11 ESTHER ROBINSON
PHOTO: CRYSTAL DUNN.
“I feel very strongly that there is not enough attention paid to beauty in documentary,” says Esther Robinson. Her comment is apt considering that her first film, a doc with the working title The Danny Williams Story, is a blend of cultural history and experimental film centered around her uncle, whose luminous celluloid meditations on various Warhol Factory superstars are themselves hauntingly seductive and quite gorgeous.
Williams, who had been a lover of Andy Warhol’s and a filmmaker at the Factory, had always been something of a family mystery. It was thought that he killed himself after disappearing on Thanksgiving Day, 1966, and his contributions to the Factory scene were later neglected by cultural historians. The doc, which should premiere at festivals in 2007 and which includes her uncle’s recently discovered films, makes a case for Williams as an artist while negotiating Robinson’s own relationship to her family and the medium of film.
Robinson’s emphasis on aesthetics is appropriate given her background. For 14 years she’s been supporting the work of artists, first as a series producer for Alive TV and most recently as a tireless supporter of young, boundary-breaking artists in her role as the director of film/video and performing arts for the Creative Capital Foundation. And even as she transitions to directing, she is starting another artist-support organization, ArtHome, a foundation dedicated to helping artists purchase homes to live in and build financial security with.
“When you decide to crack open your family secrets, you need to drop to the terrain of your greatest strengths,” Robinson says as she discusses her transition from grant giver to filmmaker. “I’ve spent my entire life in experimental film, and that’s the world I’m most comfortable in.” And here’s where that concept of beauty reenters: “History has a lot of paths to the truth. That’s why aesthetics are crucial: they allow you to know that the journey you are taking is one person’s specific journey, and their truth is one among many.” — S.M.
12 ALEX KARPOVSKY
PHOTO: ROBERT HENRY.
Before embarking on his first feature in 2005, Alex Karpovsky was making ends meet editing karaoke videos while, in his spare time, performing in one-man shows and writing “a bunch of anxiety-ridden megalomaniacal plays, starring myself but rarely produced.” He was also obsessed with small-town mysteries. So when it came time to make his film, Karpovsky took the old screenwriting adage “Do what you know” and went with it all the way, even though he never actually wrote a script.
The Hole Story is a mockumentary (Karpovsky prefers the term “fickumentary”) about a neurotic karaoke editor, also named Alex Karpovsky, who invests his life savings into directing and hosting a documentary TV pilot about a lake in Minnesota that has suddenly developed a mysterious hole in its frozen surface. By the time he and his skeptical crew arrive on location, however, the hole has closed up. Undaunted at first, Karpovsky soldiers on, but the cracks in his psyche, fueled by constant disappointment, begin to widen to the point where his own sanity becomes as elusive as the mysterious hole in the lake. Equal measures Woody Allen and Werner Herzog, The Hole Story is one of the most original American comedies we’ve seen in a long time. It’s been touring the fest circuit for the past year, and Karpovsky is currently considering several DVD and cable offers.
The 30-year-old filmmaker hopes to make his next feature later this year. “It’s about a small town’s relationship with an elusive woodpecker that no one seems able to find,” says Karpovsky. “It’s gonna be balls of fun, excruciatingly funny and, if all goes well, tinged with a whisper of existential melancholy. I’m still trying to find all the actors I’ll need and have yet to secure all the financing. So if there’s anybody out there ready to quadruple their investment, please do let me know.” — Matthew Ross
13 AURORA GUERRERO
The daughter of Mexican immigrants, Aurora Guerrero delved first into psychology and Chicano studies (earning a B.A. from U.C. Berkeley) and then filmmaking (resulting in an MFA from Cal Arts) in order to connect with and then convey her particular community. “I had a deep desire to learn more about the experiences of my communities, so I went to work as an activist for youth of color,” she explains. “That’s where I found my love: film. I was surrounded by a culture of art as healing and activism. It just fit like a pair of fresh Puma tennis shoes — like you were born to wear them for the rest of your life.”
Award-winning short films have followed, including Pura Lengua, which debuted at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, and Viernes girl, winner of the 2005 HBO/New York Latino International Film Festival short film competition. Guerrero’s first feature-length script, Mosquita y Mari, was awarded the Sundance Ford Fellowship and Paul Robeson Development Grant in 2005 and was selected for this year’s Tribeca All Access program.
“I wouldn’t be at this point in my career if it weren’t for finding ‘home’ with a collective of L.A.-based Chicana filmmakers named Womyn Image Makers,” she says. “I also owe my momentum to the larger network of filmmakers of color I belong to: New York–based Chica Luna, the Native program at Sundance, and Film Independent’s Project:Involve.” Another boost for Guerrero was assisting director Patricia Cardoso on her debut feature Real Women Have Curves, which won the Sundance Film Festival Audience Award in 2002.
“I’ve been motivated to write from a personal place because there’s such a huge absence of Chicana/Latina/queer/female-centered stories in the film industry that resonate as real and that offer a smart, critical perspective on our communities,” she says. Guerrero is now gearing up for production on Mosquita y Mari, set in her native San Francisco. Bringing the project to fruition will involve another creative revolution on Guerrero’s part: “I want to shoot a large portion of it in Jalisco, Mexico, and have it pass for San Francisco, to cinematically create the illusion of a Third World community — like a Little Mexico/Latin America — residing in the U.S.” Noted filmmaker Jim McKay (Our Song, Girls Town) has been working on the project with Guerrero, and the pair are seeking further collaborators to bring their vision to life.
“Everything I do as a filmmaker is to help create a movement,” says Guerrero. “Not an isolated movement, but one connected to other revolutionary movements that work together to shake people out of their sleep and into a place of wanting, desiring, needing social change to happen in this world. That’s why I’m here, doing what I do as a filmmaker.” — L.Y.G.
14 EUNHEE CHO
Korean-born Eunhee Cho, 29, began her first feature, Inner Circle Line, as an MFA project at the Art Institute of Chicago. Blending an experimental narrative — the synchronous story of a man (a depressed subway operator) and a woman (a techno DJ), both named Youngju — with a melancholy DV-shot depiction of downtown Seoul, Inner Circle Line is an international hybrid. From its Chicago origins it went on to attract production funding from the Korean Film Council and postproduction funding in the U.S. after Cho met producer Alan Chan at the IFP Rough Cuts Lab.
“The story came from my personal experiences,” says Cho, who once worked as a script supervisor in Korea. “The two characters are depictions of two sides of myself in the past. They both work in isolated spaces surrounded by crowds, and the strobe lights in the club and the flash of passing lights in the subway create a similar mood and connection between them. Even though we all face our different positions under different situations, we all experience the same pain and joy of love through circles of relationships. The idea of exchanging pain was the start of this film.”
Beautifully shot and edited, Inner Circle Line is a highly accomplished debut feature with its own precise and personal cinematic language. “I wanted to make an intense movie,” says Cho, who cites Leos Carax and Krzysztof Kieslowski as inspirations. “I sought to create intensity not from the story but from the audiovisual tension we can feel while watching it. I tried this because Inner Circle Line is about frustrated love. I positioned intersecting cold and hot colors and used furious techno music to achieve these goals, but most of the process was done by improvisational edit and instinct choice.”
Inner Circle Line premiered at this year’s Rotterdam Film Festival and then went on to screen at SXSW. — S.M.
15 NEISTAT BROTHERS
PHOTO: HEIDI HARTWIG.
In 2004, a Palm Pictures Directors Label DVD arrived at the Filmmaker office. With a roster that includes Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry and Chris Cunningham (among many others), the Label has functioned as the unofficial hall of fame for short-form commercial filmmakers, so we were all a bit confused that this latest entry, a compilation of the Neistat brothers’ work, didn’t ring a bell with any of us.
That’s because Palm never released a Neistat brothers DVD — the Neistats decided to do it themselves. It was a stunt that typifies how Casey, 25, and Van, 31, have managed their career: a take-no-prisoners approach to the industry that’s smoothed out by a Merry Pranksters aesthetic that makes the duo’s tactics impossible not to appreciate.
The Neistats began making films in 2000 with the purchase of two iMac DVs, and their early projects involved reworking home movie footage shot in the ’80s and ’90s. The piece that first got them attention was 2003’s iPod’s Dirty Secret, a three-minute video that involved, not surprisingly, sticking it to the man: as we hear a customer service representative from Apple explain to the brothers that the iPod battery will eventually die but will not be replaced by the company, Casey walks around spray-painting a warning on iPod ads that have been plastered all over New York City.
The video went viral, and the brothers kept churning out short films and videos at an astonishing rate — they now have more than 300 no-budget shorts to their credit (which have been shown at 30 film festivals and seven museums worldwide). For a recent project, The Challenge (which aired on Comedy Central), the brothers responded to a friend’s dare to make a film in one day by doing a shot-for-shot remake of the Jurassic Park trailer with items bought in a thrift store. The Neistats have since expanded their repertoire to European TV commercials and have also begun cutting their debut feature, The Show, a comedy about tap dancing and cancer.
“No matter what we’re working on, we approach it with the same attitude we had when we were kids, when we’d enlist the neighborhood to help us build a tree house,” says Casey. “So I would say our work is that playfulness, or at least we attempt to capture the essence of that playfulness. But it’s not a conscious decision. It just creeps in.” — M.R.