Steamboat Springs graduate, filmmaker explores his family ties for latest project

Max Sauerbrey is working with his business partner and friend Juliette Benedetto on a documentary about his grandfather Chuck Wirschem. The film will use footage Wirschem shot decades ago during his Alaskan adventures, in addition to current clips. Sauerbey also hopes her company, 2.39 Projects, will be able to work more with charities like Generation U, which have recently helped build wells in Africa.
2.39 Projects/Photo courtesy

Max Sauerbrey, a young filmmaker from Steamboat Springs, set out to document the trials, tribulations and memories of a life of adventure in Alaska as seen through the eyes of his grandfather, Chuck Wirschem.

“He had so much passion for exploring the great outdoors, hunting, fishing, skiing, mountaineering and all of that,” said Sauerbrey, a 2018 graduate of Steamboat Springs High School. “But then he lost it, just because he’s basically older has become. I think the most interesting thing about him is that he still has that spirit and that freedom of the hills that strive for it, but he just doesn’t have an outlet anymore.”

These days, the 80-year-old grandfather spends his winters in Anchorage and his summers at Fox Farm, a remote location just a boat ride from his winter quarters at Homer Spit near Kachemak Bay. His physical limitations and path to overcoming alcoholism no longer allow him to continue his earlier adventures, but Sauerbrey said they are still in his heart.

“He goes to this place, Fox Farm, where there’s no electricity, no TV, no Wi-Fi and no cell service,” Sauerbrey said. “That’s where he makes his art and tries to share it with the world.”

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Wirschem uses seashells that he and his wife find on the beach near Homer Spit to create art.

“He takes seashells from the beach, muscles, sea glass, and makes various figurines that represent Alaskan culture,” Sauerbrey said. “So orca whales, sea mermaids, clams, starfish… and they sell them. He’s retired so that’s his main occupation as he’s less physically able to do the things he loves.”

Not long ago, Wirschem used a Super 16 camera to record the adventures he shared with his friends in Alaska. A few years ago, he gave his grandson the footage that inspired Sauerbrey’s latest film project. The young filmmaker is hoping to hit Kickstarter to find the financial backing he needs to complete the project while chronicling his grandfather’s story.

Juliette Benedetto in the field creating content for 2.39 projects.
2.39 Projects/Photo courtesy

“We will fly to Alaska in late April and be there by May,” Sauerbrey said. “We’ll be there all month, so I’ll talk to him about his past and this place called Fox Farm.”

With the help of Juliette Benedetto, his friend and business partner, Sauerbrey will mix the 13,000 gigabytes of Super 16 footage along with vintage photos and Wirschem’s own words to make a story out of 50 years of adventure.

Sauerbrey also plans to bring his grandfather back to the locations where his adventures took place to create The Way It Was, a documentary that will show Wirschem as he is today before moving on to his adventures when he was younger was, and then engages with his emotions as he revisits the locations in the original material.

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Sauerbrey said the idea was to complete an adventure film that Wirschem started 50 years ago.

“I think it would be a shame if all the footage and hard work that my grandfather put into digitizing it never really got the spotlight and never had a place for people to come and see it” said Sauerbrey. “Personally, connecting with my grandfather on that level has been a profound experience. That’s one of the reasons why we want to go back and I want to spend more time with him, but we also just want to share this footage and have a place where we as a family, but also other people who might feel inspired, can come to see it.”

Max Sauerbrey and Juliette Benedetto are working together on a project. The pair have directed their company 2.39 Projects for the past two years, collaborating on a variety of projects from commercials to documentaries and everything in between.
2.39 Projects/Photo courtesy

Sauerbey and Benedetto graduated from Chapman University and now own 2.39 Projects.

“Over the last two years we have co-directed and collaborated on a variety of projects, from commercials to documentaries and everything in between,” said Benedetto. “We set out to tell unusual stories around the world to try and change them for the better.”


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