Monday, August 29, 2011

For 10 days, two University of Iowa graduate students showcased their hard work along with some of the best in the film industry at the annual Cannes Film Festival in France.

Joe Bookman, a doctoral candidate in communication studies, and D. Jesse Damazo, an MFA candidate in film and video production, were selected to have their 15-minute short film, “The Agony and Sweat of the Human Spirit,” screened at the festival. Their film is about a professional ukeleleist and his manager, who has a sickly Chihuahua. The cast includes Damazo and Bookman, along with Edie, the Chihuahua.

The film was presented during the festival’s student competition, Cinefondation and is the first time UI students have gained acceptance to the film festival.

“For us being a part of that particular selection was humbling. We met some fantastically talented students there and we were able to exchange a lot of ideas with other filmmakers,” Bookman said. “The people at Cinefondation were amazing people – warm, emotionally intelligent, and discerning consumers of cinema.”

The duo created the film for a class assignment that focused on the use of the long shot – filming lengthy continuous takes. Their movie had a total of five shots in the entire film. The film ran on an estimated $500 budget, largely used for the purchase of a helium tank and balloon, and had the assistance of roughly 10 other people.

“The formal decision to use the long shot take was challenging – and at times frustrating – but ultimately it wound up being a very useful constraint,” Bookman said.

The two filmmakers traveled two very different paths on their road to filmmaking. Damazo acquired his appreciation of film while attending law school in New York. Seeking solitude from the endless studying, he would go to local independent cinemas to relax.

For Bookman, film was always something he admired, but the prospect of becoming a filmmaker never sunk in until the right moment in his life.

“I think my sensibilities towards film began to solidify as a teen,” Bookman said. “Many of the films that excited me then I still admire today. I don’t know if at that age I’d have been ready to take on filmmaking as an ambitious pursuit, but I think the impulse was eating at me even then.”

After Cannes, the fate of the film will be determined throughout the coming year as the graduate students wait to hear whether it has been accepted by other festivals around the world. “We’re prepared for a long year of rejection, but we’re hoping we’ll get at least a few more acceptances in the coming months,” Bookman said. “Ultimately, it’s impossible to predict how things will turn out.”

Both said while they do have various projects they are working on independently, they haven’t finished working with one another just yet. Damazo said they are at the very beginning stages of planning what will one day unfold into a feature film.

The biggest obstacle is always funding, Bookman said, and the two feel appreciative of the University of Iowa as multiple departments offered funding to help them attend the festival. The Graduate College, International Programs, the Film and Video Production program, the Department of Cinema and Comparative Literature and Communication Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Fine Arts Council, and the Executive Council of Graduate and Professional Students were among the organizations that provided funding.