Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Protagonist

I saw a remarkable documentary film not long ago called The Protaganist, directed by Jessica Yu. The film interweaves the stories of four unrelated men who have been consumed by their personal journeys. The men: a former German terrorist, an "ex-gay" evangelist, a bank robber and a martial arts expert.

From The Protagonist website.

But as their stories unfold, one starts to see the parallels between the uncommon, common experience of these four men. Each character embarks on a journey for valid reasons, only to find himself so deeply embedded in the cause that he becomes the opposite of what he had intended. He is blind to this fact, though, until the forces of fate and character boil and distill to a single moment of dark epiphany. In telling this echoing story, the film asks: what is the path to extremism? In responding to the turmoil of life, where does one draw the line between the reasonable and the unreasonable? And how does one recover from the delusion of certainty?

In addition, the film is based on the works of Euripides and the film uses quotes from his plays as chapter headings. Yu also uses wooden rod puppets- pictured here- to stage both excerpts from Euripides and scenes from the four men's past. The puppetry is really amazing and adds a layer to the film that would not otherwise be there.

Jessica Yu won an Oscar in 1997 for her short documentary, Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien, who lived for decades in an iron lung after being paralyzed by polio. She has directed other award winning documentaries and in the small world isn't it category, a former student and regular reader of this page, has worked with her and says only good things.

Check out The Protaganist it's well worth it.


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Florida State University

Last weekend I went to Florida State University where I spoke with a group of film students working on their thesis films.  The dumb filmmaker likes nothing better than a road trip, and getting a chance to talk film with passionate film students was the icing on the cake- or perhaps the cake itself.  I think the cultural exchange-  visiting and lecturing at another institution- was very valuable.  

FSU has a good program.  There are only 60 undergraduates.  The program is set up like this- the first two years are general education classes and the final two years is hardcore filmmaking.  I really like the practical, hands on approach- something we do at Flashpoint.  I also liked seeing how the students really had to collaborate.  Each student must serve as a writer/director, producer, DP, a.d., sound, production designer or editor on a film.  There are some other hard rules as well- films cannot be more than seven and a half minutes- they will not be accepted otherwise.  For the thesis (B.F.A.)  films the school pays for 2000 feet of film and processing and gives each film a $250 stipend for food and production design.

Having taught only at urban campuses, I was envious that students had 24 hour access.  I was in the film department at 11pm Saturday night and there were probably 20 students editing, building sets, meeting etc....  It was great to see and reminded me of my own misspent youth hanging out making film at all hours.

My lecture was about personal vision.  I bored them with my journey, then we talked about Tom McCarthy- writer/director of The Visitor and The Station Agent and his personal vision. Regarding both films we talked about what makes family and community and themes of connection.  It was a nice evening- the students were engaged and engaging and some even took notes.  Several asked me if they could send me their work so I could comment.  I look forward to seeing it.

I want to send a special thanks to Joey Daoud who found me, thanks in part to this blog, and brought me down to speak.  Check out his Coffee and Celluloid blog- a good taste of what it is like to be a hard working film student.

Finally, despite the nice trip, it is nice to be home.  My own Flashpoint film students began their second productions this past Monday and I look forward to seeing what they produce.