September 06, 2007

Alumnus gains attention as independent filmmaker

by Pete Rosenbery


CARBONDALE, Ill. — The works of a Southern Illinois University Carbondale graduate and filmmaker are gaining notoriety — through separate articles in the New York Times' Arts Section recently.

Joe Swanberg, a May 2003 graduate in Cinema & Photography, is noted in an Aug. 19 piece, "A Generation Finds Its Mumble," discussing a new generation of American independent films. There is also a film review of the Chicago writer-director-editor's latest project, "Hannah Takes the Stairs," on Aug. 22.

The 83-minute film opened Aug. 23 in Greenwich Village's IFC Center, and is set for release in Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago and a few other cities over the next few months, Swanberg said. The film is also available through Video on Demand. His first film, "Kissing on the Mouth," is available on DVD. On Aug. 28, another of Swanberg's works, "LOL," was released on DVD.

He is currently editing a new feature film, "Nights and Weekends," about a long-distance relationship.

Swanberg explains that 'Mumblecore' is a name the media adopted to "categorize a group of young American filmmakers telling small naturalistic stories about people our age."

"There is a Do-It-Yourself attitude toward filmmaking, and many of us have collaborated on each other's projects and helped out in various ways," he said. "I would describe it more as a community or social network of friends than a movement."

Swanberg credits SIUC and the Department of Cinema & Photography for instilling in him the drive to be independent and artful. The department is in the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts.

"The film program at SIUC was very influential for me," he said. "It exposed me to experimental and documentary films that most film schools bypass, and it taught me to be a self-reliant and independent filmmaker. I was always encouraged to be an artist and to express my vision, instead of focusing on the business aspect of filmmaking."

Swanberg's success is "very gratifying to the faculty and staff here," said Deborah Tudor, associate professor and chair of Cinema & Photography.

"He is emerging as a central figure in U.S. independent films …" she said.

Faculty recall Swanberg's "great documentary work," while a student, she said.

"He demonstrated observational skills that helped him create films like 'Hannah,' with its emphasis on the accretion of small events that make up everyday life. He was a heavily involved with the Big Muddy Film Festival while here as well, and we hope to invite him back for the festival soon."

Even though Swanberg was a student in only one of her classes — Film Production I — Lilly A. Boruszkowski, an associate professor in Cinema & Photography, distinctly recalls his work as a student. She estimates she has viewed probably 3,000 super-8 films in teaching the class many times over a 25-year period.

Boruszkowski said she refers to Swanberg's film in discussions with current students, and is not surprised at his success.

"His film was highly impressive in its maturity, thoughtfulness, courage and creativity," she said. "He braved making a film about a young woman and her unplanned pregnancy. It's unusual for a man that young to be able to sensitively and responsibly work with such material."

Boruszkowski said she could see "from that start that Joe stood out among the other students in his class, and could see his talent and potential for success."

"I'm very happy for him and look forward to having him coming back to meet with our current students and teach them about the independent filmmaking hurdles he is successfully negotiating," she said. "I think he's a real inspiration to others, and I'm am very proud that he is a graduate of our program."

"It's very exciting that Joe has accomplished so much and generated so much buzz already," said Susan Felleman, an associate professor in the department. She recalls him being a "very active, energetic filmmaker — often around the equipment room."