It took Doylestown, Pa. native and film director Stephen Dijoseph about two years to complete his first film. Most of us cannot conceive why one twelve-minute project should take so long, but A SynapTic Adventure: Tourette’s and Beyond is not your average short film. It is a story, and more specifically, it is his story.
At age 6, Dijoseph was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome; it made him aware of the ways that he was not like other children. But, he did not succumb to the daily pressures that exist with the Syndrome, rather, he found his outlet through his musical talents. “What I learned was that I have something that I really love doing and I’m just going to spend as much time thinking about that as I can,” he says.
His passion for music transitioned to producing music videos which helped him access the visual part of storytelling. He began recording some aspects of his own day-to-day activities from his very own home studio. Experimenting with footage that he collected and music that he created, Dijoseph captured raw and important elements of his personal life. What came of that was a piece that told a story both lyrically and visually.
The film is not so much about overcoming obstacles as it is about an individual’s unique point-of-view. Dijoseph explored his journey with Tourette’s and the way that living with it inspired his creative mind. It is an experience that anyone could visualize themselves in because whether it is Tourette’s or something else, a synaptic adventure is something that everyone has.
The production process ended in October 2013 when the SynapTic team submitted the completed project to the Bucks Fever Film Festival. Dijoseph walked away with the award for Best Emerging Documentary and went on to screen the film at the DC Independent Film Festival this past February.
Since his recent successes, Dijoseph sat down with HFI to discuss his own adventures during the making of the film.
HFI: How did you come up with the title A SynapTic Adventure?
SD: There are two people in my life who were really helpful. There was, Rick Vice, a long time friend and musician. He was interested in the functionality of the brain and exploring spirituality. We were talking and he mentioned the synapse and the things that happen in the brain when you're learning something new along with these dendrites that form and expand your brain function. Then there was a gentleman named Serge Nickolich. What came from that was a whole development for an awareness [of Tourette’s] that I was not allowing into my consciousness. Before, I was saying to myself ‘well Tourette’s is over here and I’m playing music and once in a while it shows up,’ but the reality was that it was always mixed in, it was always part of me and he [said] ‘Like an adventure. It’s an adventure.’ Hence, A SynapTic Adventure.
HFI: A SynapTIC Adventure is a personal piece to have someone else working with you. How was working with your producer, Beth Cahn Kennedy ?
SD: I’m used to working alone and then getting feedback. But we got into a cadence of working effectively. I developed something and she would say ‘that’s cool, that’s amazing.’ [She’s] the closest anyone’s gotten in this kind of process with me.
HFI: How involved were you in the production and editing process?
SD: Well, I did everything. I set out to make it right here in [my home] studio more or less. I felt it was very important to use footage that existed, that I had been creating over the years. I got involved in the editing because I was doing it previously [producing music videos] and I just upgraded a bit with my tools. I created the music to tell this story. I think it’s kind of a common thing for a filmmaker working on an independent project to kind of just be doing all of these different things, wearing different hats.
My favorite part of the process was editing and seeing it come to life. The editing thing was just really exciting.
A: What do you expect people take away?
SD: Trepidation [laughs]! [I hope they take away] a new perception of Tourette’s. A SynapTIC Adventure was created because everyone has one. It was a poetic effort. Tourette’s, for me, is mine, but I want people to get from it that they can identify and connect to it in a creative way, instead of ‘here is the person and here is a problem.’ There was an album by a guy named Todd Rutger and there was a phrase where he goes, ‘The world has enough destroyers, we need healers.’ and that phrase stuck in my mind. Sometimes it helps to build on something like that. [I wanted it to be] like a portal into some aspect of life that we otherwise block out.
HFI: How were the reactions you received from filmmaking peers different from those of the general audience?
SD: The validation is that people are excited about it and they seem to get it, so far. It’s going in a good direction. On the other side is the technical. [I want to] keep some of the rawness, but also upgrade some of the visual stuff and music and things like that.
HFI: What role have festivals played in your career so far?
SD: I am early in the festival process even though a lot has happened which is fabulous. The first festival I entered into was in October (2013) and that was the Bucks Fever Film festival in Bucks County. I ended up winning Best Emerging Documentary. I think there were about 60 films [total] in the festival and a variety of animation and documentary. That was, for me, a great experience. I just immersed myself in that for a couple weeks.
The film then ended up on Comcast for about 4 weeks and from that I had an interview with the Inquirer [Philadelphia] and WHYY (TV), then I received a response from the Washington DC Independent Film Festival, which got more than 1,000 applicants, globally, so getting into that was really exciting. A Synaptic Adventure was one of seven short documentaries. I’m seeing that people are getting something out it. It gave me the feedback that the way [A SynapTic Adventure] was put together was actually working. You know when you’re creating something of an experimental nature, you’re not sure what’s going to happen.
HFI: What are your future plans for A SynapTic Adventure?
SD: Get some dinner.
SD: My future plans are to continue to promote this film to film festivals. I would like to see about creating, a series of these synaptic adventures because its ongoing. It could be one long film, but I don’t think that’s where this specific thing is going. I think its going to be an ongoing educational series and there’s also a split off where I’d like to do a sort of Tourette’s summit to bring people with Tourette’s and maybe expand it beyond Tourette’s Syndrome with people from different parts of the globe.
To get exclusive details on Stephen Dijoseph’s next live performance and screening of A SynapTic Adventure, send your request to firstname.lastname@example.org!