As part of the upcoming ‘One Hundred Mornings’ run at the Downtown Independent in Los Angeles, Cinema Speakeasy, CineFist, Downtown Independent Theatre, and Slamdance Film Festival have come together with the WorkBook Project to jointly curate a short film program to highlight new independent directors. What follows is the first of six director profiles.
THE YOUNESI BROTHERS
Putting aside the usual stresses and pitfalls inherent in even the best of fraternal relationships, brothers Justin and Michael Younesi have been working together making films since they were, as Michael puts it, “very young”.
“The biggest advantage of this is that when we’re making a film, we have two leaders on set who are on the same page” says Michael. “This tends to really boost the morale of the crew and give everyone involved the confidence that there is a coherent vision behind the project. Certainly, there are pitfalls – as there are with any collaboration – but I think history shows that there is a unique, very special quality to making films as brothers.”
The proof of their collaborative success can only be discovered in the metaphorical pudding, and their second short film ‘Look Not At the Mountains!’ does not disappoint. A lush film with a fanciful subject, it presents the story of a team of hunters being led through the deserts of Africa by a mad Colonial zealot, in 1904. What follows… Well, that remains to be seen.
In anticipation of their upcoming screening at the Downtown Independent, we caught up with Michael Younesi for a quick Q &A.
What are the biggest issues you’ve faced, as a filmmaker?
Herzog once said, “There will always be some sort of an obstacle, and the worst of all obstacles is the spirit of bureaucracy. You have to find your way to battle bureaucracy. You have to outsmart it, to outgut it, to outnumber it, to outfilm them.” Bureaucracy is a challenge to filmmakers at all levels. At the top, it’s in the form of agents, development people, and the spineless executives that run the studios today. In the indie world, these same politics come in the guise of festivals. The challenge is that you either remain in the marginal film world, making work for yourself or your small audience, otherwise you deal with inevitable, unmovable bureaucracy. People have a lot of faith in the future, digital distribution and all of that, but I’m not convinced that is the answer. I don’t want to see more small films seen by more people, I want to see better, big films. It’s not about the technology, it’s an issue of ideology.
How do you typically distribute your short films? What has worked, for you?
We haven’t had a variety of experiences because this is only our second short film and we just recently finished it. With our first short, LIBERATION, we had quite an interesting experience. We had a private screening with another filmmaker, and invited everyone we knew who was someway involved in the industry. Fortuitously, one of the attendees was Udy Epstein who runs 7th Art Releasing, a legitimate arthouse distribution company. They liked our film and felt it went well with one of their feature titles, so the film was put on a limited theatrical release along with their feature. Eventually it went to Netflix, Amazon, etc… We didn’t make any money of course, but it got the film seen and even qualified us for the short film Oscar. With the new film, we’re just starting to submit to festivals, but I don’t have a lot of faith in that process. Some kid who went to film school and is now interning at a festival is gonna watch my DVD on a crappy screen and judge it? Give me a break. I’m more interested in holding private screenings and making relationships with arthouse theaters myself.
How do you define success as a filmmaker?
Success to me is quite simple – it’s making a film that you are happy with on a creative level, and from it, gaining the opportunity to make another. Ideally, with each one the resources, the palette gets bigger.
The Downtown Independent Theatre & WorkBook Project present: ‘Look Not at the Mountains!’
Directed by Michael Younesi and Justin Younesi
Produced by Leah Fong, Brian Pasternak and Josh Zingerman
Cinematography by Max Well.
Monday 20 September
7:30 and 9:30
Followed by the WorkBook Project Discovery and Distribution Award winner ‘One Hundred Mornings’.
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