Chicago native Daniel Hymanson’s first feature, So Late So Soon, grew from his longtime relationship with artist and children’s teacher Jackie Seiden. Hymanson started taking her classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago around age five and became a regular visitor to Jackie and late artist husband Don’s house. Shot over a multiyear period, including a stretch when Hymanson lived across the street, So Late So Soon is a lovingly assembled portrait of a (mostly) harmonious couple living in a house dominated by their sculptural installations. Elegant editorial leaps to archival footage expand the crowd-pleaser’s more sorrowful dimensions, as the aging Seidens’ health problems increasingly dominate once-peaceful days.
Hymanson grew up wanting to make films—he asked for a mini-DV camcorder for his bar mitzvah—and first attempted a short about Jackie around age 15. After graduation from Wesleyan with a film studies major, Hymanson began his professional career editing YouTube–destined “15- to 20-minute shoe commercials disguised as daytime talk shows.” His below-the-line credits include associate producer on Sara Dosa’s 2014 The Last Season and the Ross Brothers’ 2015 Western, two nonfiction productions Hymanson credits with teaching him “how important producers and editors in particular could be.”
That perspective proved important: While working on those productions he’d begun shooting So Late, acting as his own producer, editor and DP. His initial conception, titled The Queen of the Battling Butterfly Brigade, its name taken from an elaborate fantasy story Jackie told her students, was “more like what people think of when they talk about hybrid documentaries. The film at the time was about Jackie’s approach to teaching, then her artwork in the house, and had a lot of interviews,” Hymanson recalls, but after around a year, “realized that wasn’t working.” He abandoned all footage from that 60-minute cut and—inspired by films including Allan King’s A Married Couple, Ross McElwee’s Charleen and Terry Zwigoff’s Louie Bluie and Crumb—decided to embrace the unplanned dramatic arcs those vérité works produced, acquiring more editorial and producer support along the way. Shooting ended in 2017; post-production took another two and a half years. The final title, landed on weeks before the film’s premiere, came as Hymanson was looking through scans of Don’s old newspaper clips. “So Late So Soon” was the name of a work made “when he was around my age, around 30—a life-size sculpture of a man [who] actually looked like Don when he was 90.”
Following its premiere at this year’s True/False Film Fest, the film was acquired by Oscilloscope Pictures for release later this year. After the festival, Hymanson returned to live in the Chicago house that was once his subjects’ home: Don has died, while Jackie has moved to a senior apartment complex and, with Hymanson’s help, hopes to sell the house within a year. He’s been shooting a video diary of sorts while living there, in which he appears on camera for the first time in a project for which he “doesn’t have references. I’m figuring it out. For so many decisions I made on So Late So Soon, I’d point to a film I like a lot.” In the future, “I’m thinking about another project about a dog park in New York, this community of people who meet every day—including my mom, who doesn’t actually have a dog.”—VR