Shadowing creative pioneers

Local filmmakers make debut at South by Southwest Film Festival

Minneapolis filmmaker Jesse Roesler became enthralled with a quirky couple in Belgium several years ago — a pair of artists who created a robotic orchestra.

Intrigued by their offbeat music and fresh out of journalism school at the University of Minnesota, he asked if he could visit them and make them the subject of a documentary. They obliged his request and after several visits, Roesler and his collaborator on the project, Jonathan Nowak, created the short film, “Man & Machine: A Naked Robotic Love Story.” It recently premiered at South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas.

While the title might sound outlandish, at its core it’s a unique love story and an exploration of the couple’s commitment to living out their creative dreams.

“Ultimately, I think the film is about navigating your own creative desires and hopefully inspiring people who have set aside their creativity earlier in life,” Roesler said, who learned about the musicians after reading a magazine story. “The focus of my independent documentary work has always been finding really eccentric and authentic characters and exploring how they are driven to do what they do despite the larger society saying, ‘you’re crazy and nuts.’ At the same time, they’re being really innovative and kind of pushing the boundaries of art and science.”

Roesler, 29, lives in the Tangletown neighborhood and is a partner with Bolster, a new creative band engagement agency opening an office in the North Loop neighborhood in April. Nowak, his cohort on the film, is a writer and director originally from Minnesota who now lives in Venice, Calif.

The film follows the creative pursuits of Godfried Willem-Raes, who was kicked out of the Ghent Conservatory for supposedly being “musically ungifted.” His instructors didn’t care for his style of music — an unconventional and experimental style that involved robotic instruments. He later found a love that shared his passion for the avant-garde music — Moniek Darge.

Willem-Raes is also the founder of the Logos Foundation, an organization dedicated to experimental music and art.

“As artists and as a couple, they are extremely inspiring,” Roesler said. “It’s inspiring to see someone who has been working for so long and who has absolutely stuck to their core artistic statement and values. There’s an unending battle between art and commerce — how much do you sacrifice your artistic vision to make something that will reach a wider audience and sell more? It’s inspiring to see them doing exactly what they want and not compromising their vision.”  

The film also explores how the couple collaborates — in their artwork and in their personal relationship. “How do you maintain your own creative identity within a romantic relationship? That really became the heart of the story,” Roesler said.

Darge said she was thrilled how the film turned out.

“Jesse and his friends made more than 100 hours of film material, thus we were very curious what would be the result and I must say I really love what I saw,” she said. “It was a wonderful experience to work with Jesse, Jonathan and the other friends, because they were really supportive and very respectful for our time schedules and always took in consideration the amount of work to be done. It was a really stimulating experience and I do hope for another occasion to work together.”

When asked what she hopes people get out of the film and learning more about her and Willem-Raes’ creative lives and partnership, she said she hopes the can find the courage to chase their passions.

“We do hope people gain confidence to be creative themselves, to be stimulated to create what they like to create and to make what they enjoy making without bothering what others will think or say about it,”
she said.

Roesler and Nowak were thrilled to have the film showcased in Austin. For the documentary, they spent time filming in Belgium and Vilnius, Lithuania.

“Hearing that ‘Man & Machine’ was selected for its world premiere at the South by Southwest seems like the ideal festival for its premiere,” Roesler said. “With the documentary’s focus on experimental music as well as individuals’ relationships to creativity, South by Southwest seems like the ideal festival for its premiere. The Minneapolis film community is so vibrant and supportive — I look forward to representing the amazing talent we have here at SXSW.”