A 4-year-old boy's hunt for a rabbit -- filmed around small-town Davis and edited in a campus studio -- has put a UC Davis graduate student and his co-director on the stage of perhaps the most prestigious film festival in the United States.
Robert Machoian, a second-year master's student, and Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck, both of Davis, will have their 10-minute film screened as an official selection of the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, Jan. 21 to 31.
"Charlie and the Rabbit" will be shown five times as part of the festival's short film program -- long established as a forum for the discovery of directing talent -- and it could be seen by up to 2,000 people.
A 'tense trip back into childhood'
Todd Luoto, part of the Sundance team that pared more than 6,000 short film submissions down to just 70 for screening, cites Charlie as a "wonderfully tense trip back into childhood."
"'Charlie and the Rabbit' was chosen because it captures a tense and almost fantastical childlike world from a young boy's perspective," Luoto said. "We responded to not only the talented young star, but the direction of the piece -- using little dialogue and a structure which makes the viewer a bit uneasy yet entirely engaged, helping the audience to connect with the young wanderer as he embarks on a journey hunting 'wabbits.'"
Annabeth Rosen, a professor and graduate adviser for the art and art history departments at UC Davis, said faculty members and students are thrilled for Machoian and Ojeda-Beck. "This is a very prestigious event, and the competition is fierce," she said.
Charlie is the second in a trilogy of shorts in which the co-directors explore children’s ideas of imagination and reality. "We’re interested in making films of observation, that deal with elements that transcend age," Machoian said.
Machoian and Ojeda-Beck met at California State University, Monterey Bay, where they both earned bachelor's degrees in film.
A quantum leap
Machoian has had other work screened at film festivals, including the first of the trilogy with Ojeda-Beck, "Ella and the Astronaut." But the co-directors know that having an official selection to the Sundance festival is a quantum leap for their reputation.
"It means a lot," said Ojeda-Beck.
"By far, Sundance is the biggest festival in the United States," added Machoian.
The co-directors plan to attend the entire festival and anticipate throwing themselves into a whirlwind of screenings and networking opportunities.
After each screening of "Charlie," Machoian and Ojeda-Beck will participate in a directors' question-and-answer session. And through a festival outreach program, they will also visit a Utah high school and talk to students about film-making.
'Room to explore and grow'
"Charlie" has already had another important screening -- it was the basis for one of Machoian's three formal reviews for his master's program in art studio at UC Davis.
The UC Davis master's program is designed to help students hone their skills and talents in pursuit of careers as practicing artists. The art department provides facilities for drawing, ceramic sculpture, painting, photography, printmaking, video and sculpture. Graduate students are also provided with studios.
Machoian said having his own studio has been important to developing his craft. "I needed the space to have the room to explore and grow," he said.
In addition to an undergraduate major in art studio, UC Davis also offers majors and graduate degrees in a variety of related fields including art history, design, film studies, performance studies and technocultural studies.
At UC Davis, Machoian is already sharing his talent with other aspiring artists. He is helping to teach a graduate course in animation and last summer taught an introductory video-making course.
Machoian and Ojeda-Beck are seeking grants to fund travel to shoot their third series of "American Nobodies," two-minute Web documentaries that, in Machoian's words, look at the "extraordinary things about ordinary Americans."