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Pizza Man, Roaming

Over the years I've come to realize what a funny, talented, generous, and fascinating man Jim Hronek is. And since he's also my grandpa, I decided to make a documentary about him. Following him from his backyard jazz parties to New Orleans to the local pizza shop, I hope this video can share a little bit of how cool my grandpa is with even people who have never met him.

  • Ryan Chester
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    26 minutes 56 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    December 22, 2015
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Chagrin Falls Film Festival
    Chagrin Falls, Ohio
    United States
    World Premiere
Director Biography - Ryan Chester

Ryan Chester has been making short films for as long as he can remember. On November 9th, 2015, Ryan was named the winner of the inaugural Breakthrough Junior Challenge on National Geographic's live broadcast of the Breakthrough Prize. He won the challenge by creating a seven minute video explaining Einstein's special theory of relativity. A 2016 graduate of North Royalton High School in North Royalton, Ohio, Ryan now attends Harvard College, where he plans to study film and science. Outside of filmmaking and school, Ryan enjoys playing cooking, playing trombone, composing music, and playing soccer.

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Director Statement

From an early age I remember listening to my grandpa, Jim Hronek, play the trombone at his jazz barn parties. Back then the barn was full of cigarette smoke and I didn't really like the music. But I was clearly influenced by these early experiences, because when I had a choice of instruments in 5th grade band, I chose to play the trombone. It's only with years of practice and of attempting to play along with the musicians at the jazz barn that I've come to appreciate the musical ability of these jazz musicians. Being a trombone player myself, I can attest to how impressive my grandpa's trombone-playing really was.

My grandpa also played a big role in my love of cooking. As a kid I remember my sister and I having "cooking days" with my grandpa, where we prepared spaghetti and meatballs and potato pancakes and breaded veal. Both of us always enjoyed the gumbo and hot peppers that he would make for every barn party.

For years my parents and other adults have commented on how impressive my grandpa's optimism was. Even though he had cancer, and he had two toes amputated, and who knows what other health issues, he always claimed he felt amazing, and he drove my grandma around town everyday to buy a cheeseburger from Swenson's and an ice cream cone from Burger King. He would pick different local restaurants to support regularly. For a while it was a Ukrainian place, and we would often get home from school to find potato pancakes and Ukrainian pastries in our fridge, and we knew Grandpa had stopped by again. But that place closed eventually, and My Pizzetta opened, and once my grandpa went there on the pizza shop's opening day, he never stopped.

He delivered pizzas to everyone: the doctor, workers at other fast food places, but most of all, us. I've probably eaten more pizza from My Pizzetta than anyone else, and my grandpa is certainly their all-time biggest customer.

As my mom spent more time taking my grandpa to the hospital, I got the sense that he wouldn't be around forever. So when I got to go to New Orleans with my family and my grandpa for the first time in the summer of 2015, I decided I would film the trip and make it into a documentary preserving the memory of Jim Hronek for the future. At first, the New Orleans trip was going to be the star of the movie. But I thought my grandpa's frequent visits to the pizza shop were too unique a story to exclude from the film. And that had only been going on for a few years! If I included that, how could I justify not talking about my grandpa's Jazz Barn parties, which had been going on for as long as I could remember? As I interviewed people in New Orleans and at Jazz Barn parties, the amount of material I had to work with quickly expanded into an overwhelming project. I had captured so many insightful interviews and conversations, I felt like this documentary could be hours long.

I ended up doing the majority of the editing in December, and finished the movie in time to give my family copies at Christmas. To make sense of the diverse subject matter of the film, I had to decide on an order. First, I would talk about the Jazz Barn parties, then about New Orleans, and I would finish with the "pizza man" part. I recorded narration to set up these different sections and make them flow together, then basically filled in the gaps with whatever interviews or video clips were relevant, and that which wasn't simply didn't make the film. As far as background music, I mostly stuck to music I recorded at Jazz Barn parties and down in New Orleans, so the experience of watching this movie should really emulate the experience of being there with us.

I guess I had two objectives. I wanted to make a personal film, one that meant a lot to my family, but I also wanted the movie to be engaging enough to engage anyone. I always believed my grandpa was interesting enough that complete strangers would enjoy learning about him.

My grandpa passed away on June 13th, 2016. He was in his home, surrounded by his family. Two days previously, he had thrown one last Jazz Barn party in his backyard. I had to play trombone since he wasn't really up to it. We had a New Orleans-style funeral with a horse-drawn hearse and a group of his musician friends playing at the cemetery. The band played "When the Saints Go Marching In", and I brought my trombone along and helped out. At the funeral home, we played this documentary on one of the TVs, and every guest seemed to be engrossed by it. People who knew us but not my grandpa were able to feel that they knew him and understood what he was all about. We may never hear my grandpa play his trombone in person again, but by taking the time to make this documentary, I preserved a piece of him for our family to cherish for years to come. For that reason, it is the most meaningful movie I've ever made, and possibly the most meaningful film that I will ever be able to make.