|PHOTO: CLAIRE FOLGER.|
Born in Hong Kong and raised in Boston, Ellie Lee is one of those artists to whom pushing boundaries seems second nature. An animator with two award-winning shorts, Lee is also a seasoned documentarian. Her striking, charcoal-animated documentary, Repetition Compulsion, dealing with abused women, went on to become the first animated film to be broadcast on the acclaimed PBS documentary series, P.O.V. "It was conceived originally as a documentary, but the animation came about because I had these skills and abilities in that field and that seemed like the best way to tell the story, with the movement of the charcoal drawings capturing the violence without needing to actually show the women's faces."
In 2000, Lee made the transition to live action, fiction narrative with her latest work, the haunting and elegiac short, Dog Days, a cautionary tale that takes place in a futuristic wasteland. "With Dog Days I really felt that my past as an animator and studying doc filmmaking at Harvard really came together to help make it a better film,” says Lee. The film took top honors at the 2000 Hamptons and Florida Film Festivals, and is currently running on IFC.
Next up: The Road Home, a comedy-drama in development. “I'm so glad I started as an animator and a doc filmmaker,” says Lee. “I really feel that it made me a keen observer of human nature and develop a certain empathy for the people I portray in my films.” — A.S.
Stephen Adly-Guirgis never wanted to be a writer. But when his friends at New York City’s LAByrinth Theater Company encouraged him to put his words on paper, something seemed to click. “I started writing sort of by accident. My friends at the LAB kept pushing me to keep at it, and I guess I did,” says Guirgis. Now, just five years after the premiere of his first one-act, In Arabia We’d All Be Kings, Guirgis has become one of the brightest stars on the international theater scene with the plays Our Lady of 121st Street and Jesus Hopped the “A” Train.
Now Guirgis is getting a chance to show off his acting chops as the lead in two independent films: Jailbait, a gritty prison drama co-starring Michael Pitt that was written and directed by fellow LAB member Brett C. Leonard, and Palindromes, Todd Solondz’s latest provocation. “I act because I have to, and I write because I feel like I have an obligation to do it,” says Guirgis, who’s also writing a screenplay, which he describes as a prequel to Our Lady, along with developing an HBO series with Mos Def. — M.R.
Contact: John Buzzetti at the Gersh Agency: (212) 634-8126
Romance bloomed for Oakland-raised Ryan Fleck and Boston-bred Anna Boden soon after they met five years ago on the set of a student film. At the time, Fleck was enrolled at NYU, where he would later win accolades and a Sundance 2003 berth for his NYU thesis short Struggle, which told the story of a racial confrontation on the set of a film about the life of a Black Panther. Boden was enrolled in Columbia’s film program.
After Fleck completed Struggle, he and Boden decided to collaborate. Their first project, the documentary short Have You Seen This Man?, about an eccentric New York artist-businessman, enjoyed a successful run on the festival circuit, premiered on PBS and is slated for broadcast on IFC later this year. The experience went well, and the couple decided to keep working together.
Next up was a fiction script, Half Nelson, about a drug-addicted teacher in Oakland. In order to get the film off the ground and attract financiers, Boden and Fleck decided to co-direct a short based on the story and set it in New York City. And so was begat Gowanus, Brooklyn. A gritty, naturalistic film about an African-American girl and her relationship with an introverted white teacher who’s nursing a secret crack habit, Gowanus took home the Grand Jury Prize for short filmmaking at Sundance 2004. Half Nelson has since been selected for Sundance’s 2004 Writers’ Lab. Fleck and Boden are also finishing up a feature-length documentary about hip-hop culture in Cuba.
“Our focus right now is on getting Half Nelson made,” says Boden, 24. “But we’re also focused on finishing the doc. We’re definitely in a better position than we were in before Sundance.” — M.R.
|PHOTO: BECKY SAPP/WIREIMAGE.COM.|
Every now and again, a filmmaker appears, seemingly out of nowhere, with a first-time short that’s so original, so visually arresting, that one would swear it’s the work of a seasoned artist. Such is the case with Kazuo Ohno, and his film For Our Man. Ostensibly a straight narrative piece about the creative musings of a frustrated writer, it’s a visual tour-de-force, a non-stop barrage of images and words that pummel you into 24 minutes of submission. “Some people tell me they see it as experimental, but it's pure narrative,” says Ohno.
Born and raised in Tokyo, Ohno travelled frequently between Japan and NYC, eventually enrolling at Columbia. “I was interested in the creative arts — music, visual arts, writing, photography,” he says. “It then occurred to me in my last year of college that all of these areas could come together in film. It seemed a natural progression.” He’s currently working in New York City as a director of commercials, cinematographer and composer. His next project, which he workshopped at the Sundance Labs, is the feature Mr. Crumpacker and the Man from the Letter. — A.S.