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indieWIRE INTERVIEW | “August Evening” Director Chris Eska

indieWIRE INTERVIEW | "August Evening" Director Chris Eska

Director Chris Eska‘s “August Evening” revolves around an aging undocumented farm worker named Jaime and his young, widowed daughter-in-law, Lupe, who have their lives thrown into upheaval. Lupe happens to be more of a daughter to Jaime than his own children, and the two try to stick together but change is inevitable. At the heart of the story is the conflict between generations. Aging parents and grown children have difficulty expressing both their love and mutual disappointment in each other. “August Evening” won the John Cassavetes Award at the 2008 Independent Spirit Awards and took best dramatic feature at the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2007. The film opens Friday, September 5 at New York’s Village East Cinema. The film will open September 19 in San Antonio, TX and September 26 in Los Angeles followed by other roll outs in selected cities.

Please introduce yourself…

My name is Chris Eska and I’m a 32 year-old filmmaker from Ottine, Texas (pop. 98). I studied sociology at Rice University before attending UCLA’s School of Theater, Film, and Television. My thesis film, Doki-Doki, premiered on national PBS and was shot (in Japanese) on the streets and trains of Tokyo. After film school, I returned to my hometown to shoot (in Spanish) my first feature, “August Evening.”

What initially attracted you to filmmaking, and how has that interest evolved during your career?

I started out pre-med at college, and my roommate and I took a film class for “an easy A”. But I fell in love with the process and found myself waking up at 5am on weekends so I could spend more time using rusty old analog equipment. At first, I was just interested in experimentation and trying to achieve a high production value, but my motivations have changed over the years. What excites me now is film’s ability to express emotion and illustrate the universality of the human experience.

How did the idea for “August Evening” came about as well as your approach to making the film…

After procrastinating for over a year after film school, I finally reached a boiling point and poured out the entire script in just a few weeks. The ideas came from my own family and Latino families I knew growing up in Texas, but also from stories I’ve heard about friends’ families from places like Japan and India. I knew that it was incredibly difficult to make a feature film because of all the time, money, and people involved. I thought I might not get a second chance, so I wanted to explore ideas that were important to me and that I rarely see in other films, even if it wouldn’t strike Hollywood types as a potential blockbuster. The film deals with the meaning of family, the inevitability of change, the bittersweet nature of life, and finding peace with life’s imperfections.

How did the casting come together?

Most of the cast were first-timers or non-actors. I ran into Pedro Castaneda in San Antonio, Texas while he was installing computer wireless networks. He had an understated dignity and was wearing this great pair of boots. I just went up to him and told him he had a great look and asked if he’d ever thought about being in films. He read the script with his family and decided it was important to him so he sort-of dropped out of society for a couple of months and came down to our little filmmaking commune in south Texas. A few years later he was nominated for Best Actor at the Independent Spirit Awards alongside Oscar winners like Philip Seymour Hoffman and Don Cheadle. The whole experience has been surreal for Pedro, and we’ve become good friends.

Veronica Loren and Walter Perez in a scene from Chris Eska’s “August Evening.” Image courtesy of the filmmaker.

Who are some of the creative influences that have had the biggest impact on you?

The filmmakers I most admire and who have influenced me are Yasujiro Ozu, Satyajit Ray, the Dardenne brothers, David Lean, and Terrence Malick. I find that the most creatively stimulating activity is traveling while listening to music.

What is your next project?

I hope to explore a lot of different genres. My next film will probably be an emotional suspense film. I want it to be tight and short, probably 88 minutes or something. But I’m also working on an experimental documentary.

Are there other aspects of filmmaking that you would still like to explore?

“August Evening” is the first film I didn’t sell to PBS, so I’m getting a crash course in the business side of things. It can be fascinating and frustrating, and I’m learning to be smarter about it all. Sometimes I catch myself talking numbers and I get a little disgusted with myself, but it’s important to know if I want to keep making films.

What is your definition of “independent film?”

My original definition about “independent film” came from my first film professor at Rice who said, “The difference between a real filmmaker and a director is that the filmmaker loads the camera into the truck at the end of the day.” I fit that description for about 10 years and still do a huge amount of unglamorous work on my movies, but these days I think being truly independent means not having to ask for permission on story or casting or editing choices. I hope to maintain that prerogative, or at least be able to come and go between the independent and studio worlds.

What general advice would you impart to emerging filmmakers?

Never wait for financing because it probably won’t come and the process will kill your dream. Just go make the film with whatever you have. You don’t need money to actually say something real or to express genuine emotions — and if you can do that you’re already way ahead of those big budget films.

Please share an achievement from your career so far that you are most proud of…

The Spirit Award was huge, and being up on that stage with my producers felt incredible. But I also loved the very first award the film won at the Los Angeles Film Festival. I remember before the awards night, my co-producer Jason Wehling and I had come out of a screening at the festival and went online in the lobby only to see the most scathing review we’d ever read in our lives. We couldn’t help but laugh, but the review was for “August Evening” and it was in Variety. It was full of factual inaccuracies as though they hadn’t even watched the film and the guy even complained the cinematography was too pretty! But then the next day we won the biggest cash prize of any festival in the country, the $50,000 Target Filmmaker Award (more than the budget of our film!), and were congratulated by all these superstars like Clint Eastwood, Tony Bennett and Kevin Bacon. It’s all been positive since that one bad review, but we’re learning to laugh at the ups and downs. It all evens out.

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