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MARCH 2005

Lisa Gossels (middle) & two of the subjects of her documentary

Seeing a Better World Through the Camera Lens:
Lisa Gossels

By Gillian Granoff

Her long brown hair cascades over her shoulder as she offers me some tea. Her maternal instincts have become a large part of her identity as a filmmaker. Despite her maturity she has preserved an untainted idealism, rarely found in someone who has paid her dues in the corporate world. Lisa Gossels, a documentary filmmaker who after years of experience has struck the desired balance between an artist and a savvy businesswoman. Her years in corporate advertising gave her what she calls the invaluable marketing skills necessary to sell any product, a tool that has served her well as a documentarian, but it is obvious that her heart was never in the corporate world.

Growing up as the child of a poet and an attorney, Lisa Gossels describes herself as someone who “was good at many things but never a star at one.” After graduating Brown University in the 80s with a degree in Literature and Society, she chose a Jack Kerouac existence as a backpacker throughout Europe. During her adventures in France, she sampled a variety of jobs, but her experience in freelance in the sexy world of European advertising planted seeds for a career in advertising. She returned to New York and made her way up the advertising ladder to account manager. The turning point in her career came during a session with a career counselor. “It was the best $200 I ever spent!” she comments. Adele Scheele, a former journalist helped Lisa recognize her true identity as a filmmaker.

As Lisa’s passion for filmmaking grew she channeled it into a project that touched her heart. The story she uncovered led her to make her first documentary film, The Children of Chabannes. In it Lisa explores the touching story of the lives of unsung heroes of Chabannes, a town that saved over 400 people during World War II. Among the survivors were her father and uncle. Their incredible heroism and humanity inspired Lisa to pay tribute to them. Though the film was featured on HBO and earned Gossels her first Emmy, Lisa’s passion for filmmaking is clearly not driven by a desire for accolades; her goal, she says, is to bring life to the stories of everyday individuals doing extraordinary things.

“My films are about the power we have as individuals to change the world. I don’t believe in making films with political agendas. The Children of Chabbanes is not just about the Holocaust; it is a celebratory film about people who chose to save lives because it was the right thing to do. She describes herself as someone who takes the time to talk to everyone, the taxi driver, the waiter at a restaurant. “I find inspiration in the lives of everyday people.” This is a gift, she says, that comes from her mother, an accomplished poet who made an “everyday trip to the supermarket into a story.” Her other mentors include her second grade teacher, Ms. Valerie Perrine, who inspired her to write poetry and nurtured her creative side. One of the most rewarding aspects of filmmaking for Lisa is the way in which it engages her many talents. She credits every person on her film from the cinematographer to the director.

Her latest film Imagining Peaceis a celebration of those who stay true to their conscience and fight for peace amidst the political pressures of a violence of the real world. In it, she gives voice to seven Palestinian teenage girls living in Israel and the West Bank. The documentary, still in production, follows the girls as they participate in Building Bridges for Peace, a woman’s leadership program designed to promote constructive dialogue. The film traces their growth from their first introduction to the program, during a 12-day intensive retreat set at the Trebor Garth Estate in Bridgeton, New Jersey. The film follows the girls from their experience at the retreat, during the height of the Intifada, back to their lives at home. Lisa was inspired to make the film by meeting with its founder Melodye Feldman at a Jewish Educators conference in August 2001.

For Lisa Gossels, bringing life to the stories of others is work of the heart. Her goal is to educate. “If I weren’t a filmmaker, I’d be a teacher,” she says. As she travels around the country to attend screenings of her film she always speaks to student groups She hopes her films help to illuminate the lives and stories of people who have chosen to follow their conscience and make a difference in the world. “I make films to empower people and see that each voice matters. I learned from Melodye and the girls in Imagining Peace that I will never lose hope in us as human beings.”#



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