So many of the films I was lucky enough to preview for this weekend’s upcoming Seattle Shorts Film Festival blew my mind, but one in particular stood out. Merlin Camozzi’s short film Coeur D’Alene is an engrossing narrative about a young girl, her rabbit and the encroaching, unforgiving winter. If you don’t have tickets to the sold out festival, take heart: You can watch the film in its entirety on vimeo, and I recommend you do so immediately. I talked to Camozzi about the film, his influences and the future. And because it is seen listed a few ways…
Molly Laich: What exactly is the film called?
Merlin Camozzi: Haha. The title. A source of much confusion in the world. Rabbits was the working title. Coeur D’Alene is the final title.
ML: Coeur D’Alene is a rugged town in Idaho about an hour east of Spokane…French for “The heart of… Alene”?
MC: “Heart of an awl.” An awl is a sharp tool for making holes. Usually in wood but also in other substances, leather, etc. I’m from that area originally and the story is about growing up in that kind of a place. Everything I write seems to be set either there or in rural New England, which is the other place that I grew up.
ML: That was part of what I loved so much about your film. It’s an area of the country less affected by time than say, LA?
MC: It’s cool that you caught that part of it. I sort of set all my stories abstractly but not specifically in a pre-cell phone era, and I think the rural setting tends to support that. In LA or any other big city it seems specifically period to not have everyone on their cell phones constantly, but in rural settings I feel like you can leave out technology and it doesn’t have to be specifically period. I don’t know why that is; obviously everyone has cell phones everywhere, but it seems to work.
ML: Tell me a little about your career so far. Did you go to film school?
MC: I’m getting an MFA at UCLA now. Prior to this, I was an entertainment lawyer, and part time adjunct law professor. I still practice law, but filmmaking is really my passion. Coeur D’Alene was my first film in the grad program at UCLA.
ML: There are three characters in the film: A father, a mother and their 12-year-old daughter. (And the rabbit makes four.) They were all wonderful. I was struck by how young Zac Titus as the father looks in close up shots. He’s this scary guy, but also a child that doesn’t understand his feelings. Camille Giuffre reminds me of Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone. Maybe she’ll be a star.
MC: The actors… they’re all incredible! Zac Titus is pretty amazing at being fucking scary while also being super vulnerable at times, which was pretty much the whole point. Camille is incredible. Lots of people have commented on the Winter’s Bone vibe. She is probably the most focused and hard working person I’ve ever met, and she was only 13 when we shot the film. She was an absolute soldier on set. It was cold as hell and she was out there with no gloves on with her hands in rabbit guts. She would shiver between takes and have a blanket around her, and then we’d get ready to roll and she’d drop the blanket and the shivers and just be so locked in on the scene.
Winter’s Bone was a big inspiration. It’s one of my favorite films. Debra Granik also has another film called Down To The Bone that’s really great as well. I’m into real life shit from the lower half of our socio-economic system, which I think she dives into really well and tends to ring true for me.
ML: In the film we never learn why Dad is going to jail. Do you have a backstory in mind for what he’s done?
MC: Oh yeah, he’s a drug runner and probably also has some assault charges on him.
ML: Do you have any other projects in the works?
MC: I’m getting close to finishing my second UCLA film, which is about two sisters trying to get across the mountains with their father in winter. We don’t realize it at first, but the father is infected with a slowly maturing zombie virus. It’s a character-driven take on that genre. I’m going to launch a kickstarter for that pretty soon to try and round up finishing and festival funds.
Also, I just shot my UCLA thesis, which is set on a farm in rural MA, and is about a couple confronting the rifts in their relationship while the world sort of collapses around them, due to an alien invasion. That’s also supposed to be a short, but our first cut is 45 minutes! Part of me just wants to go back and shoot the other half of the feature.
ML: That would be awesome. The people want a feature! Can you give us some final thoughts on your experience making Coeur D’Alene?
MC: My favorite part of CDL was creating a comprehensive world. That’s always my goal, and I think that we were pretty successful at that in the film. It’s a testament to everyone involved, but particularly to the actors, who were so dedicated to inhabiting that world and making it real. We did a LOT of rehearsal for that film, and by the time we walked on set we were really clear on what we were doing, and so we were able to shoot a pretty big short in just a few days. I’m really into to the idea of rehearsal as the most important thing when making a film, and, while it’s hard to find the time with people being constantly so busy, it was amazing to actually get that with these actors.
The 2015 Seattle Shorts Film Festival is November 14 and November 15 at the SIFF Film Center. Read all about it at seattleshort.org.