Christopher Seufert is a documentary film producer and photographer known equally for portraits and aerial shots. But he started his professional life as an archaeologist, specializing in the impacts of climate change and sea level rise on native populations. A deep love of Cape Cod is the theme that connects all of Seufert's careers.
Have you always lived in Chatham?
I grew up in Chatham and spent most of my 20's and 30's away in San Francisco, Australia, New York City, and Boston. When I got married six years ago, I committed to the Cape full time again and live on the banks of Muddy Creek, which empties past Harwich into Pleasant Bay. Though we love traveling and going into Boston, my wife and I find we have most everything we need in our daily life in just a few square miles of us, including the best burrito place around (The Corner Store), yoga, and good coffee/tea. I do love many towns on the rest of the Cape but like the convenience of being more centrally located here on the elbow. If practicality were no issue I'd live in the wilds of Wellfleet.
What inspired you to become an archaeologist? And why study climate change from that angle?
I did a semester abroad in Rome, Italy in college working for the city of Rome in the Roman forum as a conservateur on the Arch of Septimius Severus (A.D. 203). I loved the combination of the physical techniques we practiced in the field with the academic methods when we returned to the lab to digest findings and make sense of them for the general public. (Also, it's standard in Rome for workers to drink wine on lunch breaks on the scaffolding of a city project.) Then I graduated from Trinity College with a BA in Creative Writing. I had, in addition to that, a strong on-the-job training as an archeologist that I used right away to work as a field technician for the National Park Service. I then decided to up my government pay rating by getting the next education level of training.
My master's thesis (which you can find in the Cape Cod library system or read online here) was a predictive archaeological model of the town of Chatham, which showed where cultural resources (artifacts and human remains) were likely to appear in the present day landscape for the purpose of protecting them from disturbance primarily by construction and utility projects. What resulted was a map that had few areas that one could subtract from consideration due to the fact that the town of Chatham was inhabited and utilized by Native Americans in many different ways over the course of the last 15,000 or so. This is primarily due to the effect of sea level rise. For example, what remains today in town was once just hilltops over looking a vast plain, which is now underwater. Across this plain the paleo-indians could once walk to Nantucket. We are in fact a stage in between glacial periods, which means the earth is warming. If history is right the earth will cool again and this cycle will be happening for millennia to come if we don't screw it up.
How did you get started on photography?
While I studied archaeology in the early nineties I kept my hand in writing as a journalist, first in print and then in television. I worked for the now-defunct Cape 11 News Channel as a videographer. I used this video production experience in my graduate studies to produce documentaries that were distributed commercially to the educational market to colleges, grad programs, and places like the Massachusetts Historical Commission. My program demanded that we publish our work to places that were usable, not just in academia, but in the public realm. So my core media work was video but my company, Mooncusser Films LLC is now multimedia, specializing broadly in video, photography, audio, and new media. There's a great convergence of media going on, as you can see when those NPR reporters are not just getting the story, but recording audio, and shooting video and photos, too.
My current photography book about the late Yarmouth illustrator Edward Gorey actually stems from a documentary that I shot with him before his death from 1996 to 2000. So the photography comes right out of my video background and is hard to separate. With that said, I love the potential immediacy of the one-shot and its ability to hit you at gut level right away.
Do you still dabble in archaeology at all?
I don't, but continue as an avocational archeologist. I've got my head down wherever I trek. My 3 year old son, Ethan, and I found a Monomoyick sharpening stone on Goose Pond in 2009, the only I know of in Chatham. The report is in process now at the Massachusetts Historical Commission. I also believe strongly in protecting archaeological remains from casual pot-hunting and construction projects. My wife, Lisa Genova, has a Ph.D. from Harvard as a neuroscientist but she's a novelist now, so it's what we do in my household.
Where did the idea for a documentary about Henry Beston come from?
The Henry Beston project is the brainchild of producer Don Wilding, who is the director of the Henry Beston Society in Eastham. We work very well together and I'm proud of the freedom he gives me to get the best footage possible.
I'm working as the director/editor of the project and help Don to break the feature-length project into small fundable sub projects that we'll be streaming as webisodes. We'd love it if we can get PBS and/or NPR as distribution partners. We're shooting reenactment sequences with Sandwich actor Chris Kolb, who you'd swear was Beston himself.
What is it like to live - temporarily - in the historic dune shacks at Cape Cod National Seashore?
I've had four dune shack stays now (if you count part of my wife's Artist in Residency), totaling six weeks at the Margo-Gelb, Fowler, and Ray Wells dune shacks. Time off the grid, pumping water by hand, hiking the wilds of the Provincelands, and swimming alone on Peaked Hill Beach helps to keep me grounded and sane, with all that we have going on with three kids. Having totally unstructured, unscheduled time to do whatever strikes you in the moment is a luxury few people get between childhood and retirement. And I am refreshed by reconnecting to the Cape in that way, remembering what it is that I love about this place.