20 questions with Mark Hoffe

Published on June 23, 2014
Newfoundland filmmaker Mike Hoffe’s latest project is an interactive documentary exploring the lives of the “Bubble Dancers” — the usually hidden dishwashers of the St. John’s restaurant scene.
— Submitted photo

Filmmaker Mark Hoffe says he has a soft spot for the underdog. From profiling people addicted to drugs to nurses addicted to the very narcotics they administer to patients, he chooses these types of stories to show and celebrate the resilience of the human spirit.

“I hate stereotypes and discrimination,” he explains.

“Those can really damage a person’s self-image and sense of self-worth.”

With his company, Mad Mummer Media, founded in 2009, Hoffe has created films like “Snarbuckled,” “The Needle and the Damage Undone,” and “Sister Morphine,” which debuted over the weekend at the Nickel Independent Film Festival and will air air on CBC TV July 19.

Hoffe has also just launched “Bubble Dancers,” the province’s first interactive documentary, co-produced by the National Film Board, in which he explores the lives of dishwashers working in the St. John’s restaurant industry.

“My producing partner, Brad Gover and I both worked in kitchens in our early 20s and began as dishwashers, so we pitched the idea of doing an interactive story,” Hoffe says of how the pair responded to a call by the NFB and the Newfoundland and Labrador Film Development Corp. for “new wave” projects.

“We were attracted to dishwashers because, as ‘Bubble Dancers’ shows, they often come from all walks of life and have very intriguing stories beyond the mundane duties of their job.

“The cooks and chefs always get the glory and the servers always get the tips, so it was time to shine the spotlight on the dish pit.”

“Bubble Dancers” profiles 10 dishwashers. From musicians, students, recent immigrants, retired cooks and drifters, the documentary aims to challenge ideas about the occupation, which is often invisible.

It is hidden, Hoffe says, within a cloud of steam and drowned out  by the clanging of pots and pans.

Defining someone by their job or habits is never good practice, Hoffe says.

“Take the time to talk to someone long enough and you’ll always come away with something to offer you a new perspective.”

Check out “Bubble Dancers” at http://bubbledancers.nfb.ca/#/bubbledancers.

What is your full name?

Mark Hoffe.


Where and when were you born?

My parents lived in Mount Pearl when I was born in 1976, but St. John’s was home within a year.


Where’s home today?

Right now I live in Conception Bay South, but plan to move back into St. John’s sometime this summer. Hopefully, with a view of the sunrises over the Narrows to match my view of the sunsets over Conception Bay.


What are your hobbies?

Reading and watching movies are high on the list, but a good hike along the rugged coasts of Newfoundland always makes the day magical. Cooking is also a prominent ingredient in that hobby mix.


What’s your favourite thing to eat?

A summer barbecue with family and friends.



Who inspires you?

Mostly artists and writers, both alive and dead. I love reading biographies and autobiographies about filmmakers, musicians, and writers, and often find them very inspiring.


What are your Top 3 favourite movies?

I knew there would be a top-something list in here somewhere. Let’s go with these three movies beginning with my favourite: Wim Wenders’ “Paris, Texas,” Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood,” and Federico Fellini’s “La Strada.”


What was your favourite year so far?

That’s a tough one, but 2008 was pretty incredible. Me and a girl I was really in love with at the time travelled through Thailand for a month in February, finished our two-year teaching contracts in South Korea in August and then spent three months travelling through China, the Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Spain and France. Then we finished it off with a cruise in the Bahamas before returning to Newfoundland. Not a bad year at all.



What was your most embarrassing moment?

A teenage prank that went horribly wrong and really disappointed my parents.


What was your most vivid dream?

A recurring one from childhood stands out: flying through the curving movie theatre hall in the old Avalon Mall circa 1983 and looking at all the movie posters. The poster for “Jaws 3” always woke me up.


What’s on your bucket list?

Lots of travelling. South America and Southeast Asia are first up.

Who, living or dead, would you love

to have lunch with?

I don’t know if he eats lunch, but I’d love to have a few drinks with rock and roll legend and founder of Motörhead, Lemmy Kilmister. Speaking of bucket lists, I saw Motörhead live in Belgium in 2012 and fulfilled a dream began in my early teens. That was really cool. During summer trips to Los Angeles, I often swing by The Rainbow on Sunset to see if Lemmy is there, but no luck so far.


Where’s your favourite spot in the world you’ve been?

On a three-day jungle trek in northern Thailand. We slept in bamboo huts under masses of stars, cooked over open fires and showered in waterfalls. Thailand is an incredible country. I’ll go back some day.


When did you decide you wanted  to be a filmmaker?

I watched Rob Reiner’s “Misery” when it released in 1990 and remember beginning to write shortly after that. For some reason, that movie inspired me to write, which led to exploring screenwriting a few years later and committing to filmmaking in my twenties with a break to travel and work in other countries before committing again in my early thirties.


What’s been the biggest challenge in your career so far?

Rewriting. It’s a vital and tough process. Once something’s on the page, you feel committed to it.


What is it that you like about documentary filmmaking in particular?

When I write a screenplay, I’m conscious of the fact that each character is the hero of his or her story. I think that’s true for people in general. Discovering real life heroes is one perk of documentary filmmaking.


What advice would you give upcoming filmmakers?

I have to quote Charles Bukowski’s poem “Roll the Dice” here: “If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start.”


What is your personal motto?

See above.


If you weren’t a filmmaker, what would you be?

That’s probably a question for God, but since I don’t believe in God, I’ll offer a guess: a travel writer or chef.


What is your next project?

I recently wrote a feature-length adaptation of Chad Pelley’s novel “Away From Everywhere,” which is getting close to production and will be directed by local filmmaker Justin Simms, and am currently writing two other dramatic features while researching for a documentary about my family’s history within the context of the Bell Island mining boom and crash in the 1950s and 1960s. I also hope to shoot a short film this fall.