Jeremy Teicher ’10 directs film in Senegal
By James Peng, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, July 6, 2012
While some Dartmouth graduates pursue jobs in traditional fields such as finance and medicine, Jeremy Teicher ’10 went a different route by directing a feature film that tells the fictional narrative of two Senegalese girls.
Teicher, who finalized his work, titled “Tall as the Baobab Tree,” in May, recently began submitting his movie to film festivals.
“The hope is that we have a really great run at high-profile festivals around the world that will lead to a good distribution field,” Teicher said.
“Tall as the Baobab Tree,” which was filmed in the West African language of Pulaar, follows a teenage girl who devises a plan to prevent her younger sister from entering into an arranged marriage.
The “ultra-low” budget movie was staged in a small African village with Senegalese actors. Teicher completed filming last summer and has already translated the footage, adding subtitles and fine-tuning the sound.
The idea for the film arose from a documentary Teicher made in Senegal two summers ago. Titled “This is Us,” his documentary gave Senegalese students the opportunity to videotape and narrate stories about their own lives.
Teicher found one girl’s short film about how only some of her siblings were “picked” to go to school while others were chosen to follow alternative paths particularly compelling. Boys were typically selected to perform a lifetime of labor, while girls were forced into arranged marriages in their early teens.
“As a storyteller, that story stuck in my imagination,” Teicher said.
Teicher decided then that he wanted to make a narrative feature film, which he considered a “real rite of passage” for aspiring movie directors. Initially, Teicher planned to film in New York City, but the project was unsuccessful.
“What I really needed was the budget and the collaborators to make something of professional quality,” Teicher said.
Teicher decided to expand and fictionalize the story from his Senegalese documentary project. Last spring he began writing the script, hiring collaborators and finding companies to sponsor the film.
Teicher contacted the Senegalese students with whom he had previously worked and gathered feedback about the cultural authenticity of the script, he said.
“I would think of something that would happen in the script, and they would tell me stories and anecdotes of things that actually happened,” Teicher said.
Teicher said that preserving the authenticity of the village’s culture and being “true to its voice” were important during the writing process. He described the script as more of a “plot outline” than a traditional script.
“Rather than forcing [the actors] to memorize lines, I would tell them what happened in each scene, and they would improvise the dialogue,” he said.
The filming took place in the same village in which Teicher made the documentary and featured some of the same children.
Teicher said that the most difficult part of the movie-making process was dedicating himself to a project that might not be successful.
“One of the biggest challenges was waking up and seeing a lot of my friends going to their corporate recruiting jobs and making a lot of money,” he said. “I was waking up being completely in charge of my own day. The possibility of failure was very real.”
Teicher also said he had to overcome the logistical challenges of filming in a rural African village with no electricity.
Alexi Pappas ’12, who helped Teicher write the film’s script, said that Teicher was very calm during the filming process.
“Jeremy is one of the most confident people that I know, and I think that’s really important in a director because they’re the ones overseeing the whole process,” Pappas said.
Pappas said she believes Teicher is making a “bold and brave” move by becoming an independent filmmaker.
“It’s a high-risk, high-reward job and he’s cut out for that,” she said.
Teicher, who majored in English modified with film, said he first traveled to Senegal during an off-term his junior year to make an infomercial for a nonprofit organization.
He returned to Senegal the summer after graduating to make the documentary, which was funded by the Dickey Center for International Understanding’s Lombard Fellowship, a grant given to 15 Dartmouth students each year to fund public service projects upon graduation.
“It’s a really unique time, where kids are going to school for the first time, and cultural clashes are happening between the old and young generations,” he said.
Teicher said that though he has not yet capitalized on the film, he is glad that he pursued its production.
“Filming was very tiring, but it was definitely an amazing experience,” he said.