San Francisco-based Jay Rosenblatt spent 15 years working as a mental health counselor before moving full time to teaching and making films. He has produced an internationally acclaimed series of works that incorporate his former training into examinations of history and behavior, and the psychological links between them. For more information, try his Web site.
"Take a chance. Don't do it. This is America. Do it." This terse and enigmatic official synopsis of Restricted misses only the humor of the film. With a running time equal to two television commercials, Rosenblatt assembles a funny, squeamish, and often surprising collection of mid-20th-century American human action. 1999, U.S., 1 minute.
SHORT OF BREATH
Rosenblatt refers to the material for this film as "a pure find." Made from footage discovered in the dumpster outside the psychiatric hospital in which he worked, Short of Breath alternates scenes between a woman's session with a psychiatrist and a person who appears to be her young son. The film is about "grieving and the intergenerational transmission of depression and emotion," says Rosenblatt. 1990, U.S., 10 minutes.
THE SMELL OF BURNING ANTS
Triggered by a childhood memory of group violence, The Smell of Burning Ants examines the development of masculine power structures. Interestingly, the director represents his own metier as a model of complicity and uses recurring footage of a boy operating a movie camera, witnessing and documenting the violence of his classmates, and, at one point, moving to join in the violence himself. In the way it connects seemingly ordinary developmental behavior to cruelty, this work is a clear precursor to his 1998 film Human Remains. 1994, U.S., 21 minutes.
Winner of 26 awards, including the Special Jury Award for Short Films at Sundance, Human Remains is both a phenomenally disquieting and surprisingly accessible work. Rosenblatt's subjects are five of the most reviled dictators of the 20th century--Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Franco, and Mao--whose portraits he builds by revealing the minutia of their daily lives. Drawing from purely factual sources and frequently using direct quotes, Human Remains generates its power from what is withheld, and the filmmaker allows the specter of the acts committed by these five to shadow their personal lives. "I think it's more frightening that they were people who do the same things we do. That's part of the horror." 1998, U.S., 30 minutes.
KING OF THE JEWS
Rosenblatt's most recent film stems from his childhood fear of Jesus Christ. With King of the Jews the filmmaker connects himself and his family, as Jews, to the legacy of Christian anti-Semitic persecution. In a profoundly moving way, Rosenblatt combines a silent presentation of the historical development of Anti-Semitism with images culled from fictional interpretations of the Christ story, documentary footage from the Holocaust, and early recordings of his own life. 2000, U.S., 18 minutes.