Aspiring Rowan filmmakers to premiere three original documentaries May 11

Aspiring Rowan filmmakers to premiere three original documentaries May 11

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It may sound cliché, but 12 Rowan film students could be the next Ken Burns, Michael Moore or Spike Lee.

With a premiere May 11 of three documentaries in King Auditorium, their journey officially begins.

The students, all senior Radio, Television & Film majors in Diana Nicolae’s Documentary Production course, produced three captivating films – one on the life of legendary animator Tex Avery (creator of Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny, among others), one about a father-son voyage to find two hero soldiers, and a very personal story about the painful elusiveness of recovery from addiction.

 

What’s Up Doc-umentary

Roughly 20 minutes long, this film about animator Fred “Tex” Avery looks at the way in which Avery challenged the realism of 1930s-era animation, the most well known of which was made by Walt Disney, and opted instead for all-out zany comedy exemplified by the looniest of Looney Toons, Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny.

Led by Eric Boldizar, the film examines Avery’s early ambitions, his influence on other animators before and after his 1980 death, as well as his struggles with depression following his son’s suicide and his workaholic nature.

"A lot of people know about Tex Avery’s cartoons and characters, but not about the man himself,” said Boldizar. “He led a very interesting life and was determined to do make his cartoons the best, even if it took a toll on himself."

Avery took chances like breaking “the fourth wall” (the imaginary barrier that, in theater, ends at the stage edge), and was constantly experimenting.

Sometimes, Boldizar and his collaborators –Dylan DeSimine, Orlando Mercado and Eric Iaquinto – said, the joke was on the audience, as when a “hair” appeared on the lens and a character, as in Magical Maestro, reached out and plucked it off.

“He pushed the limits like no other animator of his day,” Mercado said.

 

A Home for Recovery

Brilliantly shot, this film explores both the challenge of finding addiction recovery resources in New Jersey and the excruciating journey to sobriety that often does not end well.

Focusing on loved ones – a father, a childhood friend, a girlfriend – A Home for Recovery is at times heartbreakingly personal, a first-person window into the life-death struggle to get and stay clean.

“We want to show that addiction is not a moral failing,” said Brian Hires, the film’s producer-director.

A Home for Recovery primarily follows the story of Justin, one of Hires’ boyhood friends, who, now 19, has wrestled with heroine addiction since 14.

At roughly 25 minutes, the film by Hires, Kyle Rosner, Jason Penza and Nick Markel takes a fresh look at the epidemic of addiction in America.

“It’s a very scary thing,” Markel said. “I’ve seen people shoot up in front of me and it’s no joke.”

 

Heart of a Hero

In May 1968, during the height of the Vietnam War, Michael Matarese, a soldier in the U.S. Army, was shot in the neck during fighting near Dong Ha, a strategic and fiercely defended combat zone.

His second serious wound during the war, Matarese was dragged from his position by two comrades and never saw them again.

In Heart of a Hero, a film by his son Michael and fellow RTF majors Lauren Rauffer, Federick Casario and Patrick Hopper, Matarese tries to find the men who, risking their own lives in the midst of the battle, pulled him to safety.

But finding the men has not been easy. Matarese, of Mullica Hill, was shot on May 8 or May 9 (his recollection of May 8 is contrary to Army records indicating the incident happened May 9) and that discrepancy is indicative of the bureaucratic mess it’s been to locate the men who saved him.

Now 68, Matarese knows that time is running out to find the men – assuming they’re still alive – and the filmmakers follow attempts by him and his son to track them down.

“This is really a father-son relationship story about the quest to find those two soldiers,” Casario said.

“It’s a very emotional story,” Rauffer said. “Some people have actually cried just watching the trailer.”

 

Though carefully plotted, directed and shot throughout the year, the films have challenged the aspiring filmmakers at every turn.

“Documentary filmmaking can often be more difficult than narrative filmmaking because you have to take chaotic reality and fit it into a dramatic story,” said Nicolae, an accomplished documentarian who teaches the fall and spring classes.

She said the three films produced this year are personally meaningful to the students making them, and that is what makes them so strong.

“When choosing a topic it’s important to have a real interest in it and to connect with the characters,” she said. “When filmmakers connect with their characters, their audiences do too.”

If you go: The May 11 premier begins at 6:30 p.m. in King Auditorium in Bozorth Hall. It is open to the Rowan community only but seating is limited.