JEFF MIZUSHIMA. PHOTO BY TIM VAN DER LINDEN.
Writer-director Jeff Mizushima won the Filmmaker To Watch Award at CineVegas this year for Etienne!, an oddly sweet art film about loneliness, affection and loss that, as part of its ending, features the director Caveh Zahedi extolling on the workings of a pinhole camera. But if you ask Mizushima what he was trying to make, you'll hear something very different. "I started out making it as a kids' film," he says, citing pics like Pee Wee's Big Adventure and The Goonies as influences. You see, the eponymous Etienne is a pet dwarf hamster, a lot like the one Mizushima brought in one day for the kids he teaches in an after-school program. "It was going to be like, 'Hey guys, we made a film about that hamster!'"
Etienne! is a film about that hamster, and it's probably a G-rated one too. But while Mizushumia says the film was approved for kids by Kids First! (Coalition for Quality Children's Media), they're probably not his target audience anymore. Etienne tells the story of Richard (Richard Vallejos), a quiet and serious man-child, who bicycles around San Francisco with the pet hamster he's told has only days to live. With French pop on the soundtrack and Richard's red shorts, the film has a strange winsomeness to it, an affect that is deepened when, suddenly, the narrative introduces the film's other main character nearly two thirds of the way through. Megan Harvey plays a woman leaving town after suffering an unspecified emotional setback, and her beautiful performance transforms what might have been a one-joke film into something deeper and more open-ended.
Mizushima says the emotional notes the film hits came somewhat as a surprise. "The concept was so absurd, it's really meant for comedy," he says. In post, however, viewers were moved by the dying hamster storyline, and Mizushima realized that the loss of any pet, even a dwarf hamster, can be painfully real to its owner. He then began, he says, to "tailor the narrative with realism to balance out the absurdity."
Mizushima went into production on the Super 16mm Etienne! just days after graduating from Cal State Long Beach in film. Right now he's raising money for a proper blowup and doing freelance shooting and editing for Eenie Meenie Records, whose band, Great Northern, appears in the movie. And then there are the other projects: "an Asian-American mumblecore movie" that's been in production for a year, and a doc on the artist Lunnah Menoh. — S.M.
LOST ZOMBIES. PHOTO BY DENNIS LEACH.
It's growing. More and more people are falling under its spell. Filmmakers are behaving in strange, new ways. I'm referring, of course, to Lost Zombies, which is not a traditional zombie movie but rather what may be the first viable "crowd-sourced" feature. Properly speaking, though, Lost Zombies is a Web site or, as its three leaders describe in their mission statement, "a social network whose goal is to document the zombie apocalypse and create the world's first community-generated zombie documentary." At LostZombies.com, fans become members, chat with other zombie fans and, if they are so inclined, submit footage that may be incorporated in the final feature.
Co-founder Skot Leach, dressed in zombie makeup while manning the group's booth at this year's SXSW, where Lost Zombies took home Web Awards for People's Choice and Best Community Site, described for me the genesis of the site: "We initially came up with a very rigid [story] structure — we said [to our members], 'Here's our story, and here's how you can submit [footage].' But that was too high of a barrier. Many people thought, I just can't get into this. Then we said, 'Okay, there is no story, just submit zombie pictures and we'll put them together.' Then people started getting into it. Then the community grew big enough, so we said, 'Let's start introducing a little bit of structure.' We came up with beats — it starts out as a flu, it mutates, the government tries to quarantine people, control the outbreak, pharmaceutical companies try to develop a vaccine, it doesn't work, and there are zombies everywhere. That worked very well for the creative filmmakers. For people who were really good artists but who needed more direction, we created something called the grid. You can pick a square on this 128 square grid, and it will say something like 'we need a photo of a zombie fight,' and once that grid is full, we think we'll have enough footage to compile the documentary, which should be by the end of the year.
Lost Zombies (which along with Leach, is founded by his brother Ryan and Rob Oshima) launched just more than a year ago and has 7,000 registered users who are submitting content, and it has amassed 14 hours of video footage and 4,000 still photographs. And while the group hopes to make a film that's shown in theaters and out on DVD, Leach says, "We like that we're disrupting the status quo, so we're interested in other [unconventional distribution] means too." Still Leach can't help but run the numbers: "If there are 20,000 people submitting footage and even a second of their footage gets in and they can convince three of their best friends to buy a DVD...." — S.M.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; lostzombies.com
As a d.p., Mexico City-born, L.A.-residing Paula Huidobro seems drawn to films that explore inner and outer lives. Her second feature, Damian Harris's Berlin Competition entry, Gardens of the Night, tells the story of a pair of abducted children, and her beautifully lit, almost formal cinematography is sensitive to the emotional fantasy world the children construct to wall their inner selves away from their pedophile kidnappers. The film then cuts to years later, and both kids are now teenage street hustlers. Without calling too much attention to itself, the shooting becomes tougher. "It's two different points of view," Huidobro explains. "The little girl is young, and we tried to capture the world of the child and how she captures the world around her and her innocence by being at eye level. The second world is shot more immediate, handheld and raw. We didn't have a lot of time and we had lots of locations, so that was definitely a challenge."
Another of Huidobro's films is Joy Gohring's excellent AFI-sponsored short, 18. It's the story of a teenager who can't come to grips with signing the order that takes her mom off life support. "That film was also about getting into the mind of a teenager who is becoming an adult," she ways. "We didn't want to be too intense or serious or sad." Indeed, the cinematography begins by emphasizing the bright colors of the hospital environment and then subtly shifts to a shallow depth-of-field at a key moment set at a teen pool party. Finally, in Leland Orser's upcoming feature Morning, Huidobro again captures different points of view in a drama about two parents dealing with the death of their child that alternates between them.
Huidobro studied art history in Mexico City and later studied at the AFI and the London International Film School. She cites as her influences d.p.s like Emmanuel Lubezki (who she has operated for), Rodrigo Prieto and Harris Savides but also still photographers like Bill Henson, Nan Goldin and Mary Ellen Mark. Going forward, she says simply, "I want to make films that make you feel like there's only one way of telling the story, and where my work brings me and hopefully others, closer to another life or way of understanding the world." — S.M.
Contact: Heather Griffith at Innovative Artist, (310) 656-0400; paulahuidobro.com
STEPH GREEN. PHOTO BY CLAUDE SHADE.
Last year, Steph Green found herself walking the red carpet at the Oscars, the director of an Oscar-nominated short film, arm-in-arm with an 11-year-old date. The man in question was Olutunji Ebun-Cole, the African-born, U.K.-bred star of her film New Boy. Adapted from a Roddy Doyle story, Green's sharply observed narrative follows a young African refugee on his first day of school in Ireland, an experience shared by the wave of immigrants and refugees who have entered that country in the last decade. "The Irish have this rich oral tradition, and short films are closer to that than features, in a way," Green comments. "No one tells an-hour-and-a-half story in person."
Green's career as a commercial and video director (among other accolades, she was one of Creativity magazine's "Top Directors to Watch") has also helped hone her short-form skills. One thing she has learned from commercial work, as well as from a few early years of working as an assistant to Spike Jonze, is how much of a director's job involves simply discussing what it is they want to do. "You have to symbolically read every single choice — like, what is the metaphor of this lighting — and explain and defend it to many, many people."
Born and currently based in California, Green has lived and worked in Ireland for many years. Her grandmother is Irish, which, in addition to a few years spent living in Ireland, allowed her to claim dual U.S./Irish citizenship and, accordingly, access Irish and European film-financing incentives. She was selected to be a member of Advance Party II, a collective formed by Lars Von Trier's production company Zentropa and the Irish, Scottish and U.K. film boards; filmmakers will make eight films under a strict set of rules (including a mandatory happy ending).
"The Oscar nomination brings just what you'd hope," Green says. "It opens doors to lots of meetings, of course. But also seeing how intensely the film could affect people changed my notions of socially conscious filmmaking. It's easy to become too focused on yourself, on what you want to say, and to focus less on how your films are actually affecting the audience. But it's a really powerful and important thing to be able to make groups of people think and feel something. There's a responsibility there whether you want to admit it or not."
New Boy is available for download on iTunes, and was included on the Wholpin DVD series. — A.V.C.
Contact: Narrative: David Flynn & Rio Hernandez at UTA: (310) 273-6700
Commercials: Rhea Scott at Little Minx/RSA: (310) 659-1577
BRADFORD YOUNG. PHOTO BY JAMES ADOLPHUS.
Growing up in Louisville, Ky., Bradford Young had his life planned out for him. It was expected, like all the males in his family, that after college Young would return home to take over the family business of running a funeral home. "I come from four generations of morticians," says Young, 31. "But I was so interested in the arts, I always tried to figure out how I'd do the family business but also do art." Spending a lot of his childhood in art galleries, attending local theater and listening to his uncle (folk musician Leon Bibb) playing blues at family events, Young itched to express himself. After his mother passed away in 1993 he moved to Chicago to live with his father and there he was introduced to photography through the tutelage of Pulitzer-prizewinning photographer John H. White, and later, when attending Howard University, began to get into cinematography. "I spent a lot of time [at Howard] thinking of images through photo journalism," he says, "learning where the camera goes, where the right place for the camera to be, really being a custodian of the moment instead of just being ushered into the moment."
With the funeral home a distant memory, Young received his MFA in '04 from Howard, and three years later his work garnered attention when he lensed Dee Rees's short, Pariah, which won the Audience Award at the 2007 Los Angeles Film Festival. His profile continues to rise with the two distinctly different projects he shot that are currently on the festival circuit: Tina Mabry's Southern family drama, Mississippi Damned, and Paola Mendoza and Gloria La Morte's gripping immigrant story, Entre nos. Young says both films highlight his sensibilities on lighting. "I'm constantly battling this idea of reconstructive reality with artificial things," he says. "I'm always concerned that my intrusion of technology will take audiences out of the moment, so my ideal situation is to shoot with available light." He continues, "In Mississippi Damned I really tried to figure out ways to do scenes without focusing lights or aiming lights. I discovered black silks on that film and used them a lot. I continued that for Entre nos — there are these heartfelt conversations and there's something about the essence of raw light in those scenes that sucks you in. It's really hard to recreate that [feeling] with film lights."
Currently working on Rees's feature version of Pariah, Young tries to work constantly between features, whether it be on commercials, music videos, or even American Idol, as earlier this year he shot Alicia Keys visiting Africa for the show's philanthropy segment. "I'm always concerned about not getting enough practice as a cinematographer," he says. "I always want to practice how to lens situations but also interactions — getting to know new people and discovering things in them." — Jason Guerrasio