Local director salves family tragedy through his film


For a Midwesterner Jed Schlegelmilch is getting remarkably used to people seeing him in emotional distress.

"Yeah, it's all out there,"he told me recently. "I guess I'm used to people see me cry now."

Sitting in the upstairs lobby of the Edina Theater where he is the manager, recounts how he came to make the autobiographical documentary "Absence/Presence" which will screen tomorrow at the Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival.

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It's the story of how he set out to deal with the horror of his brother's apparent suicide at a party almost 20 years ago in their hometown of Appleton Wisconsin.

It began after he bumped into a friend of his brother completely by chance. he describes it as a surreal moment.

"We only talked for about a minute or so: our encounter was very brief," Schlegelmilch said. "But, after that, I couldn't stop thinking about my brother. It brought back all these memories again, memories of how he died. It also brought to mind how much I was starting to forget about him."

He decided he had to do something. So he took a 10 day road trip to talk to people who had been around at that time to see what he could learn about what happened, and possibly set his own demons to rest.

"And I thought, if I am going to do this, I want to document it in some way, and I might as well do it in the form that I love, and that's the movies," he said.

"Absence/Presence" is a tough movie to watch. It's a raw film, both in its content and in the way it's shot and edited. But the emotion of what Schlegelmilch is experiencing, along with everyone else in the film burns through it all.

Originally Schlegelmilch just thought he'd make the film for his own family members, but several of them encouraged him to see if he could show it to a larger audience.

He's had a number of screenings, but he admits he's a little surprised he was invited to show the film at MSPIFF.

"It's really the most unlikely of films I think to be selected for the festival," he said. "Because it started as such a personal thing for me, and when you watch it you kind of feel like you are watching a home movie. It's very intimate and personal."

He did get some big time help though when members of Cloud Cult gave him permission to use the band's music in the film.

Unlike some film makers who dream of huge distribution, Schlegelmilch sees the future of "Absence/Presence" in high schools.

"Ultimately I just want it to help people," he said. "I want people to watch it and be moved by it: call a friend, call a family member who they haven't talked to in a long time, or something. I feel it could help in that way."

Here is an extract from the film