21 JOHN MARINGOUIN
John Maringouin was in Texas making a feature called Self, a film about a guy living in a haunted car who is attempting to muster up the courage to confront his abusive and estranged father. It was 2002, Maringouin was playing the lead role, and the film was very much based on his life. Maringouin’s own dad, Johnny, was a crazy New Orleans painter, psychological sadist and big-time drug addict who, the story goes, had slipped John’s mother acid when she was pregnant. Maringouin’s mom took John and left when he was three, but it wasn’t until he was 15 that his mother copped to the reason: John’s dad had tried to kill him. “You’re gonna have a lot to overcome being his son,” she told him.
While Maringouin doesn’t remember much of his childhood, he grew up obsessing over Johnny. Maringouin became a filmmaker, made an experimental doc about the Iraq war, shot music videos and directed a tour video for the show Jackass, but when he was 28 he decided to make Self. In a director’s statement he writes, “The idea was real simple: turn my fears into a living myth. As the character gets closer to ‘that thing,’ so would I.... This is dangerous — you can lose your mind like that.” And then, while filming, he got a call. His dad was dying, and he should go see him in his final days. “I said, Look, I don’t care about getting to know you,” Maringouin remembers, “but I’ve been making a movie about this guy who confronts his relatives. What if you were to be in the movie? He was like, ‘Bring it on. Let’s do it.’”
So Maringouin and Molly Lynch, his producer and now his wife, grabbed some DV cameras, traveled to New Orleans and in 10 days shot Running Stumbled, a true epic in the fucked-up family doc genre. Comprised of a series of short “chapters” shot sometimes in a garish, expressionist style, Running Stumbled plunges the viewer into a hellish underworld with a prescription-drug-abusing Johnny and his suicidal common-law wife living in physical and emotional squalor. But the most interesting thing about Running Stumbled is Maringouin’s presence — or rather absence. He appears on camera in the beginning but then is largely gone from the film, refusing to turn himself into a dramatic character or treat his return to his past as any kind of narrative plot point. “There’s a part of me that’s able to see something as personal as this as something sitting there on a plate on a table,” he says. “I approached it from a detached place, appreciating who these people were and that they were interesting.”
Inspired in part, Maringouin says, by the Maysleses’ Grey Gardens, Bela Tarr’s Sátántangó and Harmony Korine’s julien donkey-boy, Running Stumbled premiered at the Rotterdam Film Festival and shocked audiences at CineVegas. When I spoke to Maringouin in early July, he was putting the finishing touches on a new version of the film with some added footage shot recently: Johnny, still alive, has dumped his wife, has taken up painting again and is living, post-Katrina, in a FEMA trailer. Meanwhile Maringouin continues to work on Self, vowing to finish it this year and use the footage he shot of his father in the movie. — S.M.
22 SAMEH ZAOBI
Palestinian filmmaker Sameh Zoabi did not grow up going to the movies. In his small village of Iksal near Nazareth, theaters had closed long before his childhood. Instead, as Zoabi remembers, “there was a lot of Bruce Lee and Rambo on video, and westerns on television,” as well as the movie fan books his sisters owned.
It was not until 1995, when Zoabi went to college, that his film education began. After graduating from Tel Aviv University, with degrees in film studies and English literature in 1998, he knew he needed to get out of the Middle East to gain a larger perspective. “Each semester I discovered something new,” explains Zoabi, “I really felt that I wanted to be out of my own place to understand myself better.” He chose Columbia University graduate program because of the school’s focus on screenwriting. In 2001 he finished the script for his thesis film, Be Quiet, in which the trip home of a young boy and his father is brought to a near standstill because of logistical complications as a result of the occupation. Ironically, Zoabi found his film production equally stalled after 9/11. It took him nearly three years to find a French company to fund his short film, which is set in Nazareth.
Finished in 2005, Be Quiet went on to win numerous awards internationally, including third prize in the Cinefondation Selection at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival. His first feature script, James Dean and Me, which he describes as “a romantic drama set in a Palestinian village a few days before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war,” was chosen for the 2006 Sundance Writers Lab. And he has also finished a new script, Man Without Cellphone, which he hopes to put into production very soon. — P.B.
23 KEVIN JEROME EVERSON
The everyday routines of life and work form the backbone of the films and videos of Virginia-based, Ohio-raised artist Kevin Jerome Everson. Taking his cues from everything from Leonardo da Vinci sculptures and Caravaggio paintings to school-supply deliverymen and African-American drag racers, Everson connects the ivory-tower realms of high art with the gritty, day-to-day grind of working-class America, especially as it’s lived by black Americans. “My artwork and films are about responding to daily materials, conditions, tasks and/or gestures of people of African descent,” he writes. “The results usually have a formal reference to art history and resemble objects or images seen in working-class culture.”
Whether in his 2005 debut feature Spicebush (winner of the Best Documentary Award at the New York Underground Film Festival), the 30-odd shorts he made beforehand or his most recent creation, Cinnamon, Everson contemplatively turns his camera toward the worlds that most artists ignore but which the rest of us live in every day. His films illuminate, as he puts it, “the relentlessness of everyday life,” the gestures, rhythms and places of black working-class America, and the pride and grace found within. It’s as if Jonas Mekas left the Lower East Side and made films chronicling Mississippi’s barely getting-by. A mechanic lovingly working on a car; a bank teller going through her day; correctional officers pacing a prison walls: ordinary people, living ordinary lives. Suddenly onscreen, afforded the necessary respect by Everson’s photographic eye and unassuming experimental textures, the ordinary moments of their days turn extraordinary, and speak with a bruised beauty and a halting poetry.
Everson, who has an MFA from Ohio University, is now an assistant professor of art at the University of Virginia, and splits his time teaching, creating fine art, photography and sculpture, and making films. Cinnamon, his portrait of the craft of African-American drag racing, played at a number of A-list festivals, including Sundance and Rotterdam festivals. The film, says Everson, “is about creativity; it just so happens that it is suggested through drag racing. Drag racing is like abstract painting; the layperson thinks it is easy, but it has its own complex language.”
Currently Everson is developing the narrative feature Lowndes County (with playwright Talaya Delaney) and is in preproduction on a film based loosely on Alessandro de’ Medici, the first Duke of Florence, and a popular 1970s TV actress, Gail Fisher. — Jason Sanders
24 TODD ROHAL
Maryland-based Todd Rohal had seen four of his shorts putter around the festival circuit before he decided to pull out all the stops and make an anarchic, grand and visually resplendent feature...for very little money. “The shorts were well received, but it was difficult to have them programmed alongside cartoons and calling-card films,” Rohal says, “If I was going to make a feature, it was going to have to be something I wouldn’t regret. I wanted to make something that would not look or sound like an ‘indie’ film,’ and I approached that from a technical standpoint as well as a storytelling standpoint.”
Rohal put together a 20-page prospectus to cajole North Carolina’s Joe Dunton to rent him a 35mm anamorphic camera package a full year before production, convinced family and friends to quit their jobs and crew his film for no money, and induced singer Will Oldham to star in what turned out to be The Guatemalan Handshake, a strangely beautiful comedy/drama about the disappearance of a young man amid a power failure in Three Mile Island. The film picked up a Special Jury Prize at Slamdance 2006 and launched Rohal into a series of unusual projects, including a short film for the Holland Board of Tourism and a photo series depicting the suicides of Boy Scouts. He’s also working on a new feature script and self-distributing The Guatemalan Handshake. For the latter, he envisions a traveling road show in which his movie will tour with the musicians who scored it as well as like-minded writers and filmmakers. “Even though it’s just a small film, I think it might sound slightly more appealing than a night seeing Little Man and getting dinner at Applebee’s,” he says. — S.M.
25 PJ RAVAL
“I just hope to be working on good films in whatever capacity,” says P.J. Raval of his many and varied filmmaking ambitions. This year those ambitions have busted out from cinematography to screenwriting to directing. As a d.p., he recently shot two features — Kyle Henry’s stunning handheld DV portrait of post-9/11 American trauma, Room, and Steve Collins’s formally precise Super 16mm black comedy Gretchen — as well as two docs (Troubled Waters, Tia Lessin, Carl Deal and Amir-Bar-Lev’s portrait of Katrina survivors, and Dirt, Meghna Haldar’s look at the history of, uh...dirt). He’s also beginning to send out a feature script he wrote with Gregg Rounds, Boys Without Cars, which, he says, looks at teenage-boy crushes — “a unique form of love and companionship.”
And then there’s the documentary he’s directing with the writer Jay Hodges, Best Kept Secret. Says Raval, “[The doc] will explore the many identities of Trinidad, Colorado, a former coal-mining/ranching town that since the early 1970s has been known as the sex-change capital of the world. I find Trinidad fascinating in that it’s an example of tolerance in a very unlikely setting. The story of Trinidad really challenges the stereotypes of small-town America as being close-minded and unaccepting.”
Of his cinematographic genre-jumping, Raval says, “I’m sure a lot of people would disagree with me, but shooting is shooting. Dramatic fiction, comedy, doc — it’s all image capturing and visual construction. I get asked a lot what’s the difference between shooting doc versus shooting fiction? For me, in non-fiction there are a lot of other factors that are controlling the situation. You can’t control it and have to let go. In narrative, it can be the opposite way — you create the exact world and control the environment. I love both.”
The California-born Raval lives and works in Austin, Texas, and has a university background in photography and media installation. He is represented as a d.p. by Rebecca Fayyad at the Sheldon Prosnit Agency. — S.M.