On the Couch with Jeff Daniels

Jeff-Daniels-at-the-Tribeca-Film-FestivalWho is Jeff Daniels?
I’m a Melbourne-based, award-winning independent filmmaker of social issue documentaries, originally from New York, everything bagel addict (what’s up, 5 & Dime Bagel!), proud member of a large Jewish and Italian family, husband to a strong, warm and super intelligent woman, and father to an endlessly inspiring 10-year-old girl who gets my vote in the next election.

What would you do differently from what you do now?
I’ve been a bus-boy, a financial researcher, a car washer, a paralegal, a sales person, and a high school teacher (by far the hardest and most fulfilling work I’ve ever done). All that led me to filmmaking which gives me purpose, meaning, feeds my ambition, drives my passion and keeps me responsibly engaged with the global issues that deserve our attention.

Who inspires you and why?
Aside from my family, I’m greatly inspired by collective acts of kindness such as Germany welcoming over 1 million refugees from Syria or the vast majority of Australians voting in favour of gay marriage rights. These acts are clearly powerful as corrupt leaders and unscrupulous companies try and co-opt or commodify their integrity. They give me faith in humanity, a faith I need to pursue my work especially at a time when it’s easy to be cynical.

What would you do to make a difference in the world?
Good storytelling and ethical documentation of compelling events and people who deserve our attention – this can emotionally influence people in singular or collective positions of power to effect necessary change. Whatever I can do to highlight these people and events and support others to do the same is well worth my time and energy.

Favourite holiday destination and why?
Mossy Point on the NSW South Coast is one of the most magical places I’ve ever experienced. My wife’s family have been going there for generations and it’s one of few places on earth where I feel truly at home. I guess that means I like going on holiday with my in-laws. What’s wrong with me?

When friends come to town, what attraction would you take them to, and why?
There is nothing on this planet like a Melbourne breakfast – that’s why the best coffee in New York is made by Melburnians.

What are you currently reading?
Susan Sontag’s On Photography for research on my next documentary film. This excerpt has stood out to me recently, “To suffer is one thing; another thing is living with the photographed images of suffering, which does not necessarily strengthen conscience and the ability to be compassionate. It can also corrupt them. Once one has seen such images, one has started down the road of seeing more – and more. Images transfix. Images anesthetize.”

What are you currently listening to?
I simply can’t get past A Charlie Brown Christmas by Vince Guaraldi. If you haven’t heard it, you’re welcome.

Happiness is?
A warm puppy. Did I mention everything bagels?

What does the future hold for you?
The Australian premiere of my latest feature documentary Television Event at the Sydney Film Festival this 8 & 10 November! It’ll be the first time I’ve seen my film in a movie theatre given the endless delays and cancellations COVID has wrought on the global Arts industry. Support your local artists!

Jeff is the director of the archive-based feature documentary, Television Event, which will be screened at the 2021 Sydney Film Festival: 8 & 10 November. For more information, visit: www.sff.org.au for details.

Image: Jeff Daniels at the Tribeca Film Festival