Arts

Grad student debuts documentary about long and emotional journey from Geneva to Wangen

Max Szyc | Fulcrum Staff

Photo courtesy of Neeko Paluzzi

IT’S A TOUGH life being an independent filmmaker. Despite the appeal of being able to tell your own stories, breaking into the industry can be a challenging feat. Ottawa’s own Neeko Paluzzi learned these challenges firsthand after financing and filming his own documentary, Wanderweg, which premiered at the Mayfair Theatre this week.

Filmed from May to July 2012, the documentary recounts Paluzzi’s experiences traversing Switzerland on foot in order to retrieve a letter he wrote to himself at the conclusion of his previous expedition to the country. Wanderweg, a German word that roughly translates to “hiking path,” is the name of a type of sign commonly found on walking paths throughout Switzerland. These signs inform travellers of the exact walking distance from one town to the next.

A master of arts in communications student at the University of Ottawa, Paluzzi has been fascinated with cinema ever since he was a teenager, and lists filmmakers Frank Cole and Lars von Trier among his influences. Five years ago, he spent a year as an exchange student in Switzerland as part of the Rotary Club, an international group that provides humanitarian services and promotes goodwill and peace throughout the world. While there, he began the practice of filming journal entries every day.

“I had a basic camera, and I started filming my everyday experiences. I wanted to capture living in Switzerland,” Paluzzi explains.

Before leaving, he decided to write a letter to his future self and hid it in the attic of his host family’s house.

“I wanted an excuse to go back, and I really wanted something physical that I could hold and say, ‘I wrote this when I was 19 years old,’” he says.

When he was presented with the opportunity to do half his thesis as an artistic component, Paluzzi decided to return to his childhood love of documentaries and ultimately found a way to connect it to his previous expedition in Switzerland.

“I said to myself, ‘Why don’t I make my own road movie about travelling back to Switzerland to read the letter that I wrote to myself five years earlier?’”

Realizing that a film about travelling by train to a town in Switzerland wouldn’t necessarily be all that entertaining, Paluzzi racked his brain to think of a way to make his project more exciting and visually appealing. He remembered the iconic wanderweg signposts scattered throughout the country and decided to walk the entire journey, starting from the Geneva International Airport to his host family’s house in Wangen, nearly 300 km away.

“Neeko’s past work has always been powerful,” says Jérémie Séror, Paluzzi’s former second-language professor at the U of O. “It will be interesting to explore through this work the experiences and past history, as well as the present forces, which have shaped this young artist.”

Other than free train tickets provided by Switzerland Tourism to be used if ever necessary, Paluzzi funded the entire film himself. The trip cost an estimated $5,000, but Paluzzi says the price tag was no real obstacle.

“I have a personal mantra that I follow, where if you’re not willing to invest in yourself, no one else will invest in you,” he says.

Armed with a Panasonic GH2 as his sole filming device, Paluzzi finally arrived in the country to begin his journey—although filming didn’t quite pan out the way he intended.

“On the very first day of walking, I had a physical and emotional breakdown,” he explains. “Because I had spent five years anticipating going back to Switzerland and six months planning the trip, I realized that this movie had become so big for me.”

From that point on, his documentary changed considerably.

“I had no idea how the movie was going to look, but I spent two months there and I filmed something,” Paluzzi says. “This movie is not really about walking through Switzerland. It’s a movie about making a movie.”

The editing process only took a month—a remarkably short time considering Paluzzi shot approximately two terabytes of footage.

After the entire project was finished, Paluzzi screened the film for focus groups. Once he was confident he had something worth sharing, he booked a public showing at the Mayfair.

Paluzzi is tight-lipped on whether he found his letter or not.