Chesterton Tribune

 

 

CHS grads' short film wins screening at Cannes Festival

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By KEVIN NEVERS

We’ve all seen them, stapled to telephone poles, taped in store windows: the flyers for lost dogs and cats. They’re suburban cris de coeur which quickly become litter, forlorn memes clamoring for our attention among all the other ads and notices, for garage sales, poker runs, and bar bands.

And so we pass them by, indulge a brief pang of hope for a stranger, perhaps even say a prayer--because praying costs us nothing--then go home a little gladder in the knowledge that our own animal companions, at least, are safe and sound and waiting for us.

A lost-dog flyer is the first page of a story whose ending we almost never get to read--an ending, if we’re being honest, we’d probably rather not read. It’s a tough old world out there, and we know in our head that folks--our neighbors--are hurting, grieving, enduring. But we may not want to feel their pain in our heart. There’s enough of it going around.

For filmmakers TJ Jaeger and Hunter Huddleston, however, in a better world, where good intentions are matched by good deeds, a lost-dog flyer might become instead a nexus of compassion and community.

That’s the premise of their remarkably poignant 2016 short, Lost Dog, viewable on YouTube. Entered in Campus MovieFest (CMF), the world’s largest student film festival, Lost Dog won a juried award for cinematography, and by virtue of CMF’s partnership with the Cannes Film Festival, Lost Dog will be screened at Cannes in May.

That means that Jaeger and Huddleston--Chesterton High School Class of 2012--are going to the French Riviera.

“It’s a dream come true,” Jaeger says. “Hunter and I always joked about making it to Cannes but now it’s real. It’s intimidating but empowering. More than anything, we are beyond excited for all of the networking opportunities this can lead to. Industry professionals will be there, along with many of our student peers. I can’t wait to see how these two weeks abroad will change our lives.”

For Huddleston the Cannes screening is something else too: vindication. “It’s a reward for all the years of people laughing at us, who said that dreams never really do come true. I just want to set an example to anyone, especially anyone from the Midwest, that dreams can come true. All you have to do is believe in yourself and ignore the skeptics.”

Lost Dog needs to be seen. To describe the five-minute film is to spoil it. But this much can be said: It’s a silent, with Jaeger and Huddleston’s friend, Matt Leetz--also a CHS student before he moved to Valpo--playing the role of the boy who’s lost his dog. Leetz’s performance is sensitive and mature, and the piano score, composed by another good friend, Julius Dolls of Chicago, is evocative and moving. “Without Matt and Julius, the film never would have been made,” Jaeger says.

The shoot, though less than a week away from the CMF premiere, was highly collaborative, as Leetz recalls. “We bounced ideas and shots off of each other over pizza,” he says. “For me the whole filming experience was just another hang-out with friends. It was extremely relaxed in spite of the time crunch. Cannes is an incredible opportunity that came about from spending time goofing off with friends and making something we’d want to watch.”

The shoot may have felt like a goof-off at the time. Yet there’s nothing muddled about the final product. Lost Dog is tight, thoughtful, and dynamic--“We love using moving shots and interesting angles,” Jaeger says--and even features a sly nod to Hitchcock (hint: look for the MacGuffin).

Still, at the heart of the piece is its heart, and the twist in the final scene is as sweet as it is sad.

“We write about loss, about heartbreak, because these are universal feelings we know people can empathize with,” Jaeger says.

“Films allow us to empathize with the world around us,” Huddleston notes. “They help remind us of feelings we might have long forgotten. Watching a movie can make you feel like a child again.”

Jaeger and Huddleston began making films together at CHS, most of them for WDSO news segments or for their art and English classes. On occasion they’d try going all auteur, Jaeger confesses, to find they’d simply aimed too high: “Like writing feature-length scripts and trying to shoot them with old cameras and edit them on iMovie.”

Over the years, though, their work began to acquire a particular look. “We tend to have a very dark style when it comes to our storytelling,” Jaeger says. “Funny too, but funny in a dark way.” That look--their brand--they’ve since named Bemused Entertainment. Motto: “We Just Want to Make Cool Movies Until We’re Dead.”

“Most of the films we produce and create now are made for ourselves and small festivals,” Huddleston says. “It’s a way to hone our skills and practice new techniques and ideas.”

Which is as it should be. Not only are they apprentice filmmakers, they’ve been part-time filmmakers while at IU-Bloomington. Huddleston is still there, finishing his B.A. in media and cinema studies. Jaeger took his degree in journalism last year. But when Huddleston graduates in May--and after their trip to Cannes--they plan to move to Los Angeles, where they hope to find their place in the industry.

And if they don’t, that’s okay too. Because for both filmmaking is really about the making, and they can do that anywhere. “Whether that’s in the Hollywood world, the indie market, somewhere in the Midwest, in my parents’ basement, it doesn’t matter,” Jaeger said. “There is no feeling comparable to being on a set and working on a collaborative undertaking like a film.”

“I don’t care if I ever become rich,” Huddleston says. “I don’t care if I win any awards. I don’t care if I become famous. For me, films are a therapeutic way to help better understand this life. The validation and money will never give me the immeasurable feeling I get from creating a film from nothing.”

Jaeger and Huddleston themselves may downplay their prospects, but their star, Leetz, believes they’re only just coming into their own. “I’m super excited for them because this is what they’ve wanted to do since they were kids and they’re finally garnering the attention they deserve for the quality of work they do.”

For giving them the confidence as well as the opportunity to create, Jaeger and Huddleston have dedicated their entry at Cannes to their 10th-grade media teacher, Matt Waters, and their 11th-grade English teacher, Jason Cook. “They had the greatest influence on my creativity,” Jaeger says. “I owe them so much.”

Huddleston, for his part, thanks his parents “for telling me, at an early age, that I can do anything I set my mind to. Without their love and encouragement, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

“You only have this one life,” Huddeston adds, “You might as well follow your heart and show the world all the beautiful ideas you have in your head.”

GoFundMe

Jaeger and Huddleston are expecting their trip to France to be expensive, and while they hope that IU’s Media School will subsidize a portion of it, they’ve also started a GoFundMe.

Visit www.gofundme.com and search for “Bemused Entertainment to Cannes.”

 

Posted 2/9/2017

 
 
 
 

 

 

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