UNA faculty member speaks of journey as a filmmaker

UNA faculty member speaks of journey as a filmmaker

Life Editor Lavette Williams

Michael Curtis Johnson, cinematic arts assistant professor, was one of 250 emerging international filmmakers from 77 countries selected from 3,400 applications to be chosen for the prestigious 2019 Berlinale Talents development program.

The program took place at the Berlin International Film Festival in Berlin, Germany Feb. 9 – Feb. 14. The program is designed for filmmakers with experience and provides a crucial opportunity for networking.

Currently, Johnson has two accredited films — “Hunky Dory” and “Savage Youth.”

His first feature film “Hunky Dory” won awards at several film festivals, including the Slamdance, the Naples and the American.

Johnson’s follow-up feature film “Savage Youth” was selected for the Venice Film Festival’s Biennale College Cinema program, US in Progress Wroclaw and premiered at the 2018 Slamdance Film Festival in Park City.

Recently, “Savage Youth” premiered at the Atlanta Film Festival and the Florida Film Festival, where it won a grand jury award. Also, it screened at the Atlanta Film Festival and is scheduled for release this April by an American music and entertainment company, The Orchard.

“Both of my feature films have had some form of support from different film organizations,” Johnson said. “To be honest, most of my institutional support has come from abroad. Film is seen as an industry in the States. It’s rarely seen as an art form like it is in much of the world.”

He said he would not say his films are difficult, but they are not mainstream.

“It’s tough to make personal films because there’s not as much of a financial incentive,” Johnson said. “The investors of my films have been saints. I’m really proud of my work so far. I certainly didn’t do it on my own though. I had a lot of support from friends and family.”

He said the filmmaking process is different for every project.

“My first feature film, ‘Hunky Dory’ took about a week to write and two months to shoot,” Johnson said. “My second film, ‘Savage Youth’ took five years to finish. I’m all about collaboration. I never really struggle to come up with ideas or finish screenplays. My biggest hurdle is finding the right people to work with, but once I find them it’s magic. I just react and take all the credit.”

Johnson has recently arrived to Florence from Berlin with some knowledge and insight into the filmmaking process his students can use for their careers.

“There’s really nothing like Berlin Talents in the world,” Johnson said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to engage filmmakers from across the globe. I made more than 20 new friends — and possible future collaborators — from countries I’ve never even been to before.”

He did not go to Berlin with an “industry agenda.”

“I wanted to focus on the craft of filmmaking with other filmmakers whose work I admire,” Johnson said. “I came into filmmaking through academia. I’m constantly curious about this craft. The past week was a great opportunity to listen and learn.”

Johnson has always loved movies, but he did not get into filmmaking until he began college. His freshman year at Eastern Michigan University showed him the power and importance of visual literacy.

“No disrespect to any other form of media, and my communications department colleagues might disagree, but I feel there is no stronger way to communicate a message than cinema,” Johnson said. “It moves people on an emotional level.”

Everyone serves as his inspiration.

“I’m not all that social but I really do love people,” Johnson said. “I love characters and I love character. I’m always wondering why people do what they do. I find the ordinary extraordinary. That’s where most of my inspiration comes from. The everyday. The paradoxical grace of the mundane.”