First-time documentary filmmakers and UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television (TFT) recent graduates Battiste Fenwick and Esther Julie-Anne just made history as the first married couple to show two separate projects in the same year at the Telluride Film Festival.
UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television alums Battiste Fenwick and Esther Julie-Anne became the first married couple in Telluride’s 40-year history to show two separate projects in the same year.
Both films, Fenwick’s "Una Chanza Más" and Julie-Anne’s "Out of Love," were the filmmakers’ thesis projects at TFT. Shown together at the 40th annual festival, which ran Aug.29-Sept. 3, the films were part of the the festival's Great Expectations showcase of emerging filmmakers. Fenwick graduated from TFT in 2012 and Julie-Anne in 2013.
"The stars aligned so that we were able to present both our projects to Telluride at the same time," Fenwick said. "The programmers recognized that our documentaries are two sides of the same coin: We are husband and wife but we are also ‘partners in crime.’ We were intimately involved in the entire process of each other’s films, so I think to the folks at Telluride, the making of our films and the people behind them were as exciting as the films themselves."
While both documentaries are character driven, their projects are worlds apart. Thematically, Fenwick calls them "a pair of character portraits on two ends of the spectrum."
"Una Chanza Más" was inspired by a 2008 Los Angeles Times article, "Former Gang Member Finds Redemption by Fire," written by Esmeralda Bermudez, about a gang member, Ramon Maestas, who was turning his life around by training to become a forest fire fighter through Aztecs Rising, a gang intervention organization.
"It stayed with me because it felt like there was a powerful human story there, an extraordinary journey from villain to everyday hero," Fenwick said.
He met with 150 trainees as they went through their paces in the Aztecs Rising program, and during the course of production amassed 200 hours of footage. But it was the very first image he shot, a close-up of a gang member named Pedro Mata, which caught his attention and defined the focus of his film.
"There was something in his gaze," Fenwick said. "I felt there was a conflict inside him. He wanted to change but at the same time was attached to his identity as a gang member. I started filming him and though I branched out a bit, I kept coming back to him. Eventually the film became a character portrait of this one man."
Whereas Fenwick’s story was about a stranger, Julie-Anne’s film, "Out of Love," is "a very personal family portrait" that began as an examination into the reasons why her American father married and divorced her French mother and then went on to remarry and divorce four more times.
When Fenwick asked Julie-Anne to marry him during the production of the film, the story evolved to include her own leap of faith into marriage despite her disillusionment in the institution, given her father’s experiences.
The couple credits UCLA TFT and the relationships they forged at the school with being instrumental in their journey to Telluride.
"TFT was the perfect place to come and discover myself, first and foremost as a filmmaker and also as a person," Julie-Anne said. "At TFT you have freedom but at the same time you have standards that need to be met. Our documentary professor and mentor, Marina Goldovskaya, would let you make a film about anything but she was demanding. It had to be good. That combination turned out to be a perfect combination to be able to find your voice.
"What I loved about UCLA TFT is that it is very family oriented," Julie-Anne continued. "Once you make those relationships, you have lifelong friendships and connections."
One of those connections was made in Goldovskaya’s documentary class. British Academy Award-winning filmmaker (and UCLA film school grad) Joan Churchill, who was visiting the class, became enamored of both Fenwick’s and Julie-Anne’s films and personally handed DVD copies of them to Telluride Film Festival director Tom Luddy.
Fenwick, 30, and Julie-Anne, 32, got to know one another seven years ago during the first day of a French female directors class at UC Berkeley. Julie-Anne was a Film Studies undergrad and aspiring filmmaker; Fenwick, a student at La Sorbonne in Paris, was auditing the class while visiting a friend.
"I dropped my pencil and he picked it up," Julie-Anne recalls with a laugh. "I said, ‘merci,’ and he said, ‘Oh, you’re French?’"
The more they talked, the more they realized they had in common: Fenwick’s father is also American, his mother also French; he, too, planned to be a filmmaker. Serendipitously, the building in which they met in was the same one at which Fenwick’s parents met 35 years ago. They hit it off right away and shortly thereafter became a couple.
Fenwick arrived at TFT in 2006. Julie-Anne followed in 2007 and both played a variety of roles in the other’s film as editors, translators and camera operators, all of which proved invaluable, they said.
"It helps to have a partner to watch footage because it’s such a lonely process, making a documentary," Julie-Anne said. "You wonder, ‘Am I making the right choices, am I getting what I need?’"
"In French we have a very powerful term for that, your partner, like your right-hand man, un garde-fou, literally translated [as] someone who keep you from going crazy," Fenwick says. "It’s such a powerful term because that’s what it is when you're making a film; you go crazy. You have no objectivity left. You're completely drowned in a story, so to have that garde-fou, to have that person to tell you what is really transpiring on screen is extremely important."
They married in August 2012 in Julie-Anne’s hometown of Toulouse, France, surrounded by family.
This story has been adapted from one that originally appeared on the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television website.