Tyler Gildin '11 (right) with his grandfather Herb (seated) and his cousin Alex Utay, a producer on the film..

Award-winning filmmaker Tyler Gildin ’11 celebrates family history in latest project

by Micah Castelo

September 25, 2019

‘The Starfish’ to screen at Syracuse International Film Festival Oct. 13

Pictured above: Tyler Gildin '11 (right) with his grandfather Herb (seated) and his cousin Alex Utay, a producer on the film. Photo by Greg Parker.

As an undergraduate student in the television, radio and film program at the Newhouse School, Tyler Gildin ’11, dreamed of writing sketch comedies one day.

After graduation, Gildin wrote and produced videos, and also did stand-up comedy. In 2013, through networking with a fraternity brother, he got a job as the first humor editor of digital publication Elite Daily, and launched the company’s comedy vertical.

Soon after, Gildin was in charge of making videos for Elite Daily, including short-form documentaries that won the publication four New York Emmy Awards. That work there led him to start creating his own films such as “The Starfish,” a 39-minute documentary about the life of his late grandfather, who with his sisters escaped Nazi Germany and lived with non-Jewish families in Sweden before reuniting with their parents in the United States.

“The Starfish” premiered at the Miami Jewish Film Festival in January 2019 and has been screened at the Maryland International Film Festival and the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. It’s also been featured on Daily Mail TV and NowThis News. On Oct. 13, it will be shown at the Redhouse Arts Center  during the 16th annual Syracuse International Film Festival

We chatted with Gildin about retelling his grandfather’s story through film, becoming a documentarian and his number one piece of advice for aspiring filmmakers.

Why did you decide to make “The Starfish”? 

I was at my grandfather’s sister’s funeral in February 2017 [and] my grandfather retold their story. It was really the first time I’d ever heard it from his mouth. It inspired me and made me think, ‘How have I not captured this story yet?’ Then, come that April, Elite Daily was acquired by another company, and I no longer was working there. I realized it was the most free time I’ve had in a couple of years, so I should jump on [filming] this.  

What was it like to produce and direct a documentary about your grandfather and his family?

It was an incredible experience. My grandfather passed away in May, around two years after we initially filmed him. So being able to spend the last two years of my grandfather’s life with him and trying to tell his story is such a special thing that I’ll always cherish. Also, my family always recognized the person that my grandfather was, but to hear him tell his story and for me to put all the pieces together in an artistic way really resonated with them. We take pride in the story, and we appreciate other people who’ve been able to watch the film and feel like they connected with my grandfather as well.

What challenges did you face along the way?

This was the most ambitious piece I’ve done to date and the most footage I’ve worked with. A lot of my work has been short form, so I had to learn the best way to tell the story and hold the audience’s attention throughout the entire piece. I had to figure out which moments would resonate with the most people and how I can make it appealing outside of my family.

Tyler Gildin '11
Tyler Gildin '11 Photo by Carly Tumen.

What do you enjoy the most about filmmaking?

I’ve always enjoyed consuming and creating pieces of great storytelling. It’s just something I always knew I wanted to do, but I don’t think I necessarily knew in what form or what platform. I’m not against other forms of storytelling, but making videos is a visual way to get your story and point across, and there are so many different ways it can be consumed—short-form, long-form, scripted and even social. 

What are some lessons you’ve learned from being in the filmmaking industry?

I think time management is really important—you want to be able to work on multiple projects at once and give them each the time necessary. Also, being a good person has a lot of value because, at the end of the day, production is all about collaboration. And then ultimately, if you work your ass off and you are dedicated to your craft, things will work out.

What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?

We walk around all day with video recording devices like our phones, and we’re living in a world where we’re constantly capturing things. So, if you find an interesting subject and you want to dive into their story, go for it. Just capture it because who knows? Maybe you can turn it into something else later. We have more access to cameras and platforms to put things out there than ever before, so if you want to be a storyteller or a filmmaker, just go do it.

Micah Castelo is a graduate student in the magazine, newspaper and online journalism program at the Newhouse School.