Santa Cruz Film Festival, April 19-28, 2007

Local Filmmaker Looks at Addiction as Metaphor

The new documentary series "Addiction" on HBO this season proclaims that 23 million Americans suffer from some form of addiction. That seems low to me. But then they focus on alcohol and drugs, and don't include: cigarettes, coffee, sugar, food, sex, gambling, shopping, or work. If they did that would probably bring the total of addicted individuals to more like 300 million, in other words, every person in the United States. I mean, even babies are "addicted" to the breast or bottle, right?

Just when we thought we'd run the gamut of addictions, along comes budding filmmaker Jay Wertzler with a new take on an old dependence: gasoline. In his film short "Gas Farming," which will be screened this weekend at the Santa Cruz Film Festival, Wertzler takes a metaphoric approach to a national addiction that affects us all. The Festival film note for the short reads: "After the death of her brother, a young girl falls into an odd addiction of getting high on gasoline. She reflects on the events, through a series of flashbacks, which have brought her to this point. Her journey leads her to isolation and the inability to come to grips with the loss she has suffered. The film has a surreal dream-like quality to it, and deals with death, addiction, and existentialism."

Who is Jay Wertzler and how did this, by all accounts, normal 21-year-old, born in Menlo Park, come up with the idea of a young woman, who shoots up gasoline as if it were heroin? "Most of my film ideas start with a strange premise, character, situation, scene, or shot that I haven't seen in movies before," Wertzler explains. "I don't know how or why the idea came to me, but I thought to myself, 'Huh, I wonder what would happen if someone shot up gasoline.'"

"Gas Farming" is part of a loose "crazy trilogy," which includes other somewhat, well, mysterious characters such as: a pregnant twin during the apocalypse, a suicidal astronaut floating alone in outer space, and a grieving pet-owner who tries to replace her recently deceased cat with a raw t-bone steak and a dead crab. Therefore, I wasn't surprised that Wertzler's sophisticated list of favorite filmmakers includes: Kubrick, Gondry, Aronofsky, Tykwer, and David Lynch. "I like films that aren't afraid to wander into the realms of the unknown or unconventional," he reveals, "but remain accessible to a larger audience. I believe the best films find a delicate sweet spot that lies between the highly experimental and the highly mainstream." An apt description of "Gas Farming."

Currently in his final quarter in Film and Media Studies at UCSC, Wertzler calls it "a great school for self-motivated individuals" and says that, more than anything, he will "retain the experience of working closely with my professors and peers in developing ideas and techniques for past, present, and future films. So much of the film program is based on constructing one's own theories about film, based on a synthesis of the masters. I feel incredibly lucky to have developed my own theories of film in such a short time at the University.

Wertzler says he's learned the most about filmmaking by "simply picking up a pen and a camera, and writing my own scripts and making my own movies––finding out what works and what doesn't. That foundation has given me more experience than money can buy, and puts you way ahead of the crowd." "Any advice for those fantasizing about making movies?" I ask. "If you don't have a video camera, use a still camera," he suggests. "If you don't have a still camera, draw storyboards with pen and paper, chalk and sidewalk, whatever you have. Don't wait for someone to put the tools in your hand, go and take them for yourself."

"Gas Farming," written and directed by Jay Wertzler shows at:
Sun, Apr 22, 2:30 PM | Riverfront Twin
Tue, Apr 24, 3:00 PM | Riverfront Twin

Published in Cathleen's "Santa Cruz Sentinel" column, "Cinema and Culture," on 4/20/07.

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