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by Kathryn Tam
June 23rd, 2011

On Sunday Rooftop Films was delighted to be able to screen the New York premiere of The Extraordinary Ordinary Life of Jose Gonzalez. Not only did we get to see this ethereal, delicately realized portrait of Jose Gonzalez, we were also able to experience the power of the music which inspired the filmmakers as we were treated to an intimate performance by the film’s subject. You can find photographs of Jose’s stunning set on our facebook page.

In this thoughtful documentary about the experiences of a musician, filmmakers Mikel Karlsson and Frederk Egerstrand explore a man who leads a not-so ordinary life. The audience gets to sit down with world-famous Jose Gonzalez as he talks about his philosophy and music, and we get to a know a man who is as profound as he is humble.

We had the pleasure of speaking to filmmaker Mikel Karlsson about what it was like working with Mr. Gonzalez and what effect he has on others.

Rooftop Films: Describe the film for someone who hasn’t seen it.

Mikel Cee Karlsson: It’s a film that focus on the personal creative process of an artist.

RF: Why did you choose Gonzalez as a subject?

MCK: His music was of course one reason. Also, I made music videos for Jose a couple of years ago and through that I got to know him. The main reason for making a film was mainly that there were conditions surrounding him that felt interesting to work with. His background in biology and interest in science, for example.

RF:  In certain points of the film, there are animated scenes of certain points in Gonzalez’ life. Why did you decide on this animation? How did you feel this particular type of animation would aide in representing Gonzalez?

MCK: The animation was a way for us to give form to the mind of Jose. There is something both beautiful and absurd in our attempts to find meaning in our existence.  Searching for knowledge, logic and patterns. We wanted the animation to give form to this process in a naive and simplistic way. How fragments of our everyday life shapes our input and output.

RF:  Throughout Gonzalez’ encounters with other people, he frequently receives the comment that he is representative of other artists. One girl can’t get over the fact that he is so reminiscent of John Martin, and an interviewer calls him the “Paulo Coelho of music.” How has this project changed, if at all, your previous conceptions of Jose Gonzalez?

MCK: It has not really changed our perception of him at all. At least not mine. The people in the film have their own perceptions of who he is and what his music represents to them. It does not have to be correct, or make sense. We really liked these reoccuring events. The questions and comments you have to endure, or at least be able to handle in his profession.

RF:  This documentary paints an extremely candid picture of Gonzalez. Nothing seems forced. In the scenes where you were physically there and behind the camera, how did you manage to remain “invisible” so Gonzalez could stay so natural?

MCK: It is not that complicated, it all comes down to trust between the filmmakers and the person in front of the camera. It does take time but we filmed Jose during a period of three years so he had some time to adapt.

RF: Most of Gonzalez’ voice recordings revolve around how the brain and mind works, the human as a machine, and evolution in general. Did these themes affect how your own film evolved over time? Was the direction that your film took different from how you had originally imagined it to be after listening to these recordings?

MCK: It was actually the other way around, we asked him to make the recordings since we where interested in these questions. A part from his music, his interest in biology and scientific theory played a big part in making us interested in making this film.

RF: In one part of the documentary, Gonzalez complains that the songwriting process is “too revealing,” and that it “makes your private life public.” Do you think your documentary does the same thing?

MCK: I think the actual songwriting is much more personal and revealing to him than the film is. Even if it is the theme of the film, the process itself is harder than watching it on a screen afterwards.

RF: Although your film allows us to go into the mind of Gonzalez and get a more intimate view of him, by the end of the film we get the feeling that we know both everything and nothing about Gonzalez. He seems to let us in to both his mind and his world, and yet by the end he still remains so secretive. Is there anything about him that you personally still want to know?

MCK: Even if the film revolves around Jose in a personal way, we did not want to make the film personal. We focused on questions that interested us, questions that in many ways are bigger than the individual person. I also think that the idea of “knowing” something about a person is all to hung up on facts. Information that don’t really mean anything but gives you the idea that it does. It might be harder for someone to put the content of this film into words, or to use it to describe Jose as a person. To me that is really important, that we did not simplify something that is truly complex.

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Rooftop Films is a New York based non-profit whose mission is to engage diverse communities by showing independent movies in outdoor locations, producing new films, coordinating youth media education, and renting equipment at low cost to artists.

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