Chatham Filmmaker Focuses On Local Artists In Orpheum Series

By: Tim Wood

Chatham filmmaker Brandon DeTraglia behind the camera. COURTESY PHOTO

If you've attended a screening in the Chatham Orpheum Theater's Art and Music Film Series, you've see the work of Brandon DeTraglia.

The “Featured Artists Series,” commissioned by the Orpheum, links Cape artists to the wider artistic world with an under-10-minute personal profile that plays before each of the feature documentaries, which focus on classic artist, art galleries or musical performances. DeTraglia's short documentaries not only explore the work of the artists, but also delve into their methods, philosophies and life experiences.

“I like to get at the heart of what they're doing,” the 24-year-old filmmaker in an interview at his family's Riverbay home.

The films DeTraglia has created range in subjects and media from the most recent, mosiac artist Suska Matski, to painter Justine Ives and aerial photographer Wayne Davis. He tries to choose artists whose work stands out, is not too “Cape Coddy” and who have interesting stories to tell. The films generally play for a month or so before the weekly art features, and during that time the featured artist's work is displayed at the Orpheum.

“I love doing this not just to make the films but for the exposure [the artists] get,” DeTraglia said.

Orpheum Director Kevin McLain said the series began as a way to highlight the local arts community for the arts film patrons. The idea was to create an artist of the month whose work would be displayed in the theater; the idea for a short documentary flowed natural from there.

“It's one thing to see people's art on the wall,” McLain said. “We thought let's play off of the arts filsm and create a short documentary about the artist.”

Former Orpheum assistant manager Geoff Bassett began making the films and created 11 profiles. DeTraglia, who works full-time as assistant media coordinator for Channel 18, the town's government access channel, was hired to continue the series.

The arts series screens Saturday and Thursday mornings in the fall and winter and consistently sells out, McLain said. Beginning with the winter series in January, the theater will partner with Gallery Antonia, which will display the featured artist's work.

DeTraglia, sometimes with a crew, sometimes by himself, usually spends a day with the artist, meeting beforehand to gain a little insight into their process and scope out shooting locations. He prefers to film in the artist's studio or home. “Artists usually have some pretty cool spaces, with natural light,” he noted. The preference is clear when looking at the films; there's a playful contrast between light and dark, with some of the more brightly lit studios saturating the screen with color and light. DeTraglia generally sits down and interviews the artists, although he characterized it as more a conversation than a formal interview. The artists own words narrate their story.

DeTraglia first saw one of his films, a promotional video for Faces Gallery, on the Orpheum's big screen in 2015. It was an “incredible experience,” he said, showed him some of the differences between viewing films on a computer or other device and a movie screen. It's something he keeps in mind when making the Featured Artists Series films.

“It's a different mindset,” he said.

DeTraglia grew up watching movies and said he was inspired by filmmakers like Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas. “I would watch some movies over and over again and just be obsessed with the visuals,” he said. Born in Syracuse, N.Y., he moved to the Cape at a young age and attended schools in Chatham and Harwich. He graduated from Chatham High School in 2011. He credits the school's media teacher at the time, Bob Bourke, with giving him the opportunity to learn about filmmaking first-hand. Working in the school's media lab, he learned how to use the equipment and would often borrow it to make short films with his friends. While he earned an associates degree at Cape Cod Community College, DeTraglia preferred to learn his craft through practical experience.
“Academics are not for me,” he said. “I'm more about the hand-on learning.”

He's also a techie, having built his first computer in 2010. That helped him learn the technical side of filmmaking, including lighting, sound and the digital platforms that are an essential part of the craft today. Over the years, he said, he's built up his computer editing equipment so it suits his needs and serves both his technical and creative needs.

“As a one-man band, you have to know everything,” he said.

Others he's worked with, including Danni Krash and Bill and Ryan Darmon, have helped him navigate the craft. He's helped out local filmmakers, serving as cinematographer on Mike Hull's feature “They Are Mine” and working on Paul Schuyler's short “Runner.” He's made some short promotional films for local businesses and bands (he's also a musician) and was tapped by a Swedish production company to contribute to a promotion film for Electrolux (find it on YouTube; search “Shape Living for the Better”). He's building more opportunities and connections which he hopes will allow him to work as a filmmaker full time, either as a freelancer or with a production company.

“But it's got to be the right opportunity for me,” he said.

Working on the Featured Artist Series has helped DeTraglia hone his filmmaking sensibilities. “It's basically practice,” he said. “I'm exercising my skill set more consistently.”

DeTraglia's next film in the series is set to screen on Dec. 7 before the documentary “I, Claude Monet;” the Suska Matsik short will play this Saturday with “Michelangelo Love And Death.” He's not sure who the subject of the next film will be, but as with a lot of creative types, having a deadline helps, and he's confident the film will come together and continue to inform his ongoing work.

“Doing these art films consistently has helped me a ton just learning more,” he said. “I've been doing it for a while, but I'm never at a place I'm satisfied.”

Along with the Chatham Orpheum Theater's Art and Music Film Series, DeTraglia's films can also found at www.vimeo.com by entering his name in the search field. Maclain said the arts series will be expanding to include monthly evening screenings, and the theater is also creating a page on its website where all of the Local Artist Series films can be viewed.

“The goal has always been to make this a working, creative theater,” McLain said of the series; the Orpheum also produces its own promotional films and even trailers for upcoming films. “Most theaters don't ever do things like this. This is a core part of what we do, and our local audience really appreciates it.”