Pie. It enriches us all.
But in the documentary A Short History of Sweet Potato Pie and How It Became a Flying Saucer, Washington director Nina Seavey shows how one cook’s dessert is considered more than just good eats at a local retirement home.
Here’s Nina’s story about the documentary and her career.
CP: Tell us a bit about your film.
NS: A Short History of Sweet Potato Pie and How It Became a Flying Saucer is the story of Pearl Mallory’s sweet potato pie and the magical effect it has on the residents of St. Mary’s Court Retirement Community in Washington.
How on earth does a pie turn into a flying saucer? Or is this an M. Night Shyamalan—like twist you’d rather not disclose?
NS: Some things are just “pie in the sky” ideas — so you’ll have to watch the film to find out!
CP: This short has been screened before, locally at AFI’s Silverdocs. Have you been satisfied with audience reactions?
NS: The audience response to the film has just been fabulous. People are not used to funny documentaries, so when they realize that they can sit back and enjoy the nuttiness that is life, then they really have a great time. It has now been shown at a number of film festivals across the country and at each screening the audience has been enthusiastic.
CP: You’ve had a lengthy and successful career, including an Emmy for A Paralyzing Fear: The Story of Polio in America. Do you still get nervous about screenings? Or will you just have a slice of pie on Saturday and hum Que Sera, Sera?
NS: Yes, I still get excited and nervous — even after 25 years of filmmaking — to see my film with an audience. There is something so palpable about watching your film in a crowd that brings your work a new life, a new sense of vibrancy. Sometimes watching a film with an audience reminds me why I made the film in the first place!
I’ve found that watching a film with a hometown audience is the absolute best. They know you, they know your work, and now they’ve come to discover another part of you that is found in your new film. It’s always a great thrill — and slightly nerve–wracking.
CP: Have you had formal training as a filmmaker?
NS: I never went to film school. I got all the training I needed through work — I started in radio, went into television news and making commercials, and then became a filmmaker.
CP: You founded the Documentary Center at George Washington University. What are your duties there? Is it difficult to find time for your own projects?
NS: I head the Institute for Documentary Filmmaking. The Institute is a six–month intensive program in all facets of documentary production and runs from January through June. Each year I accept approximately 16 students from applicants from around the nation. It’s a huge undertaking every year, and this is my 16th year teaching it. But I have a great faculty who teaches the program with me. I’m also aided by the assistant director of the Institute, Natasha Klauss.
But part of my job at the center is to make films. All of my films carry “The Documentary Center, George Washington University” in the credits and the university is extremely supportive of my filmmaking. I have one of the best situations that an independent filmmaker can have — I teach, I make films, I do exhibition work through Silverdocs. And I have three children. It’s all a lot of work, but I have a lot of energy!
CP: What is one film you wish you’d made, and why?
NS: I’ve made all of the films I’ve wanted to. Sometimes I worry that I’ll run out of new ideas — and that’s a scary place for a filmmaker to be.
CP: Do you have any plans for a Sweet Potato Pie sequel? A meditation on, say, shoofly pie? Mock apple?
NS: I don’t think there’s a Pie II, but I think there might be a great film to be made about a beautiful vineyard in the hills of Tuscany. I just have to figure out the angle!
Sweet Potato Pie screens Saturday at 4 p.m.