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A Festival-First: Bruin Couple Presents Two Films

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By Robyn Stark

Published Sep 26, 2013 8:00 AM


TFT alumni are the first married pair to show two separate projects at the 40-year-old Telluride event.

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Esther Julie-Anne on the set of her documentary.

Battiste Fenwick '12 and Esther Julie-Anne '13 have proven that some couples who work together, succeed together. And that’s not the only way they've broken new ground.

Fenwick, 30, and Julie-Anne, 31, graduates of the Theater, Film and Television Masters Program, are the first married couple to present two separate films in the same festival. Both films debuted at the Telluride Film Festival in August, to rave reviews; yet they could not be more different in their subject matter.

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Battiste Fenwick and Esther Julie-Anne

Fenwick's gripping documentary, Una Chanza Más, follows Pedro Mata, a gang-member-cum-forest-fire-fighter, along his trepid struggle to become a productive citizen, while Julie-Anne's feature, Out of Love, portrays the emotional difficulty of marriage and divorce as depicted through her father's five former marriages. The couple worked simultaneously on both films, switching between projects over a four- year span—a workflow that sounds tiresome, but actually created serendipity in both films, according to Fenwick.

The first-time filmmakers found creating documentaries to be an ambitious goal, but working on their films concurrently helped them navigate problems more effectively, learning from one film and implementing in the other. With no script or set agenda, Fenwick and Julie-Anne allowed their concepts to take form organically through the stories of their subjects. “We're really interested in people. And people are unpredictable,” Fenwick explains. “When you're following their journey, it's going to take the time that it takes for their journey to unfold enough to develop [into] a story.”

In addition to long days of shooting, the couple faced a set of tough challenges in gaining the trust of their subjects. Not only was Julie-Anne's father reluctant to put his story on film, but she found it emotionally difficult to transition from daughter to filmmaker in order to pull out the deeper material—a process that created tension in her family. Fenwick compares making both films to riding a bike for the first time: “There's this constant struggle between fear and perseverance. You have to fall a couple of times and then get back up.”

While Julie-Anne had a personal connection to her subject, Fenwick started with an article from the L.A. Times on Aztecs Rising, a gang intervention program, and hand-selected Mata to tell his story. Fenwick admits that he was concerned about how the film would be received with a gang member as his main character, but says filming enabled him to get to know Mata and even find a common ground with his lead. “Pedro is trying to become a fire-fighter and, in a way, I'm trying to become a filmmaker. But we both have that fear of the unknown.”

Now, returning from the highs of Telluride, Fenwick and Julie-Anne are back at work. They're currently making a new documentary about displaced immigrant children lost in the court systems. Working together on one film is a new experience for them.

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