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Friday, August 29, 2014

From the Mouths of Filmmakers: Shawn Christensen

Shawn Christensen at the 85th Academy Awards
By Shawn Christensen and Joshua Handler 

Recently I've been disturbed by the amount of people who don't seek out independent films, non-English-language films, and classics.  So, I asked some of the most distinctive voices in independent and world cinema to submit responses to a few questions about why/if they think indies/non-English-language films/classics are important to view, and how those films have been influential on their careers.

The responses below are from Shawn Christensen, writer/director of "Curfew", winner of the Oscar for Best Short Film, Live Action. Christensen adapted "Curfew" into a feature film, BEFORE I DISAPPEAR, which won the 2014 SXSW Film Festival's Audience Award.

Do you feel that it is important for aspiring filmmakers and filmgoers to view independent and world cinema and why?
Yes, and especially in the case of world cinema - a foreign filmmaker's view of the world can be so different from your own, and their ideas of how to tell a story, cinematically, can be an eye-opener.  Many of the great American filmmakers in the '60's and '70's were inspired by mid-century European cinema.  They were watching Bergman, Fellini, Bertolucci, Godard, etc., and it changed the way they looked at the film medium.  I remember watching BREATHLESS in college, and I was blown away by the editing - that's when I learned there are no rules when trying to get a point across.
Do you feel that it is important for aspiring filmmakers and filmgoers to view films of the past and why?
At one point, as an exercise, I watched only films made before 1980 for a few months.  The reason for this, was because in the late '70's the "Weekend Box Office" became a well publicized event, and from that moment forward, making movies became more of a competitive blood-sport.  The studios began injecting conventions, clichés and formulas into our entertainment like never before, with an eye to "win the weekend".   It was fascinating to me to realize just how unpredictable many movies were before then.  These days, even really good movies... I feel like I know where they're going.  We all do.
How did viewing indies and films from around the world help you when directing "Curfew" and BEFORE I DISAPPEAR?
I think it's a subconscious thing - drawing from all kinds of different films, even "popcorn" movies, and cherry-picking the kinds of characters and scenes and cinematography that I like.  I watched a lot of Bergman while writing the feature... but I also watched a lot of Pixar, so who knows?
What's one American and one non-English-language film that you would recommend that film-lovers or young/aspiring filmmakers see?
MEAN STREETS - Martin Scorsese
BLOW-UP - Michelangelo Antonioni
From the Mouths of Filmmakers continues on Monday.

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