'Swallowed' by the film biz and loving it

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Filmmaker Stephen Dunn making his mark in the industry

Seeing him walking down Water Street in skinny jeans and "Risky Business" sunglasses, it is easy to picture tall, thin, 21-year old Stephen Dunn becoming a darling of Hollywood North.

Born and raised in St. John's, Dunn is a filmmaker, one who has rapidly advanced in notoriety project-to-project.

His short films have screened everywhere from Halifax to Cannes and his latest release, "Swallowed," is one of five finalists in the ongoing RBC Emerging Filmmakers Competition. Aside from exposure, the winners of the competition will take home their share in $30,000 of cash prizes (there is a $15,000 first prize, $10,000 runner-up and $5,000 for the audience favourite). Winners are selected through an online vote (go to: TinyURL.com/SwallowedFilm) and an official contest jury. Dunn himself pleads his case for your vote in a video on his YouTube channel, "Your Friend in a Box."

A scene from filmmaker Stephen Dunn's short film "Swallowed," which is in the running for RBC Emerging Filmmakers Competition. - Submitted photo

Seeing him walking down Water Street in skinny jeans and "Risky Business" sunglasses, it is easy to picture tall, thin, 21-year old Stephen Dunn becoming a darling of Hollywood North.

Born and raised in St. John's, Dunn is a filmmaker, one who has rapidly advanced in notoriety project-to-project.

His short films have screened everywhere from Halifax to Cannes and his latest release, "Swallowed," is one of five finalists in the ongoing RBC Emerging Filmmakers Competition. Aside from exposure, the winners of the competition will take home their share in $30,000 of cash prizes (there is a $15,000 first prize, $10,000 runner-up and $5,000 for the audience favourite). Winners are selected through an online vote (go to: TinyURL.com/SwallowedFilm) and an official contest jury. Dunn himself pleads his case for your vote in a video on his YouTube channel, "Your Friend in a Box."

Recently, Dunn met with The Telegram to answer questions on how he has gone from unknown film lover to an artist-to-watch.

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"I was involved in acting as a kid and went to Holy Heart High School and that's when I started getting into film," he began. "I just kind of really was obsessed with it because I thought it was just the ultimate medium of expression because it involves all mediums of art - you have performance, screen and image photography, script, text, a combination of all mediums.

From high school projects, he went jumping into workshops at the Women's International Film and Video Festival and the Nickel Independent Film Festival. He also connected with the Newfoundland Independent Filmmakers' Co-operative (NIFCO), volunteered and experimented.

"Honestly, Newfoundland has the most incredible resources for young filmmakers. I got involved specifically through the women's film festival. They have a film program called 'Framed' that's absolutely incredible, where a group of like 10 high school students get together and make a film. When I did it my first year, I was mentored by Jordan Canning, Roger Maunder and, I think, Brad Gover and Linda Fitzpatrick. It was great."

°°°

In 2009, having made the move to Toronto to study aspects of film at Ryerson University, the first-year Dunn wrote and directed "The Hall."

The film features a man who encounters an angry human-sized owl in his hallway, an embodiment of his personal fears.

It was presented with a handful of awards in Toronto's 48 Hour Film Project (www.48hourfilm.com) competition.

The film was subsequently accepted to the Miami International Film Festival and screened in Boston. It was also picked up for the internationally renowned Cannes film festival.

Dunn was then encouraged to apply for the Toronto International Film Festival's Talent Lab, a selective four-day intensive program where participants work with top film industry professionals from around the world.

"I had just come back from Cannes ... I was being somewhat mentored by filmmakers in Toronto and they suggested that I apply," Dunn said.

He added he did not feel his chances to get in were good, but his mentors told him the application would at least introduce his name for the future.

"We had to submit our work, we had to write essays, we had to answer questions and they selected 25 people from all over the world," he said. Ultimately, he was one of the 25 admitted to the program.

"I'm the youngest person that was ever selected for it," he said. "I hit the ceiling I was so happy. I was even happier when later on they announced who the mentors were going to be."

Dunn would work with names such as Danny Boyle ("Trainspotting," "Slumdog Millionaire"), Miranda July ("Me and You and Everyone We Know"), Tilda Swinton ("The Chroncles of Narnia," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"), Atom Egoyan ("Where the Truth Lies," "Ararat") and Don McKellar ("Blindness," "This Movie is Broken").

He completed vlog (video log) entries on his lab experience day-to-day on his YouTube channel.

°°°

At this year's Nickel Independent Film Festival in St. John's, there was a screening of a self-portrait by Dunn, created for the talent lab. The film is titled "The Village That Raised A Child."

"It's all stop motion," Dunn said. "A hand plants a seed into the earth and then, while it's growing, a lot of other hands come out and change the colour of the seed and just affect it and influence the seed, until it grows into a flower. (The flower) is made out of a hand and each petal is one of the colours of the (helping) hands, representing that I am greatly influenced by the people in my life and the people I have learned from this year.

"I dedicated it to the Newfoundland artists I had learned from and my friends in Toronto," he said.

Even so, while he consistently reiterates his appreciation of the help and instruction he has received, he also explained he feels a lot of personal initiative is also required for success.

"People who are interested in art really do need to pursue it and not just wait for it to happen," he said.

Specific to filmmaking, "it was really through the Talent Lab that I realized ... I realized you can't look at any one person to give you direction. I was learning from Jane Campion, Miranda July and like all of these people... and they all contradicted each other. No one gave the same angle of advice," he said. "It made me realize there is no set way to make films. It is a very internal process and you need to focus on your own strengths instead of comparing to others.

"Danny Boyle actually, he's probably the wisest of them all. He came in and sat down and was like 'I am going to tell you what works for me. This is my process. It may not work for you, but it works for me. What you need to do is find a process that works for you,'" Dunn said.

As for the RBC Emerging Filmmakers Competition - for which voting closes July 14 - he said, win or no win, his future is clear.

"I want to write and direct, probably direct more than specifically be a writer. I know that's the most competitive of all areas of film ... But I'm not into film because I love just one aspect of it. I'm into film because I feel like it's a great method of storytelling."

afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com

Organizations: The Telegram, Holy Heart High School, Talent Lab NIFCO Ryerson University

Geographic location: Cannes, St. John's, Toronto Water Street Hollywood North Halifax Newfoundland Miami Boston

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  • Justin
    September 26, 2012 - 19:05

    I absolutely love swallowed, it is soft yet strong, and dark. I love it