Northwestern-trained filmmakers head to Cannes

April 22, 2013|By Erin Vogel @eringejuice | RedEye

Alberto Roldan and David Lassiter both majored in film at Northwestern University--but they almost didn't.

Lassiter was a mechanical engineering major for about two weeks until he made the abrupt switch to a film major. He said he caught the film bug the summer before college after directing his first short film.

"Something about it kind of set me on fire," said Lassiter, a 2008 Northwestern graduate. "I was suddenly in love with it."

Roldan, who graduated in 2010, picked Northwestern for its music program but got cold feet shortly before sending in his application. He chose to go for film instead "kind of randomly," partially because of his love for theater.

The Northwestern alums, who are both 27 and now live in L.A., are probably pretty happy that they made that initial switch--a short film directed and written by Lassiter and produced by Roldan was just accepted into this year's Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France.

Lassiter received an e-mail a little over a week ago saying that the film had been selected. After being notified earlier that the short had not been accepted as part of the festival's official selection, he assumed that the second Cannes e-mail would tell him the same thing.

"When I first saw the e-mail, I thought, 'Oh, here's another rejection letter from Cannes,'" Lassiter said.

The film, "The Opportunist," will be the first American short screened at the festival's International Critics' Week section in two years. Lassiter describes it as being about a "social shape shifter"--played by his best friend and roommate Nick Clifford--who is addicted to the thrill of invading the lives of others.

Lassiter and Roldan produced the film on a modest budget using partial funding raised through a Kickstarter campaign.

"Part of what's difficult about getting started in the industry is that there's no financial incentive for anyone to invest in a short film," Roldan said. "Luckily, we had a really generous group of friends and family who were willing to contribute to make this project happen."

It took Lassiter and Roldan a few days to get used to the idea that they would actually be traveling to France for the prestigious film festival in mid-May to show their first collaboration in years since working together in college.

"I had to sit with it for a while to kind of figure out what it all meant," Lassiter said. "This has been one of the most exciting weeks of my life. I just keep walking around the house, and once in a while I burst out laughing thinking about the fact that we have a film at Cannes. It's really an extraordinary privilege."

Roldan and Lassiter said it has also been incredibly exciting to begin telling the key figures who worked on the movie about the Cannes acceptance--many of whom also are Northwestern alums.

"If you would have walked onto our set, you never would have known what it might have turned into," Roldan said. "We asked people to work really, really hard--and really long hours--and do hard work, so it's satisfying to know we can show them some kind of reward for their labor."

Lassiter said he is grateful for Northwestern not only for the alums that helped him produce his movie, but also for allowing him to produce work during his time there that opened up a lot of doors for him when he first moved to L.A. five years ago.

"I'm so incredibly grateful for how much liberty the Northwestern student film community gave us when it came to being able to experiment with equipment, time and money," he said. "It felt really special that I could go to a school where I was getting such an amazing liberal arts education and able to also go into this other thing with cameras, lights, and actors, and make movies."

As surreal it might have been when they initial found out their film had been chosen, things are starting to get very, very real for the filmmakers, who are now scrambling to not only plan their trip to France, but finish the film. "The Opportunist" was actually still in the editing phase when they submitted it for Cannes consideration--complete enough to watch and understand, but still not totally finished.

They have to be done with the film by May 4 in order to send it in to arrive to Cannes on time--roughly six months since Lassiter started writing the film.

"The joke is that we're producing a short film for the Cannes Film Festival, that they commissioned us back in November, and we're just going to barely make the deadline," Lassiter said.

Erin Vogel is a RedEye special contributor.

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