One of the universal experiences of being a creator is finding a story you just know you need to tell. For video journalist and documentary short filmmaker Matan Rochlitz, that story was one he heard as young boy; years later, it became the centerpiece for his Emmy-nominated film, “I Have a Message for You.”
Without giving too much away, the film gets to the heart of love, loss, and redemption, and it’s a testament to this Italian-born filmmaker’s ability to create space for vulnerability. We sat down with Matan to learn more about how he approached the project, and why he was drawn to the story to begin with. Scroll on for excerpts from our conversation, and watch his Creator Spotlight video above.
Tell us about your work.
I make documentary films and shorts focused on small stories that are about something bigger.
Several of your films deal with humanity, pain, and perseverance. What draws you to these themes?
I started out as a journalist, and as a journalist, you end up telling stories that are hard, sad, and sometimes brutal. It’s a struggle to persuade your audience to listen to these difficult subjects. As a documentary filmmaker, when I find stories that deal with painful subjects but also have redemption, passion, or some kind of inspiring element to them (without betraying the pain, because that’s real and you have to respect it) then I’m drawn to them. They make me feel better and better equipped to deal with the world, I suppose.
What is your Emmy-nominated film “I Have a Message for You” about?
“I Have a Message For You” is about love, loss, redemption, horror, and forgiveness. It’s set on a train in 1943, and it’s a story that my grandmother told me about her neighbor in Tel Aviv. I must’ve been 12 or 13 when my grandmother mentioned it, and it stuck with me for the rest of my life. I kept thinking about that story and telling it to people for the pleasure of hearing it again. Then one day, it dawned on me that I could see if the woman was still alive. I couldn’t quite believe that she was, but she was 92 and still living two doors down from my grandmother. And so I went to see her.
Why was this an important story for you to tell?
The Shoah is a story that has been told for many years, rightfully so, in many different ways. All these testimonies are extremely important, but as someone who’s closely connected to the story for family reasons, I felt a certain fatigue with thinking about the topic.
This story allowed me to think about the things that happened during the Shoah, but it also took me out the other side with a feeling of redemption, relief, and even joy. I thought that was a rare quality for a story on this topic, and I wanted to share that with people. Also the person this story is about is 92; I think we are the last generation that’s going to be able to meet survivors. It’s a pretty tremendous responsibility to listen to them while they’re still here.
At what point does something become a story for you?
It’s a good question. When does something become a story? I think when it shines a light on life and reveals the truth. When it tells you something that you didn’t know before, makes you think about things in a different way. Stories have been with us forever; I don’t think they’re going anywhere.
Are your films a reflection of who you are?
I’d like to think so. I’m drawn to art that’s economical with its form. I’m interested in small spaces and small stories that turn out to be much bigger than you think they are.
What does Vimeo — and your Staff Pick — mean to you?
For a filmmaker to receive a Staff Pick is always a real achievement; it feels great. It feels really good because it’s not just exposure — it’s exposure to a specific audience. It’s a great audience; it’s an attentive audience. That’s all you can ask for as a creator, that you get a large audience that actually pays attention. It’s an honor whenever it happens.
Video by Ashley Maas.