In Features, Issues

25 NEW FACES OF INDIE FILM 2003

PHOTO: RICHARD KERN
16 Ghazi Albuliwi

Ghazi Albuliwi, the son of Jordanian immigrants, grew up in a largely Italian Catholic neighborhood in south Brooklyn. He majored in media and communication and minored in political science at Hunter College. "I was doing standup comedy at night," he recalls. "and leading a double life that was about to freight-train.

"After college I spent a year not really doing anything. I was staying home watching soaps during the day and renting a lot of movies – low-budget films like Laws of Gravity and The Brothers McMullen. I thought it might be interesting to do a movie based on my life – my comedy routines dealt a lot with my life, religion and politics – and I figured I just needed a camera and sound."

Albuliwi was 22 at the time. Two years later he completed the screenplay to West Bank Brooklyn. Set in Borough Park – which, he says, "has the same feel to it as Israel, with Orthodox Jews and Muslims, mosques and synagogues, side by side" – the film tells the story of four Arab Americans struggling, often hilariously, to navigate a path between the competing demands of tradition and assimilation. Produced and directed by Albuliwi, who also plays one of the four main characters, West Bank was shot on Super 16mm over 14 days for $39,000 and was completed just prior to 9/11. The film was recently acquired by CAVU Pictures, which plans a theatrical release in February 2004.

Now managed by Michael Mendelsohn of Patriot Advisors, Albuliwi is already hard at work on his second feature, Brooklyn Boys. "It takes place now: we’re at level orange, and we’re hunting for Osama," he says. "It begins with the Iraqi Freedom crusade and ends with the liberation of Iraq, and throughout you have these three friends trying to live their lives and plan for the future, no longer knowing what tomorrow will bring." The film is slated to begin shooting in January 2004. – Steve Gallagher

Contact: (347) 661-4142, tito718@hotmail.com

 

 
17 Andrew Bujalski

Whether Andrew Bujalski’s debut feature, Funny Ha Ha, is really that or more "funny strange" will be up to each viewer to decide. But this low-key Boston drama of a 23-year-old girl in love with the wrong guy has been drawing comparisons with Cassavetes and a young Mike Leigh. What is noticeable in Bujalski’s film, though, is his strangely mundane, completely understated vision of the world. It’s a perspective that speaks to his love of the documentary: "I took a lot of inspiration from documentary and the vérité stuff; films could be done very small, with minimal crew and minimal cast."

Bujalski, who grew up in the Boston area, graduated in film from Harvard in 1998. There he had studied with the documentarian Robb Moss, Belgian director Chantal Akerman and Yugoslavian filmmaker Dusan Makavejev. Bujalski’s combination of documentary and offbeat styles appeared in his early student work Philosophy of the World, in which the filmmaker mixed into an off-handed romance a severed head and a discussion of Schroedinger’s cat. After college, Bujalski moved away from Boston to Austin, Texas, to write Funny Ha Ha, which was inspired by people he knew. The main character, Marnie, was written for the actress who played her, Kate Dollenmayer, a close college friend who had also moved to Austin from Cambridge after graduation. Overall Bujalski steered clear of actual actors, casting instead friends and acquaintances he knew well enough personally, and he shaped the characters to fit the actors who played them. As Bujalski points out, "The film is not really autobiographical but it is very personal."

Bujalski is at work on another feature that he is hoping to produce on a similar scale and starring Justin Rice, who plays a "roommate" in Funny Ha Ha. – Peter Bowen

Contact: andrew@funnyhahafilm.com

 

 
18 Matt Goldman

Each year while Hollywood agents stampede to sign feature filmmakers emerging from the Sundance Dramatic Competition, Filmmaker seems to find an accessible, audience-friendly "25 to Watch" candidate in that festival’s lesser-examined experimental Frontier section. This year we discovered Matt Goldman, whose Perpetual Life of Jim Albers comedically chronicles the biochemical and metaphysical dilemmas one geeky office worker encounters in a single day.

Using hyperactive editing, hallucinatory sound design and incorporating bits of animation and instructional film, Jim Albers plays like some sort of marriage of Darren Aronofsky and Modern Times. But Goldman, 30, says his true inspiration was Powers of Ten, the scientific film essay by designers and filmmakers Charles and Ray Eames.

Goldman has directed three shorts in the past decade while working in New York as an editor and producer for "trash TV" shows like Judge Hatchett and The Rikki Lake Show. Of his strategy on Jim Albers, Goldman says: "A short film shouldn’t have to have a perfect dramatic structure. It was important for me to establish a visual style."

Goldman is currently working with New York producer Seth Carmichael on a feature extension of Jim Albers entitled The Kite, which he describes as "Apocalypse Now in an office building." But Goldman, who hasn’t exactly "gone Hollywood" after his Sundance exposure, is also hedging his bets. "I just want my first feature out of my hair, so I wrote another script, Vineyard Haven, that is a comic-thriller about three people set entirely in one house. [Carmichael] is aiming for a $500,000 budget, but I can do it for $30,000." As for bigger work like The Kite, Goldman is playing it low-key: "I had a couple of meetings after Sundance, but it’s almost better if people talk about me when I’m not there. The more meetings I take, the less time I can spend on my script. You know, one of my heroes was Charles Mingus, and he was always the underdog." – Scott Macaulay

Contact: mattgoldman@brokefilms.com

 

 
19 Greg Pak

"I went to Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship after graduating from Yale." recalls 34-year-old Greg Pak. "I was going to be a politician. But then I got involved with a student filmmaking group and it just seemed what I wanted to do. It was a challenge to me on every level. Intellectually, emotionally, socially, physically – it felt immediately right."

After dropping out of politics and enrolling in NYU’s graduate film program, the Dallas-raised Pak soon began collecting honors for his work, including a gold medal at the 1998 Student Academy Awards for his short Fighting Grandpa, which led to him securing representation with the Gersh Agency. Yet his first feature continued to elude him. "At one point," says Pak, "I had three different screenplays, with three different producers who wanted to option them, but it all fell through. They all had budgets of millions of dollars, and it’s really hard as a first-time director to pull that kind of a deal off. The challenge I set for myself was to write something I could make with money I could scrounge up."

The film that Pak decided would fit his budgetary demands wasn’t exactly a typical low-budget indie. "I call it ‘science fiction with a heart,’" says Pak of his debut feature, Robot Stories. "The themes are Love, Death, Family and Robots." Told in four separate but thematically related vignettes, the film presents a near future in which the distinction between man and machine has become increasingly blurred – childless parents adopt robots, people work with mechanical drones and human memories are scanned onto hard drives.

Robot Stories premiered at the 2002 Hamptons International Film Festival, where it took home the Best Screenplay prize, and has since gone on to pick up a number of honors on the regional festival circuit. Pak is currently securing financing for his next film, Rio Chino, an Asian-American western that won the Pipedream Screenwriting Award at the 2002 IFP Market. Pak also edits the Web sites filmhelp.com and asianamericanfilm.com. – Matthew Ross

Contact: Kara Baker-Young and Sandra Lucchesi at The Gersh Agency: (212) 997-1818, (310) 274-6611, www.gregpak.com

 

 
20 Brett Ingram

Like many, Brett Ingram did not start out in life planning to become a filmmaker. In fact, after completing an engineering degree at North Carolina State University, he took a job in Florida working on rocket engines for the space shuttle. Soon, though, he became bored with the world of circuits and thrusters and looked to do something more artistic. Following a stint as a journalist with a small-town newspaper, he enrolled in the masters program in film and video at the University of North Carolina, where he made two award-winning short documentaries. Panic Attack is about a classmate who suffers from panic anxiety disorder, and Armor of God portrays Scott Irving, a born-again Christian performance artist.

Today Ingram runs the Durham-based Bright Eyes Pictures, a commercial and doc house, with his partner and collaborator Jim Haverkamp while finishing his first feature-length documentary.

Monster Road details the life of Bruce Bickford, the legendary, reclusive genius of claymation who rarely leaves his Seattle home. "I first met Bruce in 1992," Ingram says. "It has taken me a long time for him to let me into his world. It all comes down to trust. Animators are traditionally obsessed people. They absorb themselves into doing tedious, fiddly things for long periods of time. I had to figure out what is going on in Bruce’s bizarre mind."

A common thread runs through Ingram’s choice of subjects. "These people show up in my life," he remarks, "and they are people who are not afraid of looking at the dark side of their own lives. For me, the exciting part about being a documentary filmmaker is being able to tell their unique stories." – Liz Ogilvie

Contact: www.brighteyepictures.com

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