An Interview with DR. Barbara I. Holstein


Please tell us about your background. What or who made you fall in love with cinema? How did you become interested in filmmaking and what did you work on before making Truth is Stranger Than Fiction, A Coming of Age, Selfie Film?

I am a psychologist by training, licensed in the state of New Jersey and in practice for over 35 years with my husband, Russell, also a licensed psychologist. My specialties are positive psychology, transitions in life and women. Before making ‘Truth is Stranger Than Fiction, A Coming of Age, Selfie Film’ I wrote two books for girls: ‘The Truth’ and ‘Secrets’.

Many miraculous moments in my life led to me meeting a director who loved my books and agreed to mentor me as we turned my books into a play. That happened about 8 years ago and the play, called ‘The Locket’ changed and evolved over 3 years of local productions. Originally 8 different girls played the central character as she came of age between girlhood and being a teen. In the last rendition of the play we had one girl play the ‘girl’ and a woman play her adult self. This led to a local production in Howell, New Jersey at the Grange, 6 performances that were sold out.

What was emerging was a character that would stand the test of time as a character in a book, in plays and now in films. This character, with no name, as she represents all of us, would now in films display aspects of coming of age that are psychologically important for normal development.


I understand you are an experienced psychologist. What are the themes/issues you try to reflect in your films? How has your profession affected your approach to filmmaking and storytelling?

As an experienced psychologist I decided in my films to focus on important coming of age issues. In the first film, ‘The Truth, A Short Film’ the girl is moving from childhood to the early teen years, as in my two books mentioned above and the play renditions. This film and the next two cover her growth and issues from about 11 to 13. At least 15 coming of age issues are explored in these 3 films, including: adjusting to a move, dealing with a new paper, feeling not heard by her parents, a first crush, yearning to be in her best friend’s family instead of hers. Worrying about puberty, feeling shame and embarrassment, finding ways to be resilient and more. Later films have moved past the books. One of the delights of these films is that they arouse in us so many old feelings and incidents that we have had. When I watch the audience in film festivals, I see them laugh, sigh and groan as they are suddenly reliving parts of themselves!



Where did the idea for the film come from? How long did it take to get formed into what it is now?

Each of my selfie films have come from memories of my own coming of age days and those of my clients and the world we live in today. The ideas in ‘Life is Stranger Than Fiction, A Coming of Age, Selfie Film’ came from the world we live in, where often families keep secrets of all sorts.


Could you talk about the technique ‘Selfie Filmmaking’? What does it mean and what are its characteristic features?

Selfie filmmaking is an innovative process I experimented with in ‘The Truth, a Short Film’. I was trying to find a way to get the actress to relax and give an intense performance. Discussions with the editor, John Sellers, led to a decision to ask her to film her own scenes on her smartphone. It turned out that her scenes increased dramatically in intensity and a sense of communication between her and the audience. So far all of my films employ the Selfie Method of filming. Over 100 selections and awards indicate that the judges and audiences at festivals and competitions are accepting and rewarding this form of filmmaking.


We were amazed at this difference in quality and as a psychologist I became convinced that actors allowed to do their own filming, now that smartphones make that possible, can move emotionally much closer to their audience, than is the case with a crew hovering around them. I know this is true with kids and adolescents. I am now just experimenting with adults.


What are the advantages and disadvantages of independent filmmaking and working with small budgets? Does it liberate the filmmaker or limit his or her freedom? How do you think filmmakers can overcome the problems that arise when making independent films?

This is a question somewhat out of my ball park. I’ve never made a film with a budget more than a few thousand dollars. What I can say is the editor is critical to filmmaking. Whatever budget you have, don't skip on paying the editor a decent wage.


What were the challenges that you faced when making this film? Tell us about the production and your experiences of making the film.

‘Truth is Stranger Than Fiction, A Coming of Age, Selfie Film’ was a lot of fun to make. We used a drone for a scene of the school building where there had been a Lock Down. I played the aunt and that was a challenge, as I was sick that morning. But as they say, the show must go on. It was a complex day of filming as we really had a small film within the larger one. LockDown, which was important but not the only theme in this film, became very important as a short film on its own later and has been in many festivals.


Tell us about your festival run. Have film festivals provided you with the experience and exposure you needed?

‘Truth is Stranger Than Fiction, A Coming of Age Selfie Film’ was shown twice right before the Pandemic pushed all of us indoors. I enjoyed seeing it and felt a sense of pleasure and excitement and almost shyness as I saw it on the big screen, and realized I was behind its creation. After those two times, even though it has been selected and awarded many times, I’ve never seen it again at a festival. The pandemic has limited exposure and building filmmaker relationships.


What was the reaction of those who watched your film? Was the feedback what you hoped for?

Feedback has been good but limited.


Please tell us about your future project(s). What are you working on? Are you planning to explore the Selfie Filmmaking technique more?

Right now I’m in the beginning stage of a new Selfie Film, called: ‘Can Dreams Come True.’ In fact yesterday we just filmed a beautiful forest scene of little girls dancing that will become a dream in the woman’s mind that helps her resolve issues with her husband. In this film, Tara London, a noted local actress will star as the same ‘girl’ now a woman and will do a lot of her scenes with her smartphone. I can’t wait to see how this film comes out. I definitely want to continue exploring the Selfie Filmmaking Technique more.


By nature I am a visionary, so at the same time I have other ideas on board. Just finished a trilogy of scripts about love. During the Pandemic we did dramatic readings of the scripts on zoom and now I have to make all three in films. Titles are: ‘Life is Complicated’, ‘I Had an Affair or did I’ and ‘I Had an Affair With my Husband.’