Michael Stevantoni won awards for his filmmaking while he was growing up in Campbell River and going to school at Carihi, and he’s continuing to earn accolades now that he has graduated and is pursuing a post-secondary degree in film studies in the U.S.
Stevantoni, who graduated from Carihi in 2014, recently received another film award, this time for his short film Eduardo, which was shot in 8mm and features actors speaking Spanish with English subtitles. The 20-year-old filmmaker was awarded an honourable mention at the United States Super 8mm Film and Digital Video Festival, held in late February at Rutgers University in New Jersey. It is the largest and longest running juried Super 8mm film and digital video festival in North America, according to the festival’s website, and Stevantoni was the only Canadian to win an award this year.
“I’m very excited about it,” said Stevantoni. “As an artist, the greatest success you can have is having people responding to your film. This festival is a really special festival because it’s the last one in the States and around the world that I found that focuses on and preserves that format. For me, it’s very special to have my film in 2016 at a festival like that where they keep that format alive, and I’m very excited to be a part of that.”
In the film, Eduardo has a toothache and has decided to handle it like a man: by pulling it out himself.
“He’s trying to show off and impress his wife but she’s not that impressed,” said Stevantoni. “He thinks he’s being this macho man with this gesture, but she thinks it’s a foolish act. Through this conversation, it’s a meditation on them and the differences between their genders.”
Stevantoni wrote and directed the film, and it was produced by Gia Rigoli. Stevantoni loved shooting the film in 8mm.
“That was really exciting for me because I never shot on film before,” he said, adding that he feels that as we move into a more and more digital age, the opportunities to shoot on film become less and less.
“As I’m learning about film, I thought at least one time, I need to experience shooting something on film. The story really lends itself to that medium. It’s a story about honesty and finding the essence of these characters … there’s an honesty and an authenticity to the medium as well.”
While at Carihi, Stevantoni directed a couple of short films, the award-winning The Brother and It Is What It Is, both of which received excellent reviews and featured local actors. He also won the gold medal for video production in the Skills Canada competition in 2014 and the B.C. student film festival award for best film for Anything You Want.
Following these honours, Stevantoni enrolled in film studies at Dodge College of Film and Media Arts at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., where he continues to make short films as part of the program.
Stevantoni has been studying at Dodge College for two years now and has enjoyed the opportunity to connect with so many other filmmakers and artists.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said of the experience so far. “It’s just been surreal. We support each other and make our films together and it’s just been such a great experience. I don’t know if I’ll always make art here in the States, but right now, it’s working for me.”
Stevamtoni has been interested in filmmaking since he was a child. He started making little stop-motion Lego movies when he was in Grade 2 or 3 and he remembers making a whole Harry Potter movie.
As a teenager at Carihi, he learned a lot about making films by taking the media program with Joe Shields.
“I’ve just always loved it,” he said.
Last summer, after optioning the book Salton Sea, Stevantoni began to write an adapted feature-length screenplay from the work called You’re Going to be a Good Man. This month, he shot the opening scenes in one of the counties surrounding Los Angeles. This film is independent of his university studies and involves a cast and crew of 40 people.
Stevantoni is hoping to raise money through Kickstarter to complete filming this August. He will be launching his fundraising campaign in April.
“I’m nervous, but, I don’t know, it’s just such a wonderful creative catharsis going through this process, getting to stay with a project for so long,” he says of working on his first feature-length film. “It’s a very different experience and you really get to learn a lot more about the characters through that.”
Stevantoni describes the book Salton Sea as a character study of people living in the California desert in 2002.
“More than anything, it’s a portrait of the desert cities in California and one character who wants to escape and go somewhere else and one character who wants to stay and believes that’s her home,” he said.
Stevantoni wanted to create a film out of the book because he found Salton Sea was such a visual book in the way it describes the landscape.
“When I first moved from Campbell River, I moved right to Los Angeles, and it’s not an easy adjustment to do something like that,” he said. “Although I loved L.A., I couldn’t really think of it as my home … When I came across the book, there were these very visual descriptions. I really got it for the first time. I finally felt like I could make art here. Reading the book made California make sense to me and it excited me.”