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25 NEW FACES OF INDIE FILM 2003

 
06 Adam Bhala Lough

Adam Bhala Lough may be one of the most exciting young directors to watch, but he won’t be working in the city that launched his career anytime soon. "I’m currently blacklisted from shooting in New York," says the 23-year-old writer-director of Bomb the System. "We were shut down by the mayor’s office for a week for numerous violations, like extraneous graffiti and noise rules." Bomb the System, which premiered at the 2003 Tribeca Film Festival, follows the antiestablishment exploits of a young graffiti artist (played by Mark Webber) struggling to survive the travails of first love, the New York Police Department’s Vandal Squad and the illegal, artistic life of a "bomber." Loosely based on Lough’s stream-of-consciousness short film Jes One, Bomb the System bristles with a high-voltage style, filled with saturated colors, freeze frames and lush set designs. (A Hindu temple hidden deep inside a ship’s hull is one weird, delightful surprise.) The son of a Methodist minister father and a Hindu mother, the Washington, D.C.—raised filmmaker notes that his multiethnic background informs his work. So too do cinematic visionaries such as Iranian artist Shirin Neshat and Hong Kong master Wong Kar-wai. Lough is ready to move forward with a trio of three scripts. If Bomb the System is any indication, city officials had better lift their sanctions against Lough; he might just end up shooting this one in Hollywood. – Anthony Kaufman

Contact: info@bombthesystem.com

 

 
07 Bradley Peyton

"I signed up for film school in Canada after I finished high school, and I had the most horrible experience of my life," says 24-year-old writer-director Bradley Peyton. "If you’re a young filmmaker, it’s so hard to find your own voice when you’re being taught everyone else’s. I just wanted to do it on my own." True to his word, Peyton dropped out and started making shorts. His work soon caught the attention of the staff at Norman Jewison’s storied Canadian Film Centre, which accepted him into the ultra-competitive Director’s Lab program.

It was during his stint at the CFC that Peyton made the short Evelyn: The Cutest Evil Dead Girl, a macabre, Tim Burton—inspired live-action fairytale about a restless, undead teenager desperate for company. "I have an aunt Evelyn who’s kind of evil," says Peyton. "And she always complained that there were never any good Evelyns in the movies, so I made one for her. Now I don’t know if she likes me anymore." Whatever fallout Peyton may have suffered with his aunt was offset by the response the short received after it premiered at the 2002 Toronto Film Festival. "I got on the cover of a local paper," recalls the director, "and that’s when everyone started calling." Among those who took notice were Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman’s Playtone Productions, which hired Peyton to write and direct an animated adaptation of Mary Botham Howitt’s 1829 cautionary tale The Spider and the Fly. The new venture is set up at Universal and will go into production later this year.

"Filmmaking for me is like a personal dare," says Peyton. How do I progress myself personally? That’s the challenge. Tim Burton, James Whale, Tod Browning, David Lynch – they all make films that are beautifully horrific, that find the heart within the darkness. That’s what I’m trying to do." – Matthew Ross

Contact: Brian Besser and Adam Levine at Endeavor: (310) 248-2000

 

 
08 Ben Coccio

Zero Day, the gripping first feature by 27-year-old Ben Coccio, tell the story of two high school students who decide to wage war on their suburban school. Inspired by the events of Columbine (the leads bear a striking resemblance to real-life killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold), the film uses a faux-documentary first-person technique to create a fictional world that is uncomfortably close to home. "I was living in Brooklyn at the time of the Columbine massacre, and it had a tremendous effect on me," recalls Coccio. "To be honest, I was surprised it hadn’t happened earlier. I knew I would have something to say about this."

A 1997 graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Coccio toiled as a p.a. on a few indie features ("I was the worst employee in the world," he recalls) and co-directed a short, 5:45 a.m. (which was picked up by the Independent Film Channel) before moving to Connecticut to begin work on Zero Day. Not interested in using professional actors, Coccio cast his two teenage leads, Cal Robertson and Andre Keuck, after scouring the local high schools, and eventually persuaded their parents to appear in the film as well.

"What interested me most about Columbine was the relationship between the two kids, and what might have happened between them," says Coccio, "I wanted to tell my version of what occurred in the same way [Terence] Malick told his version of the Charlie Starkweather murders in Badlands." Unlike the lush landscapes and dreamlike tone employed by Malick, however, Coccio’s story unfolds through the lens of a digital video camera, presumably from the point of view of the two lead characters. (In fact, Coccio himself was the behind the lens.) "The big challenge was using the first-person approach," he says. "When it works, you can make the audience feel that you, the director, have no particular point of view, that you’re just trying to tell the facts. I didn’t want to make a black comedy at all. I was aiming to get something along the lines of Cassavetes meets The Blair Witch Project."

The film premiered at the 2002 Boston Film Festival and has gone on to win a number of prizes on the regional festival circuit, including the Grand Jury Award at the Florida Film Festival. Coccio has recently translated his pseudo-documentary talents into a series of online shorts for Nike, and is currently prepping his next film, Round Robin, which he describes as a "voyeuristic look into the lives of a group of families in a suburban cul-de-sac." – Matthew Ross

Contact: Ed Wintle at The Curtis Brown Agency: (212) 473-5400

 

 
09 Tom Putnam

Before making the short Tom Hits His Head, director Tom Putnam hadn’t had much experience depicting personal misfortune on film. His first feature, Static, was an experimental work about a disgruntled postal worker, and his second, Shafted!, was a blaxploitation send-up about a white guy who thinks he’s Richard Roundtree.

But that was before Tom hit his head. In July 2001, Putnam went in for his yearly physical. As he was getting his blood taken, he passed out and fell, hard, on the floor. Chaos soon followed. "I spent six months sitting at home, afraid to leave the house and getting progressively paranoid about what occurred on September 11," recalls the 30-year-old filmmaker. "I was having these delusional episodes, buying guns and walking around in a Haz-Mat suit." After he recovered, Putnam decided to make a film about what had happened. Thus begat Tom Hits His Head, a darkly comic rendering of the harrowing episode. "It’s definitely an unusual narrative," says Putnam of his film, which uses a variety of unconventional methods – including using reversal stock and in-camera mattes – to bring to life the paranoid world of its narrator. "I’ve always liked Schizopolis, in which [Steven] Soderbergh took this Richard Lester-esque, broad comedy approach, but applied it in a personal way. I was itching to do something more personal, and this just seemed like the right story to tell."

The film premiered at Slamdance 2003, where it was awarded the Spirit of Slamdance Award and has since picked up several other prizes on the U.S. festival circuit. Putnam is currently at work securing financing for his next feature, Where the Hell is Bill?, a dark comedy about a young man’s recovery from a tragic car accident, which he co-wrote with partners Michael Harbour and Jeff Malmberg. – Matthew Ross

Contact: tomputnam1@yahoo.com, www.sevenguns.com

 

 
10 Shari Frilot

"I was a total math and science nerd growing up," says Shari Frilot, who hails from Oceanside, Calif., by way of Denver and attended Harvard on an engineering scholarship, graduating with a degree in government. But after a decade of making experimental films and programming films for the Mix Festival, Outfest and now Sundance, Frilot has finished a stunning new narrative short, Strange and Charmed, with producer Effie Brown.

Strange and Charmed tells its multigenerational story from the novel point of view of the "charmed" subatomic particles known as quarks. The film’s frenetic editing style, complex musical structure and stunning visual effects, created by Richard "Doc" Baily (The Cell, Solaris), are a quantum leap forward for Frilot, who admits, "What I really want to do now is work for Sundance seven months out of the year and make films five months out of the year. That’s my goal." – Steve Gallagher

Contact: Stephen F. Macias at Michael I. Levy Enterprises: (310) 888-2292, (323) 533-8220

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