KEEP IT SIMPLE
Homework by Kevin Asher Green won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature at the 2004 Slamdance Festival and may be one of the best looking DV films to date. A coming-of-age story, Homework is about Sara (Paz de la Huerta), a striking, young ballerina who tries to control her eating disorder and confused sexuality in midst of a sterile middle-class New York lifestyle. Sara is alienated from her mother and unmoved by the sexual and intellectual engagements with her boyfriend Josh (Evan Newmann). When Sara meets Jean (Issaach De Bankole), an older modern dancer who arouses her emotional and sexual desires, she pursues him with a sweet awkwardness that makes her passion honest and wonderfully real.
Homework unfolds as a stylized yet minimalist series of episodes; it feels like a quiet, slow-paced foreign film that focuses on the interiority of the characters. In fact, Green successfully translates the family dysfunction and contemporary alienation he admires in Taiwanese directors Tsai Ming-Liang, Edward Yang, Hou Hsiao-Hsien into a transcendent New York vocabulary all his own.
While the digital filmmaking community is currently championing expensive High Definition, Homework proves that a PAL PD-150 DV feature rendered in Quick Time 3 (not even 4!) looks better than most of the enervated HD films out there. Green and his team succeeded in making Homework look great on the big screen through careful production choices. First off, as a director and writer, Green chose a story that had minimal dialogue to save on the number of takes for each set-up. His love of the long-take directors like Antonioni inspired him to concentrate on the physical drama in the mise-en-scene so that ten minutes of screen time were shot each day. The story takes place at only a handful of locations that are repeatedly visited, helping minimize set-ups. "I can't draw," Green says, "so I constantly shot digital photos and storyboarded the whole film with these stills."
There were other winning secrets: DP Richard Rutkowski (Interview with the Assassin, Chelsea Walls) used mostly medium and long lensed close-ups to give a sense of shallow focus and a cleaner resolve to the DV. For lighting, the crew chose almost exclusively Kino-Flos mixed with smaller tungsten instruments. For the relatively few outdoor shots, the team sought shadow or overcast light and shot right at dusk, putting exposure at the limit of the camera's sensitivity. On occasion they also hazed the interiors with a light mist and shot through 1/8 or 1/4 black pro-mist filters. Finally the footage was drained of chroma to give a cool, silver retention look.
Executive producer Jim Stark (Stranger Than Paradise) got behind this project early to get actor De Banchole on board, which led to the producing team of Anthony Katagas and Callum Greene (Lost in Translation) getting passionately involved and making the director's $10,000 budget go far on an eleven day shoot. At press time, Homework has not struck a distribution deal but expect to see more from Kevin Asher Green.