Interview with Silvia Turchin| “F-Line”

| October 8, 2013

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“End to end, the F-line runs six miles each way…and passes through more than 150 years of history.”

The short film F-Line by SFSU filmmaker Silvia Turchin is unique and unlike many experimental films that have crossed my path. Shot entirely on film, the poetic documentary explores the ethereal past of San Francisco’s historic streetcars and creates a visual and aural landscape that is haunting and perversely absorbing.

F-Line will screen as part of the Mill Valley Film Festival’s 5@5: Innocent When You Dream short film showcase. We caught up with Sylvia over email to ask this train whisperer a few questions.



Hi Silvia. Can you tell us a little about your background?

I’ve been interested in the moving image and the written word ever since I was a kid. As an undergrad, I majored in Creative Writing and minored in Film. Later, I did a two-year program in film editing in Barcelona, where I lived for 6 years. I came to the Bay Area with the intention of really concentrating on making documentary and experimental film…and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last 9 years.

Why specifically the MUNI F-Line? Can you tell us a little about how the film F-Line came about?

Two of the things that fascinate me most are trains and places with history. F-Line is the convergence of those two fascinations. For me, both travel and remembrance of past are ways of accessing an interior space within myself that is calling to be explored. This space is often nostalgic and steeped in the beauty of the decayed and forgotten.

I have a special place in my heart for public transportation – the interaction it can create amongst people, the opportunity to observe and be a part of humanity. I suppose that F-Line is, in part, a lament for our society’s move away from it toward the more solitary confines of the automobile.

You’ve visited trains before in your film Winter. You’ve also examined San Francisco in 131 Russ. How do these films link thematically with F-Line?

These three films share the common theme of longing and nostalgia for something that is never really named. There’s a sense of past, or even death; the films are built on the sadly beautiful traces of things and places that were and are no more.

F-Line is very evocative. It is also strangely dramatic for having such a spare trajectory. Can you tell us about what constitutes a ‘story’ in the film?

It was important for me to put mood and feeling first and “story” second. That’s how I perceive life – I usually feel it first, and then make sense out of it and put it into narrative form out of the necessity of needing to communicate with other people. So, when I make films, it’s my time to really explore a certain mood or feeling, and have that be enough. The trajectory or story in F-Line is experiential and more based in a rhythm; like with music, I think that is where the drama comes from.

There seems to be a life cycle present in your documentary. I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to suggest that the ending almost feels like a funeral or a graveyard. What are your thoughts?

Yes, I agree with that. The ending is definitely the “reality” of the streetcar’s death. Apart from the MUNI’s F-Line, which is a line dedicated to restored antique streetcars and essentially a museum, the streetcar is dead. I see most everything leading up to the ending graveyard scene as a dream or remembrance of the life that used to exist – of the train itself, and of the people who used to ride and exist together on it. And of course, my own dreams and remembrances are infused into all this.

Silvia Turchin

Silvia Turchin

You teach and study at SFSU. How has wearing both of those hats simultaneously helped you grow as a filmmaker?

As an MFA student at SF State, I was lucky to teach a lot of undergrad classes. Being a student while also being a teacher made me more sensitive to my students needs as learners and burgeoning filmmakers. I think this came full circle in that teaching also made me a more informed and aware filmmaker.

What advice do you have for young filmmakers, specifically documentarians?

Make films about things that fascinate you. Make films about subjects you want to learn more about – whether that be on an informational level or more intangible, personal one. And finally, don’t forget to use the obvious things that you encounter in your everyday life as inspiration and fuel for your films. As one of my teachers said, “there is no such thing as mundane.”

Silvia Turchin is a San Francisco-based freelance videographer and editor. She is now in post-production on her first full-length documentary, Dogs of the 9th Ward.

F-Line screens as part of the Mill Valley Film Festival’s 5@5: Innocent When You Dream short film showcase, Tue, Oct 8 @ 5:30PM and Thu, Oct 10 @ 8:45PM

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