The Extraordinary Life of a Master Goldsmith
The Extraordinary Life of a Master Goldsmith
Following its fantastic screenings at the NZ International Film Festival, the moving and inspiring documentary KOBI returns to cinemas on March 8. MiNDFOOD was lucky enough to speak to both the subject and the director of this special local film – Kobi Bosshard and his daughter Andrea Bosshard.
You have had a long and successful career as a jeweller. What has inspired you to keep going?
What else would I do with my time? (laughs) Making jewellery is something I can do well, I can still do it, I still enjoy making it, and there are still plenty people out there wanting my work.
What first compelled you to want 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.
Do you have a favourite piece?
No. However there are some pieces such as the bangles (elliptical and the square to round) which I have made since the 60’s. I still make these today and they have not succumbed to the fickleness of fashion. They are still up to date and will be so for a long time. There is a satisfaction in that.
And a memorable moment from your career?
Sometimes you make something yet it seems to make itself, and retrospectively you realise that something great has happened. This has happened a few times in my life at my workbench, and this is exciting. You don’t know what you are doing, it’s something you’ve never done before, it’s not something you have designed or planned, but you just follow where it leads you.
There is a sense of treasuring slowness throughout the documentary. Is this important to you?
I wouldn’t call it slowness. What it is for me is to stay with the job through all its processes. Some of the processes take a lot of time, like hammering or filing. People sometimes ask me why I don’t give those ‘menial’ tasks to an apprentice or someone else. I always do this work, I do the whole thing myself because it keeps me with the job. And I like that meditative time, filing for example, where my mind can wander but my hands still know what to do.
Can you describe your philosophy on life and work?
All life is about growing up and getting older and eventually dying. For me, it is important to come to terms with oneself, to be at peace with oneself, and I am fortunate in that my work and the pace of my work gives me the space to meditate on these things.
Why did you decide to make a film about your father’s incredible career as a jeweller?
When I was 20, I made a very short, very rough Super 8 documentary on Kobi, 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 his work travelling through public galleries. At the same time, art historian Damian Skinner wrote a book about Kobi (Kobi Bosshard: Goldsmith) and 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 did you begin and carry out the process?
My partner and fellow filmmaker Shane Loader and I gathered material and shot footage over four years. We spent a lot of time simply filming Kobi and my mother Patricia Bosshard-Browne as they went about their daily life. We realised early on that we needed to spend that time so they became used to our camera and were relaxed around it. And we also needed time filming to get the breadth of material to make a film that feels substantial.
What was the main message you wanted to convey?
The film we made was not the film we thought we’d be making! Making a documentary, you have to be open to the unexpected paths that inevitably emerge on the journey. So to a large extent, it is not until you have all the footage in front of you and begin the editing process, do you get a sense of what the material conveys. Slowness, the need for taking one’s time, was, we knew from the beginning, an important part of the film. 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. What emerged retrospectively, is the importance of accepting the ageing process and the inevitability of death. There is a lot of talk today about mindfulness, and here is a portrait of a man who practices this subconsciously in every aspect of his life.
How did you convey this?
Shane and I wanted to make a poetic documentary [and] I think we achieved this with both the mainly classical music soundtrack and the cinematography. And crucial to the ability to make a poetic film, is the requirement to have a large library of diverse footage. So we filmed a lot of landscape and flowers and insects – all sorts of seemingly unrelated things, but what a French first assistant director we once worked with called ‘spirit shots’. We never knew when we might need such an image. One that comes to mind is the shot of an immense willow tree which we use while Kobi takes on board the news of the imminent death of one of his oldest friends. It’s both emotional and poetic. You can’t predict what will work and what won’t, hence the requirement to spend the time and effort to gather these images.
There is a sense of the joy in the small things to be found in this film. Is this something that is important to you?
We live in an era 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.
KOBI is a warm and humorous portrait of Swiss goldsmith Kobi Bosshard, widely regarded as the grandfather of contemporary New Zealand jewellery. It is both a meditation on growing up and growing old as we watch Kobi in his lifelong commitment to the daily practice of his craft.
Visit madmanfilms.com.au/kobi to buy tickets.