In Features, Issues

25 NEW FACES OF INDEPENDENT FILM 2006

6 ANTONIO CAMPOS

Antonio Campos won short-film top honors from the 2005 Cannes Film Festival when he was just 21 years old, but his path to that prize was anything but conventional. Campos’s hour-long Buy It Now, about a 16-year-old girl’s quest to auction her virginity on eBay, is actually two 30-minute pieces — one a dramatic narrative, the other a documentary. Instead of bundling the films together and submitting a 60-minute short, Campos entered the separate halves in “every big American and a few European festivals,” he recalls. “But I kept getting rejection letters from all the American festivals, one after the other.” When the Cannes Film Festival rejected his documentary in March 2005, Campos figured the French festival had turned him down altogether. But two weeks later, a new letter announced that the narrative version of Buy It Now had been accepted — Campos wound up taking home the Cinefondation First Prize. He has since been accepted to the Cinefondation’s residence program, which begins this fall.

Campos’s career began at the New York Film Academy at the age of 13. His NYFA film Puberty won second place in the National High School Film Festival. At 17, Campos made a short called First Kiss which earned a prestigious National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts scholarship, which he used to make another short, Pandora. Entering NYU film school in 2002 as a somewhat seasoned filmmaker, he soon found a “cool handful of people that I really liked” — Josh Mond and Sean Durkin, his partners and co-founders of Border Line Films. Since forming the company in 2003, the three friends have worked steadily in commercials and music videos and recently signed a deal with mtvU.

After the Cannes victory Hollywood came knocking, but Campos didn’t want to rush into any commitments. “I had a feature script and everything, but it wasn’t ready,” he admits. Campos spent the post-Cannes year writing and taking classes at NYU (where he will finish his studies this fall), and is now confident about two screenplays, a coming-of-age drama and a real-time thriller. Whichever route his next project takes, Campos is poised for success: every Cinefondation winner is guaranteed a Cannes world premiere for his or her next feature. — Alexandra Delyle

Contact: Mike Lubin at Paradigm: (212) 703-7540 (agent); Melissa Breaux at Washington Square Arts (323) 850-2760 (manager)

7 GARY HUGGINS

Writer-director Gary Huggins had been working for 10 years in a Kansas City Public library when he decided to take his decade’s worth of observations and make a short film. “There were a lot of halfway houses in the area,” he explains, “and a lot of the guys on the library’s computers were [recently paroled]. One of my jobs was to keep an eye on them. So I’d watch as they’d get on chat rooms and [type] things like ‘I just got out of a high-powered lunch, I got a meeting at 4:00, but I could meet you before that?”

Watching the formerly incarcerated bluff their way back into society — or just satisfy carnal urges — over the Internet provided Huggins with a slender idea for a short, a concept that was fleshed out, literally, by another patron, Santiago Vasquez. “He came in looking for Kurosawa’s first film,” Huggins says of the muscled tough guy. “I wanted to know why this thug had such amazing taste.” A couple of years later Vasquez told Huggins that he was a cop just coming out from under cover. The two became friends and soon collaborated on First Date, Huggins’s Sundance premiering debut short. The story of a gay ex-con frantically attempting to score with a young teen (Tian Wei) while eluding his parole officer, First Date is both disturbing and nonjudgmental as it wires the viewer directly into its protagonist’s agitated psyche. In his screen acting debut, Vasquez creates an indelible, perversely compelling character unlike anyone you’ve seen in movies.

Huggins made the film over a period of a year and a half and says he was inspired by “the Dardenne brothers, early Altman and Pawel Pawlikowski’s Last Resort.” He shot the film on the Panasonic DVX100 and, after learning Final Cut Pro, edited the film on an iMac. The filmmaker says he wasn’t sure what the audience response was going to be, but he knew he had one surefire premiere venue. Huggins curates monthly repertory screenings at a theater in Kansas City, prefacing them with vintage movie trailers he scavenged from a trash bin years before. “It’s the same 60 people every month,” he says, “but it was good knowing that if it turned out awful, I’d have at least one captive audience.” Huggins is currently writing Tough Titty, a feature thriller about the drug trade set to star Vasquez. — S.M.

Contact: [email protected]

8 CARTER SMITH

When he was 23, Maine native Carter Smith was working as a photographer for model search conventions. “I would be on the road in the South for six weeks at a time shooting hundreds of people,” he said, “and I’d also take photos of other people I’d meet, like the models’ redneck boyfriends and gas station attendants.” It was these photos of everyday people that were spotted by editors at iD Magazine, who published them. “Within 24 hours I got a Levi’s campaign,” Smith says, “and within six months I was shooting for Vogue and W.”

Smith began a successful career as a fashion photographer, but he had always dreamed of making movies. “My first film experience was renting bad ’80s horror films like Happy Birthday to Me when I was growing up,” he says. “I was obsessed by Fangoria magazine, and then when I was old enough to drive I discovered films like Betty Blue and River’s Edge.” These film ambitions were rekindled for Smith a year and a half ago when he read Bugcrush, a short story by Scott Treleaven appearing in the gay horror anthology Queer Fear 2. “It took my breath away,” he says. “I could see and hear the whole thing in my head. I wrote the first draft of the script in that same sitting.” Bugcrush tells the story of Ben, a shy teenager, and his crush on his high school’s new student Grant, a handsome rebel who practices a horrifyingly erotic ritual involving, yes, bugs.

Smith shot the short over eight days in Maine and then submitted his rough cut — 37 minutes — to Sundance. “Everybody said 37 minutes was too long,” he says, “but the film didn’t work shorter.” Bugcrush was accepted to Sundance, won the Best Short Film Prize there and was then invited to the Cannes Film Festival’s Director’s Fortnight. Programmers and audiences at both festivals were knocked out by Smith’s formally controlled and decidedly creepy parable about the gay teen experience, and industry types salivated over Smith’s ability to create a genuinely squirm-inducing movie. “People I never expected to enjoy the film all see something in it that they want to grab,” he says. Smith promptly signed with CAA and is now developing several projects, including, at the Sundance Labs, Warm, an “angsty teen coming-of-age” story he wrote with author Dennis Cooper, a teen zombie movie as well as a tale about a photographer who develops “a twisted relationship with an abandoned baby troll.” — S.M.

Contact: Bart Walker and Jay Baker at CAA: (310) 288-4545

9 ASTRA TAYLOR

For the philosophically uninitiated, a film about a Slovenian thinker best known for his use of Lacanian theory to critique contemporary society might not seem a likely candidate for the most entertaining documentary of the year. But as filmmaker Astra Taylor knew from meeting Slavoj Zizek during her stint working for his U.S. publisher, Verso Books, this “wild man of theory,” a veritable philosopher rock star, was the perfect subject for her first feature doc. Trying to find a hook for a film that would combine her interest in academics with filmmaking, she remembers the moment she thought of Zizek and asked if he’d participate. “My ego is so big, I say yes!” she remembers him saying. On making the doc, she says, “I saw myself as a lion tamer, or a traffic cop, directing the flow of the conversation. We had 70 hours of footage, and I had to shape it into one theoretical argument. Ultimately, I focused on the intersection between psychoanalysis and capitalism, what it means to live in this society that commands us to enjoy, consume and have wild sex. I thought that argument would resonate with my generation.”

Zizek!, which blends the philosopher’s nonstop commentary with bits of animation and playful sequences, including one in which Zizek stages his own death as it would appear in a Hitchcock film, premiered at the 2005 Toronto Film Festival and went on to a successful North American run via Zeitgeist Films. Previously, in 2001, Taylor traveled to Senegal to co-produce and co-direct The Miracle Tree: Moringa Oleifera, a short doc on infant malnutrition commissioned by an international NGO. In 2002 she joined the Documentary Campaign, a New York City–based not-for-profit started by screenwriter Lawrence Konner (Mona Lisa Smile) that combines progressive politics and artistic filmmaking, and while there produced Alison Maclean’s doc Persons of Interest.

Of filmmaking, the Canadian-born but upstate New York–based Taylor says, “I wanted to be scholar, activist, artist and writer, so film is a perfect medium for me. It’s like writing, but it’s not nearly as lonely.” In addition to print journalism for outlets like The Nation and Alternet, she is currently at work on a couple of new projects: a documentary on geriatric radicals co-directed with James Ponsoldt (Off the Black), and a collaboration with her sister, Able to See, “a strange essay film about the disabled body and figurative painting.” Of her own film philosophy, she concludes, “There’s great doc filmmaking that sheds light on human rights issues, but a lot of it is really depressing and leaves the viewer feeling disempowered. I think it’s important to make films that are deep and enlightening but also inspiring.” — S.M.

Contact: [email protected]

10 MICHELE CIVETTA

With 15 commercial credits as well as music videos for Lou Reed and Sparklehorse to his name, 29-year-old Michele Civetta has had more than a few prolific years in his young career. Few will be busier than 2006, however, when a pair of long-form music projects featuring Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon give way to his long-gestating adaptation of Ryu Murakami’s cult classic novel Coin Locker Babies.

“I think on a certain level, there’s just this degree of blind ambition whenever I try and do something,” Civetta said of his debut feature, which is slated to shoot later this year. “I feel like everything I’ve ever done that I’ve been pleased with or that came off with some degree of success was really just a measure of jumping above and beyond your skills and capabilities at the time. It’s usually through those types of experiences that you persevere to the greatest creative result.”

Viewers won’t have to wait for Babies to see how Civetta’s other recent risks have paid off, though. The NYU film school alumnus traveled throughout Europe with Ono to produce a hybrid documentary/concert film that he expects to appear on television this fall. Civetta also directed a conceptual series of videos to accompany each of the songs on Lennon’s upcoming album Friendly Fire. The film’s trailer reveals a dreamy synthesis of eras and fixations, offering Lennon as a jilted 18th-century lover, a 1970s roller-skating underdog and a haunted vaudevillian.

“It’s a fascinating relationship in the sense that we’ve had to work really closely on a bunch of stuff,” Civetta said of his collaborations with Lennon. “It’s an expression of our friendship, but it’s also been a creative dialogue between two people.” — S.T.V.

Contact: Brian Young at Untitled Entertainment: (310) 601-2119

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