Can You Make Features Outside of Hollywood? Here Are Four Case Studies

'Marte Um'Credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute
There’s a new wave of cinema growing across the Americas, from Hawaii, Bolivia, Colorado, to Brazil.

To this day, people will tell you that you have to move to Los Angeles or New York to be a real filmmaker.

But why should we? Aren’t their great stories and talented people all across the Americas, let alone the world? The truth is, you can make movies anywhere. But expect to grow your film industry from the ground up.

Here are tips from four filmmakers with feature films at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival who show us that film production is possible and growing everywhere across the continent.

'Every Day in Kaimukī'Credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Nurture the talent of those around you

For Every Day In Kaimukī director Alika Tengan, making an all-Hawaiian film is crucial to portraying it in a much-needed authentic light, far from the tourist-sun-soaked portraits we've been shown over and over again.

“We have a lot of interesting stories to tell here and we haven’t really seen that reflected by Hollywood, who has used Hawaii for a backdrop for almost a century,” Tengan said in the Sundance Q&A after the film. “So now to have the ability, capability, and resources to tell our own stories, we can showcase broader perspectives. That was something me and Naz [Kawakami] talked a lot about in the writing of this script, was trying to be hyper-specific in the story that we were trying to tell, and not trying to tell the entire history of Hawaii. Because that’s really complicated. If we could shrink it down, and hone in on the core of one person’s experience maybe it could resonate with people a little bit more.”

aPart of his success in creating an all-local film goes back to working with friends and non-actors. How did he make it work? 

“Well, for myself, it’s kind of the only way I’ve worked so far. The project I shot with my DP Chapin Hall before this was Moloka’i Bound, a short film that Holden [Mandrial-Santos] starred in as well. It’s kind of all that I’ve ever known. At the same time, we’ve liked trying to incorporate some of the professional local actors because we thought that brought out a really interesting energy when you mix them together. We tapped into our friend group and Naz's friend group and we involved them in the writing of the film. We would have some of Naz’s friends come over and meet them and get a sense of what was working for them and what felt natural to them. We tried to cater it to everyone involved, and it was just a total collaborative effort all around and I think that’s what makes the film feel so natural.”

'Utama'Credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Look to parallel industries for training and collaborators

For Utama director Alejandro Loayza Grisi, growing the film industry in Bolivia has meant finding collaborators from other industries, namely from marketing and advertising. 

“It's a very small industry,” said Loayza Grisi in an interview with No Film School. “I wouldn't say even if it's an industry. We support with workers from advertisement. So there's a lot of people working in advertisement. All the technicians are from advertisement. We don't have a fund in Bolivia and we don't have an industry, so it's very hard to make films in Bolivia. But I hope it changes soon.”

'Marte Um'Credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Never be afraid to be a filmmaker "from the hood"

For Marte Um (Mars One) director Gabriel Martins, certain aspects of his story echo the struggles of being a marginalized independent filmmaker.

“I think we have this kind of metaphor about the telescope in the film and the way Deivinho builds this telescope,” said Martins in the Sundance Q&A following the film. 

“He is collecting things from the trash, and at the same time collecting memories from his grandfather, so I think this gesture that he has in the film is basically bringing from nothing and achieving something that is poetic in a way. I think this serves as a symbol for the film and a symbol of our career as independent filmmakers in Brazil. It serves as a metaphor for me as a young Black kid wanting to make films in the hood and not knowing how that would be possible. So I think this idea of having to overcome struggles and challenges, I think this is part of our culture in Brazil in a way. And I think this is something that I fell in love with my country because of that possibility of resilience in a way and being creative to overcome challenges and never giving up a dream.”

'A Love Song'Credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Use your own landscapes to inspire your story

For A Love Song director Max Walker-Silverman, one of the central tenets of his filmmaking has been to use the backdrop of Colorado as inspiration.

“It’s a story that’s been in my head for quite a long time that I suppose emerged out of falling in love with the strange landscapes of my home,” said Walker-Silverman in a conversation about the film with NYU. 

“A deep admiration for an actor named Dale Dickey and the images, the sounds, and the songs of all of those things pulled together in my mind. But it was always just an idea as there are so many countless others. Then in the early spring of 2020, early pandemic I was back home in Colorado, and Juliana [Barreto] was here with me, but the rest of the crew were scattered across the world. There was that really real moment where it felt like we might never work again. So I wrote this script very quickly in like a week. Essentially, just to put something on the horizon and to create some reason I could call my friends and we could make plans about something and look forward to something."

In a way, it was the pandemic that forced Walker-Silverman to drive aimlessly along the roads of Colorado.

“Had we not all been sitting at home in a pandemic and had I not been driving around the roads of Colorado and wondering what’s next in life, I would probably not have had the courage to do a feature film at the same scale as my short films effectively. And by that, I mean, with the same little crew, with my same goofy friends acting in it who I grew up with. I think I would have assumed that to do a feature film, one had to somehow graduate from these things. 

"Actual happiness is from working with friends. It’s maybe one of the few jobs that you can do so. How beautiful that I can pay these people to come hang out with me at my home in Colorado. Hopefully one day I will actually be able to pay them properly.”

Are you working in a growing film community outside of Hollywood? Tell us about it in the comments!     

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