I Am Secretly An Important Man

Peter Sillen

Artist Bio

I Am Secretly An Important Man is a feature length documentary portrait of Steven J. Bernstein (aka Jesse Bernstein), one of Seattle’s most celebrated voices. His angry, surprisingly fresh, lyrical writings are about sensitive souls, drifters and drug addicts—people alienated by a society that refuses to understand them. He peeled back the ugliness and the darkness of life on the fringe to expose tender and not-so-tender human feeling. His unique rhythms, filled with humor and pain, were especially exciting when read in his own gravely voice. People packed into theaters, bars and cafes to hear him read and sing. Unfortunately, Jesse died by his own hand in 1991 and his work has not yet found much of the audience it deserves outside of the Northwest. This documentary is intended not just to eulogize but to invoke his vibrant spirit as it lives on in his work and in the memories of those he inspired, subtly questioning a society where so many people seem to fall through what little safety net exists.

Award Year



Peter Sillen

Fairhaven, NJ

Peter Sillen is a New York-based documentary filmmaker. Best known for his low-tech approach and sensitivity to his subjects and their environment, Sillen’s previous works include Speed Racer: Welcome to the World of Vic Chesnutt, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 1994, and Benjamin Smoke, which premiered at the 2000 Berlin International Film Festival. Sillen's Creative Capital project, I Am Secretly an Important Man, received additional funding from the Jerome Foundation. His films have screened at a wide array of festivals and venues including the Sundance Film Festival, Berlin Film Festival, South By Southwest, Slamdance, the Museum of Modern Art, Brooklyn Academy of Music and San Francisco’s Castro Theater.