The desktop filmmaking revolution hit some kind of milestone when Stefan Nadelmans Flash Animation epic Terminal Bar won the Grand Prize for Best Short at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival. A montage of still photographs taken by the filmmakers father, Sheldon Nadelman, during the decade he tended bar and day-managed the eponymous Hells Kitchen dive, Terminal Bar is a techno-driven picaresque that evokes writers Damon Runyon, John Rechy and Peter Max. "The Terminal Bar was my grandfathers bar, and they were my dads pictures, so I thought [the film] should be a Nadelman family view and I should go crazy with it. I had my own rules, like everything is constantly moving and we never sit on [a picture] for more than a second. And the whole film is driven by music."
Terminal Bar was made in a years worth of spare time while the filmmaker worked as a graphic designer for a "distance learning" company. As for whats next, Nadelmans says, "Everybody assumed that my next goal was to make a feature and that I must have a script ready. But thats not the case." Instead he thinks his next project may be another doc: "All I can say is that its half illustration animation and half interview. And that all the subjects are in Iowa." Scott Macaulay
Victor Viyuoh studied math at Louisiana State University, fiction at the University of Miami and filmmaking at the University of Southern California, but for his first feature, 50/50, hes traveling home to Cameroon. It wont be his first filmmaking return trip. His short Mboutoukou, a 2002 Student Academy Awards nominee, about a boy who sets out to prove himself by hunting termites, is set in Cameroon as well. Completed last year, the film has played at more than 40 festivals, including Venice, Rotterdam and New Directors/New Films.
In Viyuohs words, 50/50, which was developed at the IFP/Los Angeles Directors Lab, "tells the story of a U.S.-educated woman who returns to her African village and ends up organizing a womens rebellion against the chauvinist village men.
"African films have done their time in universities and public libraries," he says. "The push now should be for films aimed at the arthouses and multiplexes." Scott Macaulay
Patty Jenkins has lived a mixed-up life. She grew up in Kansas but with William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg as her neighbors. At the local cinema, Jenkins saw all kinds of movies, without any sense of what constituted "high" and "low." As she acknowledges, "I am one of those people who had a film education, but it never occurred to me to be a filmmaker." This year with her first feature, Monster, a bio pic of female serial killer Aileen Wuornos (played by Charlize Theron) in postproduction, she is clearly just that a filmmaker.
After high school, Jenkins attended New Yorks Cooper Union to study painting. But once there, she traded in her brushes and palette for the schools one camera package. She studied with the schools one film teacher, dyed-in-the-wool experimental animator Robert Breer, who would inevitably greet Jenkinss latest narrative work with an encouraging shrug.
After school Jenkins moved even further from her fine arts origins, working on music videos and commercials for directors like Tarsem and Brett Ratner. But, says Jenkins: "I wasnt satisfied. So I applied to the AFI in Los Angeles because I knew I had to move out of New York to not be known as a camera person." There she explored a series of film genres and forms, including a female superhero short, Velocity Rules, which was the first AFI film to be programmed at the AFI Festival. Looking for a film to make, she pitched a story about Aileen Wuornos as a classic 70s film, à la Bonnie and Clyde and Badlands.
Before the deal could be made, Jenkins realized that she had to make this story her way. She wrote to Wuornos in jail, "People want to make you feel like a feminist hero, or a monster where is the space in between?" The fact that Wuornos was executed in Florida during preproduction only impressed upon Jenkins her responsibility as a filmmaker to get the story right. Peter Bowen
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While some documentarians spend a lifetime searching for the perfect subject, 28-year-old Irene Lusztig had one in the form of a family legacy. In Reconstruction, the British-born and Boston-raised filmmaker tells the story of her grandmother Monica Sevianus involvement in the infamous "Ioanid Gang" bank heist attempt in Communist Romania of 1959 and the governments subsequent feature-film reenactment a year later, using the actual perpetrators. That fascinating piece of Communist propaganda, titled Reconstituirea, is the centerpiece of Lusztigs film, its ghostly images juxtaposed with her own arresting blend of Super 8, 16mm and Mini DV footage. "It was important that the older source material not dominate my film," she says. "I really struggled with taking all the material and making the film mine." Women Make Movies will release the film in August.
A Harvard University graduate, Lusztig has made two other documentaries: the short Crema Roz (1996) and For Beijing with Love and Squalor (1997), an in-depth piece on Beijings underground youth scene that required major relocation and research, much the way Reconstruction did. "For both films, learning the languages and getting up close to my subjects was crucial," she explains, "and the only way it could be done right." André Salas
15 David Russo
David Russo got his big break from a football stadium. Commissioned to "show the textures of our region," his dizzying experimental time-lapse film loop, Populi, is displayed on video monitors in Seattles Seahawks Stadium. As part of Populis roughly $50,000 budget, Russo purchased a 1958 Mitchell GC 35mm stop-motion animation camera. The old technology enabled another innovative short, Pan with Us, winner of an honorable mention at Sundance 2003. Inspired by a Robert Frost poem, Pan is a beautifully photographed meditation on nature and the dangers of what Russo calls our "environmentally imperialist" modern era. Russo began considering the film in 1996 ("the Frost estate was hostile as hell to the project," he says) and used the years to develop new modes of animation. One stunning sequence includes animated shadows using etched glass. Actual production lasted over one year.
The self-taught filmmaker is now developing a feature project, but, he insists, "its not an art film." Although Russo doesnt see himself emulating the work of dramatists, he mentions a few filmmakers whose spirit he admires: "Bill Plympton, Terry Gilliam, the Brothers Quay. I love their rogue passion applied to film in a way that says fuck all. " Anthony Kaufman
Go to Sidebar: Update on 2002's 25 New Faces