Student filmmakers hail the crowd for support


CU-Boulder pilot project uses ‘crowdfunding’ for innovative projects including celluloid examinations of depression and drug addiction

By Clint Talbott

Good art springs from the “horrible inclemency of life,” Aldous Huxley said, and two young filmmakers at the University of Colorado Boulder personify his point. Their work—which tackles the human toll of depression and drug addiction—is being supported in part by a university-sponsored pilot program in “crowdfunding.”

Crowdfunding draws small contributions from large numbers of people to finance projects or campaigns. Crowdfunding, often boosted via social media, has helped fund a wide array of relatively small projects, and the university hopes to use this mechanism to support innovative work by students, faculty and staff.

The eight projects in the university’s pilot project range from improving renewable-energy technology to teaching constitutional law in K-12 schools via CU law students.

Both film projects are spearheaded by students pursuing a bachelor of fine arts in film. In that degree program, students are required to produce a film as a senior thesis, which is done at the students’ own expense. Crowdfunding could blunt that financial burden.

Alicia Ramirez and Amanda Gostomski plan to produce their films in the fall and graduate in December. They discussed their projects recently.

Ramirez doesn’t want to spoil her plot but describes her film, “Bug,” as “a dark comedy about a man who’s treating his depression and turns into an ant.”

If the storyline sounds familiar, Ramirez is quick to note that she had not read Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” before outlining the story. She was, however, inspired by “The Fly,” the 1986 David Cronnenberg film.

Besides “The Fly,” she admires films like “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “A Clockwork Orange.”

The people who are mildly depressed don’t really talk about it. A lot of my friends get really freaked out when I bring anything like that up. And I’ve always been the first person to try to talk about those things because I don’t like feeling that way, and I don’t like feeling alone while I feel that way.”

Depression is particularly important to Ramirez, because a close family member has been clinically depressed for 25 years, and Ramirez herself has grappled with depressive feelings.

“Seeing how it affected her and seeing how it then started affecting my family members and me, because it’s genetic, I guess it’s just something that I can’t run away from.”

“I find it easier to talk about it rather than stigmatize it as something that’s so awful that it has to be treated with medication, and you have to be diagnosed with depression. I guess I’m just trying to affect that stigma.”

Ramirez says she is not trying to remove depression’s stigma. “I don’t know how I would go about doing that. That’s a big task.”

But from where she stands, many people feel depressed more often than they want to admit. The blues need not be clinical or clearly rooted in life’s stress, she said. “You can be depressed about nothing.”

Further, depression is not a binary condition; there are gradations of severity and duration, she said. “I’m trying to make it more gray than black and white.”

“The people who are mildly depressed don’t really talk about it. A lot of my friends get really freaked out when I bring anything like that up. And I’ve always been the first person to try to talk about those things because I don’t like feeling that way, and I don’t like feeling alone while I feel that way.”

Depression, she added, “sounds worse than it is, because it’s stigmatized.” She hopes the film will help people view the condition through a different lens. She wants to talk about depression in different ways, to “raise a perspective that wasn’t there before.”

“I can’t provide any answers. That’s not what art does,” she said. “You point out questions or raise awareness. I’m trying to talk about something that’s really important to me, to extract something out of my experiences that will resonate with other people.”

In the process, she hopes to touch people in some way.

In her film-studies classes, she’s learned how to watch movies with a discerning eye. Set design, for instance, is critical. “Even if you don’t notice what’s in the background, it still might get to you subliminally, so a lot of communication comes through with set design, color scheme, editing.”

Gostomski’s film “Burning Fawn” will focus on the death of a brother, a tragedy that coincides with the protagonist’s 16th birthday.

Gostomski has a sister who is “heavily addicted to heroin,” and the film is a “loose metaphor” about that. When a loved one is addicted to drugs, “you want to help them, and you do everything possible to help them, but it doesn’t really matter. … They have to get help for themselves.”

The film is an alternative reality, a “fantasy where I could help somebody save themselves.”

Conveying these ideas was not difficult, she said. Reviewing the screenplay, she realized, “This is what I’m talking about, because this is what I’m always talking about.”

The film is an alternative reality, a “fantasy where I could help somebody save themselves.” Conveying these ideas was not difficult, she said. Reviewing the screenplay, she realized, “This is what I’m talking about, because this is what I’m always talking about.”

Gostomski praised faculty members who fostered a deeper appreciation of film. One is Stacey Steers, an award-winning filmmaker who teaches at CU-Boulder. Another is Senior Instructor Don Yannacito, whose class helped ignite a passion for studying film and whom she described as “really inspiring.”

In the long term, Gostomski hopes to be an independent filmmaker. She views film as an “ultimate” form of art. “You get the visuals. You get the music. You get the acting and lighting.”

“Burning Fawn” is described as a coming-of-age story, told in the horror template, that explores female narrative roles. The project also questions “gendered positions in filmmaking.”

As a young female filmmaker, Gostomski faces an uphill battle. The range of roles for female actors is more limited than that for men, and in all areas of filmmaking—from crew member to director—the number of women is relatively low, she noted.

She added that films made by women are often pigeonholed as being “women’s films.” Gostomski herself is sometimes asked if she will do make-up for actors on the set, and she notes that the request reflects an assumption that women do makeup.

Establishing herself in the field “will be a huge obstacle,” given that male filmmakers generally garner confidence more easily than do female filmmakers, she said.

“Burning Fawn” deals with gender issues peripherally. “We wanted to make it really important that our female characters should actually talk to each other, that they interact with each other.”

“People keep asking me if my film is going to be feminist. I find that kind of strange, because anything I’m going to make is going to be feminist, even if it was about men.”

To learn more or support “Bug,” see http://bit.ly/1iMsNxK. To learn more or support “Burning Fawn,” see http://bit.ly/1n6ymPm. To see all CU-Boulder Crowdfunding projects, go to www.colorado.edu/crowdfunding.

May 22, 2014

 

 

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