Director Rod Martel

Headshot: Director Rod Martel


Rod is the grandson of German born cinematographer/director Karl Freund (Metropolis, The Mummy). He came to filmmaking late, with his first film, Susette’s Story, completed in 2013 at the age of 63. His second film, Lost in Berlin, is the result of 7 years work and a dedicated production team, many of whom volunteered their time or worked for a “stipend” to complete the project.  Rod is happily married to Colleen, together, having raised 7 children in a blended family. He continues his private practice as a Licensed Psychologist in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Director's statement

In high school, cameras became my way to overcome and remember the visual details of my life. Because I have a mild form of prosopagnosia, commonly known as face blindness, I can’t recognize people’s faces out of context. As a child, I (and no one else, it seemed) had a name for this embarrassing, anxiety-provoking condition. Now, as a practicing therapist, I have learned to take copious notes and my wife (bless her soul), reminds me of faces and helps me untangle movies, books and yes, people’s life stories.

But as I grew up, I realized that a camera was the perfect antidote. My Grandfather, Karl Freund, whose career started at age 15, sent me a brand new 4 x 5 Speed Graphic camera. During my senior year in high school I left school every day at noon to work at Mlodinoff Portrait Studio on Chicago's West Rogers Park.

Despite the difficulty of recognizing faces, I remembered sounds, smells, colors, textures and emotional themes. I still vividly recall those smells, colors and emotions of childhood, and this is what I attempt to portray in my work.

The images and emotions invoked by Albert Lamorisse’s 1956 film, The Red Balloon (Le Ballon Rouge) left indelible impressions. Childhood trips to fantasy-based theme parks in the Adirondacks and Disney World enticed and still inhabit my imagination. Even now, when I smell ripe and pungent strawberries, I immediately think of the trip I took with my step-grandmother, Trude, to Santa Barbara in the fifties.

Sensory impressions are real, but what constitutes reality (depending on one’s perspective) is different. Pascal, (Lamorisse’s son) who stars in The Red Balloon, described his participation as magic, but alas, his father, Lamorisse was ironically killed during midair filming in a helicopter crash. As I matured, and my concepts coalesced, I grew aware that Trude didn’t love me and saw me more as an unwelcome connection and reminder to Karl’s ex-wife in Germany. This is the process of so-called maturation. We grow up and begin to realize that while the sights, sounds, smells, and overall impressions of childhood may offer us solace, there is the other set of evolving facts which in their slow revelation, begin to complete the picture.

The Twilight Zone is one of those shows that has taken up permanent residence in my psyche; in particular, Episode 5, entitled Walking Distance. It both haunts and speaks to me. Actor, Gig Young, ends up back in his childhood home, then locates himself as a child played by a young Ron Howard. He is continually thwarted as he tries to give his younger self helpful advice. With shades of Thomas Wolfe’s aphorism: “you can’t go home again,” writer Rod Serling captures that desire to regain those fleeting sights, sounds, smells and colors of childhood.

"Martin Sloan, age thirty-six, vice president in charge of media. Successful in most things, but not in the one effort all men try at some time in their lives- trying to go home again. And also like all men, perhaps there’ll be an occasion-maybe a summer night sometime- when he’ll look up from what he’s doing and listen to the distant music of a calliope and hear the voices and the laughter of the people and the places of his past. And perhaps across his mind, there’ll flit a little errant wish, that a man might not have to become old, never outgrow the parks and the merry-go-rounds of his youth. And he’ll smile then, too, because he’ll know that it is just an errant wish, some wisp of memory, not too important really, some laughing ghosts that would cross a man’s mind- that are a part of The Twilight Zone."

My mother, Gerda was traumatically removed from the arms of her mother and her home in Weimar Berlin, and into the world of her successful, but uncaring father. To make matters worse, Gerda married without love, raising three children while trying to cobble together a middle-class lifestyle that would prove to be a mismatch.

For me, reconstructing the past is more like what memoirist Rigoberto Gonzalez describes as digging “through the rubble of memory,” and as a child, even though I was unable to put words to occurrences, I sensed my mother’s frustration indirectly. I can’t recall my father being affectionate with my mom, but I had an evolving awareness that my father was different from other fathers, that my parents feared my grandfather, Karl, and my mother’s loss of her mother tortured her until dementia finally softened the blow.

As a memoirist and filmmaker, I walk the fine line between betrayal and portrayal. I have striven to do this with respect to my family and their intimate times, without their express permission. It’s a sacred responsibility, and I hope I have succeeded. I also hope the film conveys Gerda’s reality with the fidelity of a son who loved her very much.

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