Schenectady County

Son’s chats with Niskayuna mom make funny, moving viewing on YouTube

Joshua Seftel wants to know what his mom thinks of Alec Baldwin.

Joshua Seftel wants to know what his mom thinks of Alec Baldwin.

He notes that Baldwin has been a source of controversy lately. In July, the popular actor was accused of using gay slurs in a Twitter rant directed at a reporter. Last December, he was kicked off a plane after he refused to stop playing Words with Friends.

“That’s the game you like, right?” Joshua Seftel asks.

“Yeah, I love that game,” replies Pat Seftel. As for Baldwin, she’s clearly a fan. “He’s tops at what he does,” she says. “He’s really great. It’s in his private life that he needs help.”

In many ways, the conversation is a typical mother-son exchange.

But the discussion, which takes place via video chat, with Seftel sitting in front of a computer and his mother speaking into an iPad, is being recorded. Later, Seftel will edit it and turn it into the latest episode of the touching and funny YouTube-based series “My Mom on Movies.”

A 1986 Niskayuna High School graduate, Seftel, 45, lives in New York City, where he runs the Manhattan-based production company Seftel Productions. He has directed documentaries, commercials, television shows such as “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” and one feature film, 2008’s “War, Inc.,” which starred John Cusack and Marisa Tomei.

Seftel’s mother, Pat Seftel, 76, is a retired therapist who splits the year between her home on Rosendale Road in Niskayuna and Sarasota, Fla.

Initial impulse

The spark for “My Mom on Movies” was lit about four years ago, after Seftel’s father, Lee Seftel, who served as chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Ellis Hospital from 1985 to 2000, died.

“I felt I wasn’t as in touch with my mom as I would have liked,” Seftel said, noting that his father had always been the parent who emailed, and that his death seemed to coincide with an overall decline in phone use. In an effort to improve communication, he purchased an iPad for his mother, who took to the device immediately.

“She was using FaceTime, playing games, using email,” Seftel said. “I thought, ‘Now I can film her again, the way I used to.’ ”

In the past, Seftel had filmed his parents discussing his work; the clips were sometimes included as extras when his films were released on DVD. For the DVD release of his 1996 documentary “Taking on the Kennedys,” which told the story of what happened when a political novice, physician Kevin Vigilante, challenged Patrick Kennedy for a U.S. House seat, he filmed his parents recalling their reaction to the news that he was doing a film on one of America’s most powerful political dynasties.

“I always knew I wanted to film my parents,” Joshua Seftel said.

Each episode of “My Mom on Movies” is brief — about two minutes. Though the name of the show suggests that Seftel and his mother discuss films, their conversations frequently touch upon other topics, such as pop singer Justin Bieber and his pet monkey, whistleblower Edward Snowden, and the fact that Kanye West and Kim Kardashian named their infant North West. To the Seftels, entertainment and current events are simply jumping off points for a more meaningful conversation.

About connecting

“The show is about connecting,” Joshua Seftel said. “It’s about two different generations connecting, which is something we need to do more of. It’s also about giving my mom a voice, about giving someone her age a voice.” He said that his mother has “an insightfulness, a wisdom and clarity and straightforwardness.”

“I don’t tell her what we’re going to talk about,” he said. “I try to pick topics she’ll be excited about.” He said he’s learned a lot from their video chats, such as the fact that his mother danced on American Bandstand as a teenager, and the origin of his middle name, Rand. In the episode on the name North West, Pat Seftel tells her son that she was driving down Van Vranken Avenue before he was born, saw a blind store named Rand and thought it would make a good middle name.

One of the more popular episodes centered on a discussion of actor Bradley Cooper’s mother, Gloria, and the fact that Cooper lives with her.

“What do you think about them living together?” Joshua Seftel asks. “Do you think that’s nice?”

“Oh, yeah,” Pat Seftel replies. “If they’re getting along.”

“How would you like it if I lived with you?” Joshua Seftel asks.

“I’d love it,” his mother says. “It would be like a dream come true.”

When Joshua Seftel asks why, his mother says, “I like you and I miss you. But I don’t know if it would be so good for you.” She tells him, “I’d probably drive you a little crazy.”

Joshua Seftel said that his mother’s background as a therapist is evident in their conversations. “She knows a lot about people, and I think she brings that to her analysis,” he said.

“As a therapist, I’m always analyzing human behavior,” Pat Seftel said. “People are really interesting. I don’t think there’s anything more interesting.”

Enjoyable process

During an interview at her house on Rosendale Road, she said she enjoyed doing “My Mom on Movies.”

“I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy it,” she said. She said she appreciates her son’s interest in her opinions, and “also that I’m in contact with him. We’re doing something together.”

Joshua Seftel agreed.

“We talk more than we used to,” he said. “We’re partners on a project. We’re collaborators.”

Seftel attended Tufts University in Medford, Mass., and planned to attend medical school after graduation. But he abandoned those plans to pursue his dream of becoming a filmmaker, which initially disappointed his parents.

“When he said he wanted to make movies, we were heartbroken,” Pat Seftel said. “We were so upset.” But she said it was the right decision. “It’s a good thing that Josh knew what he wanted.”

Joshua Seftel lives in New York City, but was home in Niskayuna last week for a short family vacation.

In his documentaries, he has tackled a wide range of topics.

He won an Emmy at 22 for the PBS documentary “Lost and Found,” about Romania’s orphaned and abandoned children. A more recent film, 2013’s “It’s a Hard-Knock Life,” is a behind-the-scenes look at a production of the musical “Annie.” He is also an executive producer of the award-winning TV show “The Secret Life of Scientists & Engineers.”

Seftel said he makes a point of taking on projects that have an “educational or activist element. When I decided not to be a doctor, I felt I had to do something to make up for that, that I should do good work.”

“My Mom on Movies” launched on May 1. So far, 19 episodes have been filmed.

Brief interludes

Joshua Seftel said he thinks the show’s brief running time works well.

“I kind of think that’s how the Internet works these days,” he said. “People want a quick little experience, something they can watch while having a snack or between emails. I almost think of the episodes as little bonbons.”

Toward the end of the Alec Baldwin episode, Joshua Seftel asks his mother whether she thinks the actor is handsome.

“Yes,” Pat Seftel replies.

“Would you go on a date with him?” Joshua asks.

“My, God, he’s an expectant father!” his mother exclaims.

“Well, if he wasn’t,” Joshua Seftel says.

“Well, he is kind of cute,” his mother replies, and the episode comes to an end.

To watch “My Mom on Movies,” visit

Reach Gazette reporter Sara Foss at 395-3193 or [email protected]

Categories: Life and Arts

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