“Father the Flame” is the documentary audiences never knew they needed to see.
Premiering Oct. 12 at the Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF), director Chad Terpstra and master pipemaker Lee Erck take viewers on a visually stunning journey chronicling the timeless legacy of the tobacco pipe.
Terpstra brilliantly contests the widespread tradition of pipe smoking being one for the ages with beautiful cinematography and an engrossing story that’ll intrigue even the most reluctant viewer.
The Phoenix had the chance to sit down with Terpstra and editor Scott McCambridge, along with stars Erck and Italian briar cutter, Mimmo.
“I wasn’t interested in making a film about pipes at any point,” Terpstra said. “It was just like ‘oh pipes are great, but let’s leave it at that. We stumbled into the idea a little bit.”
While the film’s premise is simple, there’s much more boiling beneath the surface.
“The film is about pipes, and it’s about [Erck and Mimmo],” Chad said. “But we also put a lot of ourselves and what we wanted to say in it.”
This is a mantra repeated several times throughout the film, particularly by Erck, who said he believes a piece of him resides in every pipe he makes.
The film’s title, “Father The Flame,” is undoubtedly a unique one, stemming from a smoke Terpstra and McCambridge shared on a friend’s porch.
“We were gonna smoke a pipe, and Chad lit his totally fine,” McCambridge said. “I was struggling with mine because the match kept blowing out,” Chad interjected, “[My wife and I] were pregnant with our first kid at the time, so I had a lot of baby stuff on my mind, and for whatever reason I told [Scott] ‘I don’t know, man, you have to, like, father the flame.’”
Terpstra said he’s smoked pipes for ten years and developed a deep love for the pastime.
“It was just a fun thing to do,” Terpstra said. “My dad smoked cigarettes, so there might’ve been something other than the smell that I was interested in.”
McCambridge said producer Jeremy Rush eventually led Terpstra to a friend of his who happened to be related to Erck.
“We ended up doing a phone interview with Lee and the world kept opening up bigger and bigger and became more and more interesting,” Terpstra said.
“The first time we went up to Lee’s place to film, that’s how it all started,” McCambridge said. ”Lee was our introduction to everyone else in the pipe world.”
“Father The Flame” isn’t Terpstra and his team’s first dive into filmmaking, but it was perhaps their most ambitious. Terpstra recalled their trip to Europe.
“We were so low budget, and maybe even inexperienced. … We planned two weeks in Europe … We didn’t give ourselves any time off. It was just day after day, going from here to here to here, filming the whole time. … We didn’t know what we were doing a lot of the time.”
With a seven year production time, “Father The Flame” encapsulates massive efforts from Terpstra and his team, according to Erck.
“It’s mostly about what [Terpstra and his crew] put into it,” Erck said. “The way they put our world together is just remarkable.”
Chad couldn’t be happier about his CIFF debut.
“We submitted to a lot of festivals, and we didn’t get many positive responses,” he said. “[CIFF] was the first festival I’d ever been to as an aspiring filmmaker, so it’s really cool to see it come around full circle.”
“Father The Flame” represents a different pace of life,
“The pipe is such a personal thing,” Erck said. “When you sit down with a group of people that you’re really close to, and you go some old tobacco that you share, it’s like sitting around a campfire. …If you want to sit down and smoke a pipe, You have to sit down and smoke the pipe.”
One can’t help but become nostalgic by the film’s end, reminded of a simpler time which few alive can still remember. Terpstra, Erck, Mimmo and the rest of the team have managed to once again shed light on an age-old tradition, and suspend it in modernity for all to enjoy.