University of Colorado student David Marek will graduate on Friday with a significant feat: he wrote, directed and produced a feature-length film for his masters of fine arts thesis, “Somewhere West.”
“It is a huge project. Period,” said Marek, of Traverse City, Mich. “To do it for my master’s thesis, well, that was pretty incredible. We pretty much had a working crew of four people. That’s basically unheard of.”
Internationally recognized filmmaker and CU professor Phil Solomon said “Somewhere West” is one of the most remarkable student films he’s ever seen.
“I rarely have a real emotional involvement with student films,” said Solomon. “But in Dave’s case, I was lost in the film immediately. I luxuriated spending time in that world.”
The 134-minute film had a cast and crew of nine people and a modest budget of $18,500.
The film chronicles terminally ill Ian, a young man who heads out on the road in search of a beautiful place to die.
Solomon said the CU film department prides itself in teaching film as art, which posed a positive challenge for Marek as a narrative filmmaker.
“I was pushed to think about filmmaking in different ways — in the artful and experimental aspects,” said Marek.
That’s the exact advice he gives to film students — take chances.
“The exciting part of film is that there should be a sense of self-discovery,” said Marek. “If you’re not pushing yourself, you need to re-evaluate why you’re doing it.”
Marek’s “leaps of faith” included his own post-production editing technique he developed, “Dissociative Montage.”
Unlike the popular and smooth technique of continuity editing, Marek’s method detaches the five elements of narrative cinema — sound, image, time, space and a narrative stream to create “fluid and poetic cinema,” he said.
He also utilized various lenses, images and lighting effects to depict the failing vision of the main character — whose tumor lies in his occipital lobe.
“It’s a unique film in many ways,” said Marek. “The main character opens his heart and finds redemption. It sounds depressing, but it is a very redemptive film.”
Marek’s self-described passion for landscape also played a major role in “Somewhere West.”
“The landscape is a metaphorical parallel to the main character’s physical and spiritual state,” said Marek.
The crew began the 28-day, 5,000-mile journey in the lush Northern Michigan landscape and finished in the barren landscape of the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah — corresponding to the character’s declining health.
Marek has taught three classes at CU over the years and will skip Hollywood to return next semester to teach “Introduction to Cinematography.”
“I’m really interested on making my own work on my own terms,” said Marek. “I’m not going to rush out to Hollywood. I don’t have illusions of making millions of dollars, it’s more driven out of the need to create. It’s the integrity of the art.”
Marek plans to send “Somewhere West” to various film festivals.
Solomon, the professor, said that in a world of moneymaking blockbusters in Hollywood, Marek’s subtlety created a holistic, aesthetic experience.
“Dave’s film has very little sound and fury,” said Solomon. “It’s quiet in a noisy time. It’s small talk in a time of big talk. It’s at a level of accomplishment and the epitome of what we hope to encourage at this university.
“When Dave’s film ends, he was after something bigger than the story. He was after the big picture.”