Jay Rosenblatt, Filmmaker

Historical Essay

by Paul Grammatico

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Jay Rosenblatt talks about his beginnings as a filmmaker.

Video by Paul Grammatico, videography by Diallo McLinn

Jay Rosenblatt was born in New York City. He migrated to San Francisco and became a filmmaker in 1980. He has completed over 25 films. He has been a film and video production instructor since 1989 at various film schools in the Bay Area, including Stanford University, San Francisco State University, and the San Francisco Art Institute. He has a Master's Degree in Counseling Psychology and, in a former life, worked as a therapist. His work explores our emotional and psychological cores. The films are personal in their content yet universal in their appeal.

I first came across Rosenblatt’s films in an article on SF Gate which talked about the now defunct Fine Arts Theatre in Berkeley showing them. (The theatre was at the cross streets of Shattuck and Haste Street until June 30, 2002 when it closed and later was torn down. It is now a vegetarian restaurant.) I had never heard of Rosenblatt, as he was never discussed in my film classes at California College of the Arts. Intrigued, I decided to see his films and I was glad that I did as they had a profound effect on me.

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Clip of Human Remains (1998)

Courtesy of Jay Rosenblatt

His films such as Human Remains and I Just Wanted to Be Somebody are short documentaries that show a different side of known persona, including Hitler, Stalin, Franco, Mussolini, and Mao’s personal habits are described in Human Remains and Anita Bryant's vociferous anti-gay stance is taken on in I Just Wanted to be Somebody.

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Clip of King of the Jews (2000)

Courtesy of Jay Rosenblatt

In films such as Phantom Limb, King of the Jews, The Smell of Burning Ants, and The Darkness of Day, Rosenblatt opens up to us about family, childhood trauma, and loss. I feel a sense of sadness and empathy for some of the issues he addresses in his films. There is no doubt that there is a catharsis contained in the frames of his films as he (and we) try to make sense of these feelings that we have in the past and how we can learn from them moving forward.

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Clip of Phantom Limb (2009)

Courtesy of Jay Rosenblatt

I have watched a few of Rosenblatt's interviews, but one stood out to me. The interviewer brings up that Rosenblatt was a therapist in the mental health field and how this was so different than being a filmmaker. Seeing his work, I find him to effectively incorporate his work as a therapist into his films to show that he can display his feelings...and we are allowed to feel right along with him.

Rosenblatt is a recipient of a Guggenheim, as well as USA Artists and a Rockefeller Fellowship. His films have received over 100 awards and have screened throughout the world. A selection had theatrical runs at the Film Forum in New York and at theaters around the country. Eight of his films have been at the Sundance Film Festival and several have shown on HBO/Cinemax, the Independent Film Channel and the Sundance Channel. Articles about his work have appeared in the Sunday New York Times "Arts & Leisure" section, the Los Angeles Times, Filmmaker magazine, and the Village Voice.

To see the complete interview of Jay Rosenblatt, click here.

Get the complete films of Jay Rosenblatt.


Doubt (11 min., USA, 1981)

Blood Test (27 min., USA, 1985)

Paris X 2 (26 min., USA, 1988)

Brain in the Desert (5 min., USA, 1990)

Short Of Breath (10 min., USA, 1990)

The Smell of Burning Ants (21 min., USA, 1994)

Period Piece - Co-directed with Jennifer Frame (30 min., USA, 1996)

Human Remains (30 min., USA, 1998)

A Pregnant Moment (24 min., USA, 1999)

Restricted" (1 min., USA, 1999)

Drop (1 min., USA, 2000)

King of the Jews (18 min., USA, 2000)

Worm (2 min., USA, 2001)

Nine Lives - The Eternal Moment of Now (1 min., USA, 2001)

Prayer (3 min., USA, 2002)

Decidi! (1 min., USA, 2002)

Friend Good (5 min., USA, 2003)

I Used to Be a Filmmaker (10 min., USA, 2003)

I Like It a Lot (4 min., USA, 2004)

I'm Charlie Chaplin (8 min., USA, 2005)

Phantom Limb (28 min., USA, 2005)

Afraid So (3 min., USA, 2006)

I Just Wanted to Be Somebody (10 min., USA, 2006)

Four Questions for a Rabbi (12 min., USA, 2008)

Beginning Filmmaking (23 min., USA, 2008)

The Darkness of Day (26 min., USA, 2009)

The D Train (5 min., USA, 2011)

Inquire Within (4 min., USA, 2012)

The Claustrum (15 min., USA, 2014)

A Long Way From Home (3 min., USA, 2015)