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A legendary knight rides his dragon through the turbulent clouds of a snowstorm. Upon spotting a damsel in distress hundreds of feet below, he raises his sword, and the beast, fire surging from its nostrils, dives downwards into the valley through the raging winds.
On a freezing winter day, a nine-year-old boy, donned in a snow jacket two sizes too big and baggy ski pants, swings down a zipline from an old treehouse. A sword formed out of tree branches hangs from his belt. “Ah-hah! You do not stand a chance against my sword!!!” He screams, as he lands on his feet in the snow, unsheathes his twig weapon and stabs a rickety scarecrow. As usual, the damsel has been kidnapped by yet another enemy… And thus, the story continued, for years.
Knighthood was one of my favorite pastimes when I was a child. I have not changed much. My mind continues to take me on epic adventures to fantastic worlds. Each journey is a catharsis, both an escape from and a meditation on what I have experienced so far during my nineteen years on Earth. I have found that this journey cannot be done alone. I yearn for passengers to come with me. This is what brought me to film.
Being a knight is much more prosperous when you use a camera. Through a sequence of twenty-four images per second, the legend awakes, transcending the restraints of a single human to reach into countless people and change their lives through captivation in the cinematic experience. My ability to dive from the heavens riding ferocious beasts is one thing, but to encapsulate this existence and share it through storytelling is the ultimate power. It is the best thing I can do with my life, including its darkest parts.
A year ago my good friend from childhood was found, his body reduced to a few sun-bleached bones in the Colorado wilderness. I heard the news and entered a state of turmoil. The only place I could go was to film, where I meditate and deliberate. I made something to hold my pain and hopelessness: Sarah Sleeps. Like my character Sarah, my best friend was not able to wake from his living nightmare, which brought him to drug abuse and ultimately death. While it is a common statement that “film is about selling the illusion,” I find that I am unable to lie when I create a film. I transcend the bounds of my reality while also undergoing self-interrogation through the stories I tell, with the result being that everything I make is what I believe, feel and think about, freed from my cranium. I turn what my mind is obsessed with into moving pictures that take on their own lives.
The death of innocence and childhood is an idea I am destined (or doomed) to return to in my work again and again. My best friend was not the only person who has been ripped from my story. In middle school, my first love took her own life after years of crippling depression. Even though I was not at the scene nor ever saw it, my vivid imagination curses me: the image of Ciannon, a soul crushed, cold and blue with a noose tightened around her neck, still visits my mind. I realized I do not have to experience this imagery in isolation, and that stories are not just tall tales told around a campfire. Stories are lives. They are human beings born and dying. Love and beauty, hatred and pain. Stories are shared experiences of human existence that haunt me. Unlike riding dragons and saving innocent damsels, I cannot enact the death of a beloved. I have no choice but to enter the completely immersive medium of film to encapsulate the stories playing back in my head. I would go insane otherwise.
The composer Richard Wagner popularized the term Gesamptkunstwerk to describe artwork that encompasses multiple forms of creation, providing the ultimate experience to the creator and beholder. I have been a musician since I turned four years old, from the moment my parents bought me a tiny violin. Soon after, I picked up a knack for wall graffiti with crayons (which my parents were not as satisfied with), developing into a love for painting and illustration when I reached junior high school. I realized that visuals and sound were best experienced when combined. I would draw pictures then write songs for them. I hummed ballads as I was enveloped in my fables of knights and dragons. Finally, I picked up a camera. Using the cinematic medium is the closest I can get to creating what happens in my head. Film is my Gesamptkunstwerk, the experience I live through. It is incredibly potent and real.
I am not a ventriloquist. I do not make films to partake in “role-play.” I have never pretended to be anything, even in my days swinging down my zipline as a knight. In those moments, the story was my reality, maybe even more so than my “real life,” and it continued throughout my childhood. I spent many of my early years riding dragons, fully enveloped in my truest self, heart pounding and lungs heaving. This has not changed. I do not make films to entertain like they are roller coaster rides, forgotten about in the end, when the image fades to black. The story does not stop when the film ends. My mission is to drench the audience in my story, which stays with them outside of the screen, evolving through many films in my past and future. I am encapsulating myself in what I make. Film is where I wake up and determine who I am. Film is my ultimate form of existence. Film is where the dragon-riding child transcends to experience the darkness of tragedy and the beauty of creation.
Film is how my soul speaks.