I met Aaron back in 2010, volunteering at his non-profit art collective “The Starving Artist” in Keene, NH. It was a small room, with pipes that shot through the middle of the room and a small bar. The windows plastered paper posters of upcoming bands, their next fundraiser, classes they offered or even knitting circles. I had been working at the Keene Public Library and had started an art collective of my own in an apartment building with some friends. Our collectives shared much the same audience and TSA frequently made use of the library’s many spaces. Laina Barakat, The Starving Artist’s co-creator and Wiederspahn’s long time collaborator, and I had become fast friends over the destruction of an old piano and I quickly became a regular, volunteering whenever I could. When Aaron’s “Acting for the Camera” class was posted among the many flyers on their door, I was immediately excited, interested and broke. I hadn’t seen yet Aaron’s 2006 feature film “The Sensation of Sight” starring David Strathairn, ironically however I had seen Ron Wyman’s “Inside the Sensation of Light” at the 2007 NHFF. I knew that Aaron was a big deal and therefore also this class. I had met him but only peripherally really. I was encouraged to audition for the class, and did so, for which I was awarded a scholarship. And that’s where my understanding of the man truly began.
What I can tell you, with certainty, is that there are in fact several Aaron Wiederspahns.
There’s Aaron the Writer- deeply poetic, vivid and real; Aaron the Director: gritty, intensely excited, never satisfied with anything less than the best; Aaron the Actor: serious, unhurried, committed. You might not ever know it though- personally, he’s a very comfortable guy, dirty jokes are as frequent as meaningful reflections ever bursting with flavor and excitement- a man who digs the world, the art, the moment. But there’s more. In class I found Aaron the Shaman: a soul deeply engorged in the mysticism and power of storytelling, dedicated not only to the form’s holy observance but equally to the practical rituals necessary to pulling out the sacred spirit found only in the greatest of performances. A man in awe of the awesome. We talked, about transformative power our particular art holds for us, for our audience, we talked endlessly about the necessity for art and culture in our society. We talked before class, during class, after class, did I mention Aaron the Talker? Ever afterwards you’d find us at some local bar or hanging out in The Starving Artist drinking bourbon (Aaron is a true Bourbon Man) so strong it ate through our plastic cups, continuing this discussion that we really truly needed to have, I think because we felt, in a time where the arts were falling by the wayside, society needed to have this discussion, so we needed have it as artists so we could get the ball rolling for everyone. Aaron the Teacher instilled a very real sense responsible artistry, we were responsible for this world as artists, and responsible for each other. We prodded and fought and debated long into those nights, pushing at each other to discover more, both in our discussions and in our acting we quickly became a sort of family. But it was Aaron that pushed us most of all.
For you see, we thought we came to act. We did, we acted, certainly, but there was something in the room, constantly, reminding us that what we were doing wasn’t so much about putting on an act but stripping away layers of ourselves to find deeper truths in our nakedness. That I think is the true Aaron Wiederspahn There’s a grit to Aaron’s work that his cocksure smile never quite reveals entirely, a mischief maker in making people bleed for their work, lovingly, passionately but with soul wrenching honesty. It’s a drive he’s known for in his films and even in his own performances. If you haven’t cried you haven’t got it yet- but you will. If you haven’t reached down into your soul and pulled out a handful of your own gooey, frightening humanity then you hadn’t been listening- but you will.
Though fictional, “Only Daughter” inspired by Wiederspahn’s own life, when in 2005 he discovered he had a long lost half-sister that had set out in search of their common father. The experience left him intrigued with this sense of isolation from one’s own hereditary identity, a theme that’s been at the back of his mind ever since. After growing tired of waiting for another project to work out he decided, in May 2012 enough was enough- he needed to create. If you’ve met the guy you know the kind of fervor his work puts him in and “Only Daughter” was no exception. He researched tirelessly, (his character Ed is based entirely on a real life account) until at last he put the pen to the page and scribbled out “Only Daughter.” He has this sense of urgency you see in some of the best of artists- by August he assembled a team and launched an indiegogo fundraiser on August 4th, by the 16th they had raised $19,156 (well over their initial ask of $6,500) and by the end of August had already finished filming- in a mere ten days.
What’s more is it’s a true New Hampshire film, cast locally and shot completely in 25 locations throughout the state. Set in one of the many backwoods, lakeside towns that populate the state, it captures the hard life of 18 year old Dawn Cowley (Emily Seymour) whom has never known anything about her father until her mother’s newest deadbeat boyfriend Billy (Seth Chatfield) drops his name during yet another of their verbal spats. She takes off by herself in search of her father Ed Briggs (played by Wiederspahn) who, when found, outright refuses to even speak to Dawn for some unknown reason. Most of the film centers around Dawn’s tireless quest for answers from her aggressively guarded father whose only wish is for her to disappear. In the midst of all this is Pam (Morganna Ekkens), Ed’s stripper girlfriend, who balances her relationship with Ed while trying to take care of Dawn as best as she can. The film’s conclusion is one of the most gut wrenching you’re like to see this festival, a reveal which seems to answer all questions that Dawn, and audience have been asking the entire film. By the end there isn’t a dry eye among us- it’s that old grit of Aaron’s, grinding the most out of his story, his cast and his audience that he can.
The film swept the New Hampshire Film Festival Awards, winning Best Director (Aaron Wiederspahn), Best Performance (Morganna Ekkens) and NH Film of the Year. You can catch it once more on Sunday @2:40pm at Seacoast Repertory Theatre.
By: Michael M. Soldati