LRFF Programmer Levi Agee talks with "A Sister's Call" director Kyle Tekiela
I’ll admit I’m subject to bawling my eyes out during tearjerkers with
melancholic scores or manipulative sentimental imagery but rarely do I
get to see a film that I can connect with so strongly on an emotional
level. Rebecca Schaper and Kyle Tekiela’s film A Sister’s Call
resonated with me immediately on first viewing. The film is about
Rebecca’s journey to find her brother Call who has paranoid
schizophrenia and has been missing for over 20 years and bring him
back into the family but really it’s about so much more than that. I
was lucky enough to talk with Kyle, the film’s co-director and editor
about this truly unbelievable film about family, mental illness, and
truth. The film plays at 4:45 on Friday at the Riverdale 10 Theater
and again on Sunday at 11:20 am.
First of all tell me about your film and why should people go see it
at the Little Rock Film Festival?
“A Sister’s Call” is an extremely personal story about a woman named
Rebecca who finds her missing schizophrenic brother Call after 20
years and spends the next 14 years doing everything in her power to
help him in his journey to recovery – and in the process healing
herself from her dark and disturbing past. It’s unique in the sense
that we literally spend 14 years with our subjects – from 1997 to 2011
– exploring this complex roller coaster of emotions, all under the
watchful eye of a camera. We come to find out that even though the
story begins with the discovery of the long-believed-dead brother
Call, the real struggle is lies within Rebecca’s own family as her
husband and daughters try and come to terms with a newly invigorated
and obsessed, even absent mother/wife trying to make sense of her new
circumstances. But now we are only just getting started… you’ll have
to watch the film for the big twist!
I will say one thing though, people walk out from seeing this film
somehow changed, some people can’t even speak. This one guy came up to
me after a screening with tears in his eyes and told me he just called
his brother who he hasn’t spoken to in 7 years and told him he loved
him. Stories like that are why I became a filmmaker in the first
You co-directed with the film alongside Rebecca Schaper who is also
one of the subjects in the movie, what was your experience working
with her as well as filming her personal story?
Working with Rebecca was a true partnership in every sense of the
word. Rebecca had been filming this documentary for 10 years before
she met me. She needed an editor and randomly found me through a
friend of a friend of my wife. We had coffee one day and immediately I
could tell that Rebecca had a special energy about her, and she tells
me that she immediately knew I was the perfect person to tell her
story. A good hour later she pulled out a box of about 200 hours of
footage and handed it to me with a big smile and said “I’m giving you
my life, don’t mess it up!”
It was not easy making this film, I spent about 6 months just going
through all the footage and digesting the information. I didn’t have a
rough cut for about 2 years after our initial meeting, but Rebecca was
so patient and encouraging. She gave me the space I needed to take the
film in the direction I thought it should go, trusting me and my
judgement every step of the way. It took 4 years in edit to finish the
film and we couldn’t be happier with the final cut.
Do you think your news and commercial work prepared you for this documentary?
I think it’s fair to say that nothing can prepare someone for a
project like “A Sister’s Call”. My work experience before “A Sister’s
Call” was mostly in short form documentary and movie trailer editing,
so taking on something as massive as “A Sister’s Call” was a daunting
and at times extremely torturous plight. Me being the only creative
eye in a dark room for hours upon hours trying to assemble this
impossible puzzle was maddening. My mood changed, I became unhealthy,
pale, exhausted… I felt like i was digging a hole that I never
thought I would get out of – and this lasted for 4 years. Honestly, i
have no idea how I am still married after all that, my wife is a
This film deals with mental illness and more specifically paranoid
schizophrenia, do you think there are misconceptions about the illness
and do you think the film gives an accurate depiction of the disease
or do you think Call’s case was unique in your opinion?
I don’t think many people truly understand what paranoid
schizophrenia is. While making this documentary i’ve learned that it
is such a liquid illness. There is no exact mold for diagnosis, and
even worse there’s no exact treatment. It’s a guessing game, mixing
different pills and treatments like some sort of witches brew. In the
case of Call, an extremely sweet and at times very lucid man who can
remember dates and places like some kind of Rain Man would drift into
periods of disillusionment and extreme paranoia full of voices telling
him he’s going to “burn” – all of which are as real and normal to him
as a normal day is to us. The film captures all these moments, the
good and the bad without bias or judgement. It is simply shown as it
happened, open to interpretation. That was a goal from day one – teach
the audience about the illness simply by letting them experience it in
all its beauty and horror.
What was the hardest part about making the film and what was the best part?
The hardest part by far was editing the hundreds of hours of footage
into something that anybody can follow and understand without boring
them to death. The best was getting to know this truly wonderful and
incredible family on a very intimate level. I honestly can say I have
never met a more inspiring group of people in my entire life than
Rebecca and her family. And believe it or not they’re hilarious! They
have a very active sense of humor.
Was there ever a point while filming you didn’t feel comfortable
shooting or were worried about showing an intimate moment in this
My most memorable experience was when we filmed the dinner table
scene with the family. About halfway through the dinner, the
conversation became very serious and intense. They started talking
about things that they never talked to each other about before, their
fears and true feelings were spilling out for the first time in front
of the camera and to me it felt like time slowed down and I remember
the hairs perking up on the back of my neck as I was filming. By the
end of the night I think everybody knew that something special just
happened. We all talked about it afterwords and the family said to me
“use it all if you want, it’s what really happened”. It is that
openness and raw honesty that makes this family so special. I believe
it is also the reason that after so many terrible events in their
lives, they are still as happy and loving a family as ever. They are
truly special people.
Has Call seen the film?
Call loves the film! We’ve played about 6 screenings on the east
coast and Call came to all of them. He loves getting on stage
afterwords and answering questions and meeting people. He gets tired
pretty quickly but he is amazing to watch! I love that guy.
Were there any deleted scenes or plots from the film that were cut
that you wished could have made it in the final film? I noticed some
extras available on the website (www.asisterscall.com).
No plots were deleted but scenes definitely. Let me tell you, it’s
very difficult to fit 14 years into 76 minutes! Of the scenes we had
to cut, my favorite was this makeover scene we shot before Call goes
to his 40 year high school reunion. We filmed Call working out, going
to a spa, shopping… we had a lot of fun that day. Call is a riot!
What has been the response from audiences who have seen the film?
As I mentioned before, people walk out very effected by this film. It
touches people on a primal level. People email me a week or so after
screenings telling me they are still talking about it and taking it
all in. We have been fortunate enough to partner with many mental
health organizations and even colleges who set up screenings for their
members and students. They turn it into an event of sorts and the
feedback is always very encouraging. We wanted this film to be a
conversation starter about issues that are taboo and so far its been a
very successful tool in doing just that.
Any future projects lined up?
Too many! I’m working on a docu-series about this amazing non-profit
called BeRemedy (BeRemedy.org) who use social media to meet needs
across the country. I’m also producing a few narrative features that
will be announced soon including one that takes place during World War
II in the Jim Crow south.
What are you looking forward to about coming to Little Rock and
showing at the film festival?
1. The infamous southern hospitality
2. Seeing fellow Kartemquin Films Labs grad “Andrew Bird: Fever Year”
3. Having engaging dialogue with the audience after our screenings.
4. The free beer for filmmakers! Gotta love that!
(Not necessarily in that order)