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Spotlight: Discovering a Lost Mother in Award-Winning "Rewind Forward"

By David Schonauer   Tuesday July 3, 2018

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For filmmakers, old family movies are like treasure.

They are a window into the past, the evidence of the lives we lived and the people who shaped us, whether we knew them or not.

Over the past year or so we have seen a number of short narrative and documentary films that make use of old video and Super 8 film to tell powerful stories, and today we spotlight another.

In Justin Stoneham’s 23-minute film “Rewind Forward,” the filmmaker confronts the past when he discovers VHS recordings made by his father. As he notes, through those films he “sees his mother as he’s never seen her before — young and healthy.” When he was four, a stroke left her partially paralyzed and unable to speak.

“Seeing the mother he longed to have in his father’s recordings triggers him to confront his family’s misfortunes,” Stoneham notes in a synopsis. “With his father dead, his mother is the only person he can turn to for answers. While she struggles to communicate with the help of a computer, she is sharp and witty. Justin begins to draw the connection between the mother he longed to have and the woman in the wheelchair.”

The film, which has won multiple awards on the festival circuit — including the Pardino d’Oro award for Best Swiss Short at the 70th the Lucarno film festival and the Vimeo Staff Pick Award  at the 24th Palm Springs ShortFest — is now available online.


“It's clear that Stoneham not only spent hours in the editing room combing through old footage of his mother finding the perfect clips to tell her tragic story, but also in life, rewinding and fast-forwarding the old home videos to remind himself of the woman she once was,” notes NoFilmSchool, which recently talked with Stoneham about his film.

The project evolved from something like a task into something that was deeply, searingly personal. “I think the initial idea came after I found a box full of old VHS tapes that contained 20 years of footage filmed by my father,” Stoneham told NFS. “In the beginning, it felt like I had to finish something that he had started. But within the process, we soon realized that it would develop into an encounter between my mother and me, now and then.”

The biggest creative challenge, he said, was the decision to make himself a main character in the film. “With such a personal film and the many people involved, it became clear that I had to tell the story from my point of view,” he said.

His advice to other filmmakers: “Especially in personal films, it is crucial to choose people to work with who have a certain distance to the topic so they can remain objective and critical.”

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