Steamboat Springs graduate, filmmaker explores his family ties for latest project
Max Sauerbrey, a young filmmaker from Steamboat Springs, has set out to document the trials, tribulations and the memories from a lifetime of adventures in Alaska, as seen through the eyes of his grandfather, Chuck Wirschem.
“He had so much passion for exploring outdoors, hunting, fishing, skiing, mountaineering and all of that,” said Sauerbrey, a 2018 Steamboat Springs High School graduate. “But then he lost it, just from getting older basically. I guess what’s most interesting about him now is he still has that spirit and that freedom of the hills, seeking that, but he just doesn’t have the outlet anymore.”
These days the 80-year-old grandfather spends his winters in Anchorage and his summers at the Fox Farm, a remote location that’s a boat ride away from his winter home on the Homer Spit near Kachemak Bay. His physical limitations, and his journey to overcome alcoholism, no longer allow him to pursue his earlier adventures, but Sauerbrey said they are still in his heart.
“He goes to this place, the Fox Farm, where there’s no electricity, there’s no TV, there’s no Wi-Fi and there’s no cell phone service,” Sauerbrey said. “That’s where he makes his art and tries to share it with the world.”
Wirschem uses shells he and his wife find on the beach near the Homer Spit to create art.
“He takes shells from the beach, mussels, sea glass, and he makes different figures that represent Alaskan culture,” Sauerbrey said. “So Orca whales, sea mermaids, clams, starfish … and they sell them. He’s retired so that’s kind of his main activity since he has been physically less enabled to be able to do the things that he loves.”
Not that long ago, Wirschem’s art was recording the adventures he shared with his friends in Alaska with a super 16 camera. A few years back, he gifted the footage to his grandson, and it inspired Sauerbrey’s most recent film project. The young filmmaker hopes to use Kickstarter to find the financial support he needs to complete the project and, in the process, record his grandfather’s story.
“We’re going to up to Alaska at the end of April, and we’re going to be there through May,” Sauerbrey said. “We will be there the entire month, so I’m going to get to talk with him about his past and this place called the Fox Farm.”
With the help of Juliette Benedetto, his girlfriend and business partner, Sauerbrey will blend the 13,000 gigabytes of Super 16 footage, along with vintage photos and Wirschem’s own words, to make a story out of 50 years of adventures.
Sauerbrey also plans to take his grandfather back to the places where his adventures took place to create “The Way It Was,” a documentary that will show Wirschem as he is today before transitioning to his adventures when he was younger and then keying in on his emotions as he revisits the places in the original footage.
Sauerbrey said the idea is to finish an adventure film that Wirschem started 50 years ago.
“I think it would be a shame if all that footage and hard work that my grandfather put into getting it digitized never really had the limelight and never had a place where people could come to see it,” Sauerbrey said. “Personally, connecting with my grandfather on that level was a profound experience. That’s part of the reason why we want to go back and I want to spend more time with him, but we also just want to share this footage and have a place where we as a family, but also other people who may feel inspired by it, can come to see it.”
Sauerbey and Benedetto graduated from Chapman University and now own 2.39 Projects.
“Over the past two years, we’ve co-directed and collaborated on a variety of projects, commercial, documentary and everything in between,” Benedetto said. “We’ve set out tell uncommon stories all over the world to try to help change it for the better.”
John F. Russell is the business reporter at the Steamboat Pilot & Today. To reach him, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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