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Information for the Audience: 

This film is a stream of consciousness narrative inspired by Susan Sontag's account of her first encounter with her then literary idol Thomas Mann as a 14 year old high schooler with literary ambitions living in 1947 LA. It is based on Sontag's 1987 New Yorker magazine essay "Pilgrimage." 
Melissa Chalsma as the inspiration seeking "writer" retraces Sontag's steps.

All my films start with timely encounters with very inspiring people and SUSAN & THOMAS is no exception. In 1993,while doing preproduction on a film project in LA I came across the December 1987 issue of the New Yorker magazine featuring a striking biographical essay by Susan Sontag. "Pilgrimage" was the story of Sontag's own visit with Thomas Mann as a precocious 14 year old schoolgirl living in Los Angeles, a visit marked by admiration, curiosity, shame, and disappointment. 

Susan Sontag was not only an extraordinary writer but one of the most sensitive observers of culture and society. 
My fascination with her story, Mann, LA and its exile and emigre community prompted me to contact her about an on camera reading from her essay to which she courteously and kindly agreed. 
Sadly that never came to pass though we kept in touch over the years and she repeatedly confirmed her support and interest in my project. 
Unfortunately, as all too often the case with non commercial independent work, lack of funding and various other hurdles slowed things down, and I was only able to start production on what became SUSAN & THOMAS shortly after Ms. Sontag's untimely passing in 2004.

Many years later, this film is intended as a humble tribute to this great woman, her intellect and generosity, and as a very personal take on a true story. Though inspired by real life events and circumstances, the characters depicted in the film are fictitious. 

Susan & Thomas tries to evoke the layered, disjointed, and elusive but seamless nature of memory filtered through experience and identification, and though the story is sequential in nature, the non linear visuals mix chronological time showing "the writer" at different times of her life in a non sequential manner retracing Sontag's steps in spacetime. Subtle changes in aspect ratio seek to reinforce this idea.

Like Richard Linklater's Boyhood, SUSAN & THOMAS was intentionally shot over a time period of many years, entirely on location, mostly in Thomas Mann's own San Remo Drive residence in Pacific Palisades where the great master wrote Doctor Faustus. After the lush and historic estate was put on the market, and the John Davidson house extensively remodeled and marked as a teardown, the German government came to the rescue and committed to bringing it back to its former glory. Regardless of that, Susan & Thomas might at the moment give viewers a rare opportunity to see the great author's home as it was prior to its most recent transitions.

SUSAN & THOMAS features other historic LA locations including the Aldous and Laura Huxley's second Hollywood home.

All objects appearing in the film are authentic.

The typewriter seen in the film was owned by Thomas Mann. His secretary Hilda Kahn Reach did the typing as the master was known to always write by hand.

All the signed Thomas Mann books originally belonged to and were given to Mrs. Reach by the master.

Though Sontag's memoir was adapted for the screen, not a single word was changed.

Though designed to defy interpretation, SUSAN & THOMAS may be dubbed a narrative/documentary hybrid.
Completed in November, 2017 SUSAN & THOMAS is yet unreleased.


Directed by: 
Antonello (Tony) Villani
Writing credits: 
Susan Sontag (from her 1987 New Yorker essay, Pilgrimage)
Produced by: 
Antonello (Tony) Villani (producer) Yana Yudelevich (associate producer)
Music by: 
Cinematography by: 
Antonello Villani
Film Editing by: 
Antonello Villani
Release Date: 
Monday, April 10, 2017
Total votes: 1028

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