Review Fix chats with “Nothing Changes” director Matthew Kaplowitz, who details the production and lets us know why it’s a special one for him.
Review Fix: What was the inspiration for your film?
Matthew Kaplowitz: The inspiration for this documentary was always my Uncle Hank Virgona as the subject, but what he does is more universal and relatable on a human level.
The documentary is about my 88-year-old Uncle, a painter who five to six days a week treks from his home in Queens to his Union Square studio, despite cancer, old age and obscurity, to make art for the sake of creating. For him, life and art are the same thing, and I wanted to know what drove a person like this to keep going on this quest with all of these things working against him.
I spent two years filming him to uncover his story and find the answers to my questions about who he is and why he does what he does. A lot of people in his shoes would have quit decades ago, but Hank has been in that studio since 1960 and hasn’t stopped coming no matter what. Many young artists struggle with this motivation, and even more mature artists still do later in their life. Telling his story and presenting his herculean efforts to keep doing what he loves is the main inspiration, and in turn I hope it resonates and inspires viewers to do the same in their lives, whether it’s art, dancing, sports, or whatever their passion in life is.
Review Fix: What did you learn about yourself while making?
Kaplowitz: I learned a lot about my Uncle that I never knew. I always knew he was “Uncle Hank the Artist” when I was growing up, and I had an inkling of what he had done in his career, but I don’t think I knew him as a person or his story. Now, I feel like the Hank Virgona historian! I also think he learned more about me, and his view of me changed from being this little kid to an adult, or at least something closer to it.
I also learned there were a lot of similarities between us in many ways on an artistic and personal level. If it means I will be his age and still doing what I am doing, that would be amazing.
Review Fix: What was the most challenging part of making it?
Kaplowitz: Getting my Uncle on board was probably the hardest part. He turned me down a few times, or just didn’t take me seriously, when I started asking him in 2015 about it. After a few months of that, I gave him a hard pitch one day, but he was still resistant. He had heard so many false promises from other people in the past about things like this, and his biggest worry was time.
Hank was 85 before we started filming, and time is the one currency you can never get back. His biggest concern was that I would eat up too much of his time, which he wanted to use to make his art. Eventually, he relented and we got started not long after that. For a guy that was so worried about time, once the camera was on him he poured his heart and soul out and I feel very lucky that I was able to capture that truth.
The filming wasn’t too rough, it was the editing that became arduous. After two years of filming, saying I had a lot of footage was an understatement. The first cut was a marathon, and I had to make some tough decisions while editing it down. Plenty was left on the cutting room floor, but I aim to put some of these scenes on Youtube eventually or in other places.
Review Fix: How do you want it to be remembered?
Kaplowitz: I want the film to give my Uncle a second life, and introduce him to new generations for years to come. I want it to serve as an entry point to his legacy, and inspire more people to do what they love. Everyone can relate to his story and either knows someone like Hank or says they are like him. If my documentary can offer them inspiration to keep pushing for their dreams, that would be a tremendous gift.
Review Fix: How does it feel to be a part of the festival?
Kaplowitz: It’s a great feeling to be a part of the QWFF, especially to have our NYC debut in the borough where Hank and I reside. My Uncle has been thrilled about all the fanfare around these events, as well as the new fans who are coming to visit his studio now to talk art with him. I think more people came up to me after the screening to ask how to meet my Uncle than they did to ask things about me or the movie. Frankly, I would rather hear that since it feels way better knowing Hank is getting a whole new fanbase thanks to this movie, and that’s more important because it means my mission was accomplished.
It was even more amazing that the QWFF screening sold-out! I had friends who weren’t able to go because the event did so well, but hopefully they will be able to make it to the upcoming ones. Don and Katha Cato put on a stellar mega-event, and I couldn’t be more grateful to be a part of this festival.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Kaplowitz: For this documentary, we have two more film festivals announced so far. First is The New Haven International Film Festival in New Haven, CT, which is May 4-6 (time and date of screening TBA), and on May 10 we have been selected for the NYC Independent Film Festival, which takes place in Manhattan. It’s still fairly early for us regarding acceptances for more film festivals, but we are optimistic that this movie will be popping up in many other places around the country.
For me, I have some other projects I am starting to work on now, but I don’t like to talk about them until they’re much further along. Rest assured, I have lots more things I want to do, and I will make them happen.
Review Fix: Anything else you’d like to add?
Kaplowitz: Thank you to everyone who came out to the QWFF screening, and I hope to see more new faces at the NYCIFF and other screenings in the future.
Please follow me on social media to read about where this movie will go next. Those pages are Instagram.com/BurningHammerNY, Facebook.com/BurningHammerProductions and Twitter.com/BurningHammerNY.