As the Big Eddy Film Festival (BEFF) gears up for its 10th anniversary, I heard through the grapevine that festival director Tina Spangler’s adorable children, Pedro and Lulu, were playing a …
As the Big Eddy Film Festival (BEFF) gears up for its 10th anniversary, I heard through the grapevine that festival director Tina Spangler’s adorable children, Pedro and Lulu, were playing a role in this year’s lineup, so I gave Spangler a call to see how that all transpired.
Jonathan Charles Fox: So, what is this about your kids, Pedro and Lulu, being part of the festival this year?
Tina Spangler: I directed two films featuring my kids [with co-director Oriel Danielson], each about a minute and a half long, for [children’s television show] “Sesame Street.” You know how when you’re watching Sesame Street, you see Elmo or Big Bird doing interesting things, and then they cut to real kids doing something interesting as well? That’s what we’ll be doing in these short films. One is called “E is for Engineer,” and the other is called “N is for Nature.”
JCF: But how did all this come about?
TS: “Sesame Street” puts out a call every year for kids to be in what they call “letter films,” and they focus on certain letters and words each season. Since the pandemic hit, they haven’t been able to hold auditions with hundreds of kids as they normally would, and I think the folks at “Sesame Street” welcomed the idea of a filmmaker mom in New York state doing little videos with her kids outdoors.
JCF: Did the kids actually build something on film with him?
TS: Yes. We happen to have a little creek that runs by our house and the kids walk in it and get their feet wet, so the project evolved into them making a little walking bridge that crosses the creek. My dad drew up plans, we bought all of the materials and that’s what happens in the little film.
JCF: How do you do that in 90 seconds?
TS: [laughing] We had to cut back on a lot of things, but focused on informing the kids [in the television audience] what an engineer is, and how to describe that to the younger set. We came up with this: “An engineer is someone who solves problems by thinking up new ways to do things.”
JCF: And what about “N is for Nature?”
TS: Actually it was co-director Oriel’s wife, artist Kaitlyn Danielson, who suggested “Nature at Night,” which we thought was a unique way to look at the topic, so we pitched the idea of the kids being outside as it’s getting dark and them exploring what’s happening as night falls. Naturally, “Sesame Street” felt that it was very important that an adult be with them outside at night, and since I was co-directing with Oriel, we had to cast a friend of mine in the “mom role.” That was a lot of fun.
JCF: How did your co-director get involved?
TS: When I was thinking about [applying for] this project, I approached my neighbor and colleague, filmmaker Oriel Danielson, who moved up here right before the pandemic. He directed the Big Eddy Film Festival trailer last year and that was a great experience, so I asked if he would be interested in working with me on this project. Oriel is incredibly talented and I could not have done it without him.
JCF: How long did it take you two to create one minute- and-a-half-long film?
TS: We started shooting “N is for Nature” during the July Fourth weekend, and we just [last week] submitted the final cut. And there is still post-production work to be done.
JCF: How did this “Sesame Street” project wind up being included in the Big Eddy Film Festival?
TS: Just to be clear, these little films will be making their actual debut on “Sesame Street” when the new season begins.
JCF: So this is a “sneak peek” just for us in the Upper Delaware River region?
TS: Yes, that’s exactly what it is. Every year we do a program called “Rural Shorts,” (screening Saturday, October 2 at Bethel Woods) that is a roundup of short films, shot here [in many cases] by local filmmakers. It just seemed like a natural fit, but we did have to get permission from “Sesame Street,” who gave us permission to show them one time, in person—no exceptions. Then we had to get permission from our BEFF funding agency to make sure it was OK with them, since I am the director of the festival. We wanted to make sure that it didn’t come across as self-serving in any way, and I have nothing whatsoever to gain from it. I don’t own these films—they’re owned by Sesame Street.
Fun Fact: Co-director Oriel Danielson had this to say: “When I moved up here from the city I didn’t plan on or imagine making new professional connections. So walking 10 minutes to my neighbor’s house in the woods in order to make a film for ‘Sesame Street’ was a surprising experience.”
About Tina: Tina Spangler helped launch the Big Eddy Film Festival in 2012, after living and working in New York City in film and television for 10 years. In 2009, Spangler produced and directed “Lucky Lake,” a short documentary about Sullivan County’s little-known African American vacation spot. She lives in Narrowsburg, NY’s Luxton Lake community where she has restored several homes. When not working, Tina is usually managing her Airbnb rental cabin, swimming in the Ten Mile River with her [adorable] children, or sitting around a campfire.