New American Filmmakers
Since 2007, the Vilcek Foundation has been a proud sponsor of the New American Filmmakers program. Curated and presented in collaboration with the Hawaii International Film Festival, the program seeks out the most talented foreign-born filmmakers currently contributing to American cinema. The result is a diverse program that draws upon cinematic genres and traditions from around the world.
This year’s entries, to be presented at the 34th annual HIFF showcase in Honolulu, cover everything from the Ethiopian custom of bride kidnapping, to an Iranian ghost town plagued by a lonesome vampire, to the Harry Potter-inspired collegiate sport of Quidditch. See below for more about these films and the creative immigrant filmmakers behind them.
Antoine de Cazotte, Producer
A French native, de Cazotte spent five of his formative years in the States, where he learned to speak English without a thick French accent. When he returned to France, he landed a role in a movie about Napoleon, and soon realized that while he was quite enthusiastic about the filmmaking trade, he didn’t want to be an actor.
He was later asked to be a radio DJ and got his first real taste of production shooting music videos. This led to increased interaction with players in the French entertainment industry. He consequently joined a couple of production companies: one that shot fashion programs and another that shot documentaries. When the latter decided to make its first narrative feature, it promoted de Cazotte to assistant production manager and allowed him to hire the actual unit production manager.
Over several years, he continued to gain experience as a production manager on TV shows, miniseries, and feature films while traveling the world—from French Guiana to Kuujjuarapik—shooting documentaries. Working as a UPM on the set of American soap opera Passions, de Cazotte met the woman who would later become his wife. He soon made Los Angeles his home, where he became heavily involved in the Producers Guild of America, becoming the official French representative for the guild.
After spending four years working on the remarkable documentary OCEANS, de Cazotte had a chance meeting with a producer friend, which led to his career-changing role as producer for THE ARTIST.
George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is at the height of his career in 1927 when THE ARTIST begins. While working the premiere of his new film, George accidentally bumps into a beautiful unknown, Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), and the ensuing photo op sets her on the path to unexpected fame.
George, however, quickly finds himself on the opposite track, as sound begins to dominate the screens. At the same time, new It-girl Peppy finds herself at the forefront of the sound phenomenon. As her star status rises, she never forgets the man who gave her the start she needed; she resolves to help George in any way she can.
THE ARTIST tells a familiar story, reminiscent of classics like SUNSET BOULEVARD and A STAR IS BORN, but director Michel Hazanavicius and cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman breathe new life into an old tale. Above all, THE ARTIST offers a joyous look back to a golden age, and will leave audiences nostalgic for a cinematic form that, as Hazanavicius proves, hasn’t lost its resonance. —Michele Maheux
Ana Lily Amirpour, Director
Ana Lily Amirpour made her first film at age 12, a horror movie starring guests of a slumber party. She has a varied background in the arts, including painting and sculpting, and was bass player and frontwoman of an art-rock band before moving to Los Angeles to make films. Her debut feature film, the Iranian vampire Western A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT, premiered at the NEXT section of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and was opening-night selection at the New Directors/New Films Festival at the MoMA in New York. She is also creator of the comic book series A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, which chronicles the ongoing blood-soaked journeys of a lonely vampire known only as The Girl.
A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT
Strange things are afoot in Bad City. The Iranian ghost town, home to prostitutes, junkies, pimps, and other sordid souls, is a bastion of depravity and hopelessness where a lonely vampire stalks its most unsavory inhabitants. But when boy meets girl, an unusual love story begins to blossom...blood red.
Cinema's first Iranian vampire Western, Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut feature basks in the sheer pleasure of pulp. A joyful mash-up of genre, archetype, and iconography, its prolific influences span spaghetti Westerns, graphic novels, horror films, and the Iranian New Wave. Amped by a mix of Iranian rock, techno, and Morricone-inspired riffs, its airy, anamorphic, black-and-white aesthetic and artfully drawn-out scenes combine the simmering tension of Sergio Leone with the weird surrealism of David Lynch.
Above all, Amirpour’s tale of love and squalor is fun. Why else would a vampire ride a skateboard? —Sundance
Ayako Fujitani, Actress
Ayako Fujitani is an actress and writer, fluent in English and Japanese. Her latest film, MAN FROM RENO, directed by Dave Boyle, won the Grand Jury Prize for the Best Narrative Feature at the 20th Los Angeles International Film Festival (2014). Unlike typical starlets, Fujitani built a unique career in Japan outside of acting. When she was 15, she penned articles for well-known Japanese movie magazine Road Show. Soon after, she wrote her first novel, Flee Dream, which inspired director Hideaki Anno, the creator of the phenomenal anime series NEON GENESIS EVANGELION. Fujitani and Anno co-adapted her novel into RITUAL (2000), the first non-animated feature film by Studio Ghibli. It won Best Artistic Film at the Tokyo International Film Festival.
In 2008, director Michel Gondry handpicked Fujitani to play the lead in TOKYO! (2008). She followed up by moving to Los Angeles in 2009 and penned articles for art and pop culture magazine Giant Robot.
Ayako recently wrote and directed short film THE DOORS in 2014, using only an iPhone 5, with legendary cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung (OLD BOY, STOKER). The piece was invited to the Olleh International Smartphone Festival in Seoul, Korea.
MAN FROM RENO
In a small town south of San Francisco, Sheriff Paul Del Moral (Pepe Serna) is driving home through the fog when he accidentally strikes a pedestrian, a lone Japanese man. However, before an investigation can take place, the man disappears from the hospital without a trace. At the same time, Japanese mystery author Aki Akahori (Ayako Fujitani) takes a trip to San Francisco in order to escape the press tour for her latest book—a potboiler in her world-famous Inspector Takabe series. Feeling lonely and vulnerable, she begins a romantic affair with a mysterious Japanese traveler from Reno (Kazuki Kitamura). Her new lover is charismatic and charming but abruptly disappears from the hotel, leaving behind his suitcase and a trail of questions.
Zeresenay Mehari, Director
Zeresenay Berhane Mehari is an award-winning writer/director with more than a decade of experience making films. Born and raised in Ethiopia, Mehari moved to the U.S. to attend film school. He founded Haile Addis Pictures in 2010 to produce his first narrative feature film, DIFRET, which won the Audience Awards at the Sundance and Berlin International film festivals in 2014. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts.
Three hours outside of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a bright 14-year-old girl is on her way home from school when men on horses swoop in and kidnap her. The brave Hirut grabs a rifle and tries to escape, but ends up shooting her would-be husband. In her village, the practice of abduction into marriage is common, and one of Ethiopia’s oldest traditions.
Meaza Ashenafi, an empowered and tenacious young lawyer, arrives from the city to represent Hirut and argue that she acted in self-defense. Meaza boldly embarks on a collision course between enforcing civil authority and abiding by customary law, risking the ongoing work of her women’s legal-aid practice to save Hirut’s life.
Beneath the layer of polite social customs, an aggressively rooted patriarchy perpetuates inhospitable conditions for women in this engrossing and significant film, based on a real-life story. —Sundance
Minh Nguyễn-Võ, Director
Minh Nguyễn-Võ grew up in a small town in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. To get away from the atrocities, he escaped into the one-room movie theater in town that his parents managed. He moved to France to study on a scholarship, then continued in the U.S. and obtained a PhD in physics from UCLA. After years of research in acoustics and optics, he came back to cinema. NUOC 2030 is his second feature film.
Set in the vast and beautiful coastal regions of Southern Vietnam, NUOC (which means “water”) is a mixed genre of mystery and romance set in the near future when water levels have risen due to global climate change. South Vietnam is one of the regions most affected by climate change, which causes as much as half the farmland to be swallowed by water. To subsist, people live on houseboats and rely solely on fishing with a depleting supply. Huge multinational conglomerates compete to build floating farms equipped with desalination and solar power plants floating along the coastline to produce the needed vegetables that have become high-priced commodities. The story follows a young woman in her journey to find out the truth about the murder of her husband, whom she suspects has been killed by associates of a floating farm. In the process, she discovers the controversial secret the floating farm wants to keep from the public.
Ken Ochiai, Director
Ken Ochiai made his first film at age 12. Immediately following his high school graduation, he left his hometown of Tokyo, Japan, to pursue his dream of becoming a film director in the United States. Ochiai graduated from the USC School of Cinematic Arts in 2006 with a BA in production. In 2008, he received his MFA from the American Film Institute Conservatory in directing.
To date, Ochiai has made more than 30 short films, commercials, and music videos, including PHOENIX, which won the Special Jury Award at the San Giovanni International Film Festival; EXPRESS 831, which won the Bronze Award at the First Look Film Festival in 2008; and HALF KENNETH, which won the Jury Prize from the Directors Guild of America as well as the Governor of Tokyo Award and the Best Short Film at the Short Shorts Film Festival.
Recently he received the Young Alumni Award from the USC Asian Pacific Alumni Association in recognition of his achievements in filmmaking.
Ochiai is now working as a professional writer/director and has a number of projects in development in Japan and the U.S. These projects include his first feature film with Toshiaki Nakazawa, producer of the Oscar-winning film DEPARTURES.
A moving, nostalgic portrait of the men behind the golden age of chanbara (sword-fighting dramas and films), UZUMASA LIMELIGHT goes behind the scenes of the distinctive film genre for which Japan is famous. A professional extra named Kamiyama (real-life kirare-yaku Seizo Fukumoto) has devoted 50 years of his life as a kirare-yaku in sword-fighting movies produced at Kyoto's Uzumasa Studios. A master of the art, he lives to die—or more exactly "to be cut"—and show a beautiful, spectacular death on screen. Now an elderly man, Kamiyama lives very modestly but has earned immense respect from his peers, some of them movie stars. When the studio where he works decides to discontinue its chanbara productions, Kamiyama finds himself at a loss. Hope arrives in the form of a young girl named Satsuki, who soon becomes Kamiyama's disciple. Will the art of dying by the sword live on?
Farzad Sangari, Director
Farzad Sangari is a filmmaker originally from Iran. Prior to making films, Farzad studied both literature and film and worked in education. MUDBLOODS is his first feature documentary. He currently resides in California.
Though it originated as a fictional sport in the Harry Potter universe, Quidditch has become a real-life sport thanks to enthusiasts. Farzad Sangari's documentary MUDBLOODS follows a collegiate Quidditch team that travels from UCLA to New York to compete in the 5th annual Quidditch World Cup, where teams from across the country convene to compete for the ultimate showdown.
2015 Vilcek Prizes
The recipients of the 2015 Vilcek Prizes have been announced!
Visit our Prizes section to read about the distinguished professionals in biomedical science and fashion.