Filmmaker’s Name:  Alexander Conrads

Film Title: Once there was a Cigar Box

Film TRT:  09:47

Genre(s):  Documentary


In 50 words or less, what is your film about?

“Once there was a Cigar Box” focuses on Matt Isbell, a Blues-musician from Memphis, Tennessee, who does something most people can only dream of: He makes a living from doing something he loves. To be more precise, he takes old cigar boxes and breathes new life into them by turning them into beautiful guitars.

What inspired you to make this particular film? 

I’m actually from Germany and met Matt during my semester abroad at the University of Memphis. I heard about him, because of a common friend, and immediately fell in love with his beautiful instruments. We met, because I wanted to see whether Matt would be interested in a documentary about him and when I realized that he not only builds beautiful instruments, but is such an interesting and inspiring person in so many different ways, I just knew that a film about him has to be made.

What’s the best experience you had making this film?  What’s the worst?  Why?

The whole experience was solely positive. Since I made it all on my own with just a little help from a friend during one day of shooting, the whole thing felt really free, more like an experiment. It was my first documentary and I just told myself that if it turns out good, that’s great, and if not, it would still have been a valuable learning experience. In addition to that it was just great to get to spend a lot of time with Matt and feel that he really trusts me with my film, opens up in front of the camera and allows me this intimate look into his life.

In your opinion, what’s the best film ever made?  The worst?  Why?

I think this question is impossible to answer, because there are just too many amazing films in the world (what is a great thing of course!) Three movies that always appear on my favorite movie lists though are “Gardenstate,” “Big Fish” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” because those three films still manage to really touch me, although I’ve seen them all really often by now. There are also quite a few bad movies out there, but one that just popped into my mind, because I had to suffer through it recently, would be Brian DePalma's “Passion.” Not only is it just a really boring film in any way, it is also the great Brian DePalma destroying his own heritage.

RE: a short bio… Tell us about your start in filmmaking.  Who are your heroes?  Did you get your start as an actor? A screenwriter? A grip?

I fell in love with the movies at a really young age and got my first very own camera at the age of 13. I started shooting horrible action spoofs with my brothers in my parents backyard, but slowly realized that films can actually touch people and make them really think about things. And that’s what I am trying to do now. I’ve never wanted to be in front of the camera, probably because I like being in control over my vision, although at the same time there is nothing I enjoy more that working together with a great crew where everyone just wants to finish a project the best possible way and is willing to give a lot for that shared vision. There are many great directors out there, but one I admire for his whole life and his amazing diversity would definitely be good old Martin Scorsese, who in all those years in the business seems like he managed to keep his passion for movies alive.

Tell us about your connection to Mississippi.  If you don’t have one, why did you choose to enter Crossroads Film Festival?

I did my semester abroad in Memphis, Tennessee and had a friends from Mississippi there, who told me about Crossroads Film Festival and how he has seen so many great films there the last time he had been there. I also visited Mississippi twice during my time in the USA and really liked what I saw. I’m not really one for the big cities so I really enjoyed all the nature there.

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