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David Kaplan, Year of the Fish


This article is part of Filmmaker’s Sundance 2007 Special Coverage.

A veteran of Sundance with his short films — including the cryptic, menacing fairy tales, Little Red Riding Hood (starring Christina Ricci and Quentin Crisp!), Little Suck-A-Thumb, and The Frog King — which are regularly shown to film students as examples of exemplary short-form filmmaking, David Kaplan returns to the festival with his first feature, Year of the Fish. At once a singular New York immigrant story, as well as a re-imagining of the fairy tale (Kaplan’s real-world, adult conception of children’s stories can bring to mind Guillermo del Toro’s terrifying, blood-and-vomit work in Pan’s Labyrinth), Year of the Fish was also painstakingly rotoscoped-a process that took years. This eagerly anticipated feature is one of the most unique to ever screen at Sundance.

“Year of the Fish” screens at Sundance in the Spectrum section.

Can you say a little bit about your background? Where you’re from? Age? Education?
I was born and raised in downtown New York City. I went to elementary and high school at Friends Seminary on 16th Street, college at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, and graduate school at a film school I wasn’t crazy about so I won’t mention it
here. Prior to Year of the Fish, I had made several short films. The best known one is Little Red Riding Hood starring Christina Ricci and narrated by Quentin Crisp.

Can you briefly describe what inspired your film?
I’ve always been interested in folklore, myths and fairy tales. I find them quite deep, strange, and they seem to lend themselves nicely to visual adaptation into the film medium. “Year of the Fish” is based on a ninth century variant of Cinderella, the oldest known recorded version of the story, but I thought it would be fun to set it in contemporary Chinatown in a massage parlor.

Can you talk about some of the people you collaborated with?
Based on the screenplay and a short animation sample, I was able to
assemble a wonderful cast: Tsai Chin (Joy Luck Club) was the first to sign on. Then we got the acclaimed Shakespearean actor Randall Duk Kim and Ken Leung (Rush Hour). And I think we’ve made a major discovery with An Nguyen, who plays our lead in her feature film debut. And the crew was great too — young but totally enthused. We shot documentary style — no lights, skeleton crew, handheld camera
— so we were able to get into all kinds of off-the-beaten-path locations. Finally, I think our composer Paul Cantelon (Everything is Illuminated) has delivered such a lovely score that it threatens to outshine the film itself.

Were there any compromises you had to make on this film? Anything you’d do differently?
Everything on a low-budget film is a compromise.

Any film influences?
For this film, maybe Black Orpheus and The Scent of Green Papaya. And during the animation, I was able to extract color palettes from well-known paintings — in particular, Cezanne’s — and apply those color schemes to my own shots. This gives the animation a very rich, unusual depth. And of course, Linklater’s Waking Life was the pioneer for low-budget digital rotoscoping.

What are your expectations for Sundance?
I honestly don’t know what to expect.

Any films you’re excited to see at Sundance?

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve read or received about filmmaking?
You have to work with what you’ve got on hand.

What’s your favorite/least favorite question to read in interviews with directors?
Did you go to film school?

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