One to watch: KOBI

Good talked to Andrea Bosshard, director of the new acclaimed film KOBI, which looks into the life of her father Kobi Bosshard, regarded as the grandfather of contemporary New Zealand jewellery. Despite now approaching 80 years old, Kobi still continues to work in modest workshop in Central Otago, producing pieces characterised by a simplicity and timelessness treasured by the thousands who wear them.  

Andrea, what inspired you to make this film?
The seeds were sown many years ago. When I was 20, I made a short Super 8 documentary on my father, goldsmith Kobi, Bosshard, and in many ways, our feature documentary KOBI is a more sophisticated and thorough version of that first little film.

Also, there had just been a large 50 year retrospective show of Kobi’s work travelling through public galleries. At the same time, art historian Damian Skinner wrote a book about Kobi (Kobi Bosshard: Goldsmith). It seemed an appropriate time to make the film. I wanted to consider Kobi in the context of a whole life, not just a professional life.

How would you describe the film?
Bill Gosden, director of the NZ International Film Festival described it as “a lyrical evocation of rich, unhurried life”. Yes, that does sum it up for me.

What was your biggest learning during making this film?
It was a discovery really – the realisation of the emotional relationship people have with Kobi’s jewellery. I hadn’t known just how important his work is to the people of New Zealand on a personal level. The stories people shared with me about pieces of jewellery that connected them back to someone cherished, or a time and place in their life, with Kobi’s work serving as the catalyst for that memory. That was a wonderful discovery.

The film had a fantastic response from its debut screenings at NZIFF, what was the audience reaction?
As filmmakers dealing with the material everyday over a long period of time, you lose the ability to be affected emotionally by it. You can no longer see it with fresh eyes. So the audience responses at the festival screenings did take us by surprise. There was a consistently emotional reaction, people were really touched by the story, and by Kobi’s obvious modesty – not a quality that we see a lot of in the public arena. Many people would come up to talk to us afterwards, and their eyes would suddenly well up. I think the film touches the core of life – growing up, growing old, and the inevitability of death – and in our busy, noisy world, we don’t give ourselves the time and space to ponder on these things.

What message(s) or points for conversation would you like audiences to take away?
Our film is a deliberate response to the fragmentation of our lives. In the film, Kobi tells a young goldsmith, “The work we do comes out of the life we live, so we have to have a life to start with.” The message? Have a life, slow down, take your time, take pleasure in the beauty of the small things around us. We also wanted to convey the importance of having trust in the capabilities of one’s hands in an era where manual skills are seen as secondary to intellectual abilities.

The slow movement and a focus on mindfulness is an interesting theme in the KOBI film, can you expand on this?
We live in a time where our lives are very fragmented, noisy and busy. Young people are told to expect to change their careers several times over their life. Yet here is a man who has dedicated his entire life to making jewellery and often the same pieces over and over again – and look what can be achieved when there is that commitment! Slowness, patience, quiet, taking pleasure in small things, are ways of being that are increasingly disappearing in our busy world. And for our own sanity, we have to learn how to access these qualities again. There is a lot of talk today about mindfulness, but we don’t often get to see it in practice; see what it looks like. KOBI is portrait of a man who practices mindfulness subconsciously in every aspect of his life.

GOOD is for conscious living people, who love life, style and the planet – what are your thoughts on these subjects and how are they present in your life?
To live a good life is the right of all people, and not just those who can afford it. As Kobi says in the film, we have a responsibility to protest when things are not right. In our neo-liberal world, many people are struggling with day to day material challenges – food, shelter, employment, healthcare. We need to be fighting collectively for these, as well as those other things that make for a rich life for all – education, music, arts etc. Politically, I feel pretty disillusioned with the inequality that exists, and the exploitation and destruction of the planet. However, in order to be effective in the big struggle, it is important to find joy and pleasure and a sense of purpose in my everyday life. Always having flowers (and I don’t mean florist shop flowers) in the house is a good start, as is tai-chi and taking the time to sit down every evening to a meal with Shane, my partner in life and work.

“The work we do comes out of the life we live … so we have to have a life to start with.” – Kobi

And Kobi, what inspired you to learn the jewellery craft?
I grew up in a goldsmithing household. Both my father and my grandfather were goldsmiths and engravers, so it was always part of my life. I loved spending time in my father’s workshop. He realised how much I enjoyed it and set up a small workbench for me. I got a lot of satisfaction from making simple pieces of jewellery. There was an expectation that I would go to university, but I was really sick of school, and adamant that I wanted to do a goldsmithing apprenticeship. My father, who was a very cultured man, was secretly pleased. He always had the opinion that we need intelligent people in the trades as well.

What do you love most about your craft?
It connects me to people who, hundreds of years ago, worked metal in very similar ways that I do now. I make things that people can put their own value on, that they make the piece of jewellery their own and give the piece meaning. All I did was make it. It is important though, that each piece I make is open enough to invite multiple responses and isn’t already laden with my own meaning.

What advice would you give to other ‘makers’?
Just work. Trust in your hands. Don’t pretend, don’t intellectualise your work. Don’t design your work, then make it. The best work comes out of practice, not the planning. Do the best you can, have patience and realise things don’t happen all in one go – it takes a long time for work to evolve. Have patience and don’t go looking for shortcuts.

How would you describe the film?
I think it’s a beautiful film. For me, it’s a film about life – less about me personally and more about life full-stop. That is why I’m not embarrassed to tell people to go and see it, and why I like to watch it myself.

What message(s) or points for conversation would you like audiences to take away?
I think the film does encourage people to think about their own lives. While the specifics of the story may be dissimilar to audiences, there are many more elements and themes in the film to which people can relate directly to – like growing up, getting older, death. And this is, I think, one of the strengths of the film. It is bigger and more expansive than simply being a story of a Swiss goldsmith.

Good magazine is for conscious living people, who love life, style and the planet – what are your thoughts on these subjects and how are they present in your life?
I believe in fairness. I am very conscious that there are huge numbers of people living in poverty, and also, that those of us who don’t, have no real understanding of the impact it has on a person’s life, and therefore there is no sense of urgency to do something about it. We all have an obligation to alleviate poverty however and wherever we can. How my love for life and the planet present in my life? I can’t say it better than the film shows.

KOBI opens in New Zealand cinemas on March 8, 2018.  

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