage and sketches brought to life by stop-motion animation. Wide camera shots and long angles capture the vastness of mosaic covered rooms, making the viewer feel they’re standing inside one of Isaiah’s otherworldly creations.
“We wanted to show the contrast between the ways in which we dream and view reality,” Zagar says. “We wanted to make the audience feel as if they were part of the dream and vision.”
Since it first stormed onto the film festival circuit last year, “In a Dream” has garnered much attention, winning awards across the country. It was chosen as one of 15 semifinalists for Best Documentary Feature at this year’s Oscar Awards.
Did he have hard time filming his family’s personal struggles? Zagar admits that his mother cried often and his father was “a monster” at times, but says he found himself unable to turn away, driven by the desire to tell his family’s story. What kept him going, in part, was the idea that honesty, though sometimes painful, is crucial both in art and in life.
“My father puts all his intimate secrets on walls all over the city,” he says. “It isn’t strange to expose inner life within our family and our community. … What destroyed my father was when he stopped being open and he kept secrets from my mother and his family.”
With its unbiased eye, Jeremiah admits, the camera played an important role in getting his father to open up to him.
“It was there for seven years,” he reflects. “It enabled my father to be honest in front of me. I certainly judge his actions, but the camera doesn’t …”Getting by with a little help from his friends
“Life. Support. Music.” tells the story of Jeremy Crigler, a healthy 30-something guitarist known around the New York City music scene who, while playing a show in 2004, walks offstage with a terrible headache that has him falling to the floor in pain. His wife, Monica, calls an ambulance and Crigler is taken to the hospital where grim-faced physicians declare he’s suffered a brain hemorrhage and will never fully function again on his own.
Crigler lies in a hospital bed curled into what his sister refers to as “a human pretzel,” unable to move his body or recall the details of his own life. Despite this fact, his family refuses to accept the doctors’ prognosis, taking turns visiting him in the hospital and working with him to get his withering body moving again. The camera follows his progress as Crigler slowly regains his ability to speak, walk and play music.
Perhaps most touching are scenes, shot by nurses, documenting the daily physical therapy sessions where Crigler learns to move again, and footage taken by his family during the birth of his daughter, an event he would have otherwise missed.
Looking back on these scenes, Crigler admits, can be difficult. “There’s a strange element,” he says. “Seeing yourself doing all these things you have no memory of … It’s a bizarre twilight sensation but I feel proud of how far I’ve come.”
Since it debuted last year, the film has toured cities in the U.S. and abroad, winning awards everywhere from Boston to Rome.
These days Crigler is almost completely back to his former self, living in Cambridge with his wife and daughter and playing regular gigs in Boston and New York. He has a new album out with songs he wrote about his trauma, and he has devoted much of his free time lately to giving talks about his recovery to people who have suffered similar brain injuries.
Crigler shies away from using the word “miracle” to describe his recovery, explaining it in more practical terms.
“Music is a real home base of mine in a lot of ways …” he says. “It was a real motivator. There was lot of hard work and a lot of love … And there have been studies that have shown that patients being filmed will work harder. This could have been the case for me.”
“In a Dream” plays at CinemaSalem on Saturday, Feb. 28 at 9:30 p.m. and Wednesday, March 4 at 7:45 p.m. (in the screening room). Filmmaker Eric Daniel Metzgar will attend the Feb. 28 screening.
“Life. Support. Music.” plays Saturday, Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. Jason Crigler, the subject of the film, will attend.
Visit www.salemfilmfest.com for more details about the festival and specific films. To purchase Jason Crigler’s album, visit www.jasoncrigler.com.