Watching Alan Berliner’s rarely seen work on a big screen is a true treat. Last Tuesday evening began with his short EVERYWHERE AT ONCE and was followed by INTIMATE STRANGER – a film shot 18 years ago about his grandfather Joseph Cassuto. When asked by an audience member what his grandfather would have thought of the film, Berliner replied: “He died 35 years ago and we’re still talking about it. He’d love it!”
When talking about the making of INTIMATE STRANGER, Berliner said that the film “defined labor of love”. He spent 9 months simply reading his grandfather’s archives: Joseph Cassuto had meticulously saved every letter he had ever received or written (the magic of carbon copy). Berliner explains: “I must have inherited whatever genetics were necessary to cope. I had to go through every piece of paper, since you never know what you might find.” During this early research, he remembers finding five $100 bills in one of the tucked-away envelopes, which he describes as the film’s “first grant”.
Berliner shares that his most profound moment of filmmaking happened while interviewing his mother’s youngest brother Ben for INTIMATE STRANGER. During that interview, Ben said: “Alan, I was in the hospital when you were born. You were one hour old and I held you in my arms. Now you are sitting across from me and I’m scared of you. You know more about my family than I do.”
In terms of the technical aspect – the whole film was shot on film and edited on a Steenbeck. Images were photographed on a makeshift copy-stand. These amazing photographs serve as a rich backdrop to the families voices that provide a captivating narrative of Cassuto. Even though the film is about his deceased grandfather, there’s another dimension. As Berliner describes: “you make a film about the dead and it’s really about the living.”