By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
"There's something liberating about just sitting and letting yourself watch something," says the director. "I look at shooting as a game. You have to respond to something as it's happening. And once you have a script, you don't have a game anymore."
Anyone who meets Rolf Belgum will have a hard time imagining him sitting in his backyard for five hours every weekend, pointing a camera at insects and waiting for something to happen. In person, he can't stop moving or talking.
"He's like the tsunami," says Merrilyn Belgum, Rolf's mother. "I know when he's going to come over, I can just feel it. The animals act different and everything."
Merrilyn remembers her son's Minneapolis childhood as a series of calls from the school principal. "I never thought he'd get into the U, let alone be teaching today," she says.
But Rolf eventually earned an art scholarship to the University of California at San Diego. Arriving as a sculptor and collage artist, he left as a filmmaker: His first 16mm project was a 29-minute fiction short about a young man obsessed with Burt Reynolds. "He gets hit with a golf ball," says Belgum, "and Burt Reynolds appears to him as a shaman." The filmmaker's German rocket-scientist roommate wore a glossy picture cut from a magazine to play Reynolds.
After he returned to his hometown, Belgum immediately made a fiction film starring his mom, The Trappings of Success, a project he describes as a disaster. Turning to documentary, he began shooting Driver 23 after meeting and befriending Dan Cleveland in the Dinkytown guitar store where Belgum worked. (The two briefly tried to form a band together.) These two are still friends today, and Cleveland is still in town, studying to be a respiratory therapist. Last year, Darkhorse suffered a tragic loss with the death of bassist Sean Cassidy, the amiable monument to patience in the two films. (Cleveland says he's remastering the Darkhorse CD in a new studio he has built, and hopes to re-release the album with new songs recorded before Cassidy died.)
Rolf Belgum's filmmaking has proven to be as gradual as Dan Cleveland's perfectionistic work, suggesting that the future of "instantaneous" DV cinema may lie in calculated masterpieces realized over years. Belgum's behind-the-scenes story for The Wild Condition might bore Project Greenlight fans: He shot and edited constantly for three years, even taking the camera on walks, but always outside of a full-time job teaching editing. Before post-production, the new movie cost him about $650.
"Hopefully art affects how you live in the world," Belgum says. "People say, 'To see nature, I've got to go over here. I've got to go to Yellowstone.' And I'm just like, 'Did you look in your backyard?'"
The Wild Condition screens at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, April 13 at the Bell.
One morning in 1991, Vu Tran's parents woke him early. Without saying anything about where they were headed, they brought the nine-year-old and his brother to the sea. There, along with 110 other Vietnamese refugees, they boarded a small fishing boat. Tran and his family spent the next week tossing in the South China Sea and living on a mere handful of rice per day. When, on the seventh day, the boat reached Hong Kong, they were sent to a refugee detention camp--a drab limbo in which Tran would spend the next three years.
"There was a kind of dome over the camp," explains Tran while taking a study break in the student lounge at MCAD, where the 23-year-old is now a senior film major. "At seven in the morning, they open the dome. At seven [p.m.], they close it. Not a lot of freedom. We lived in bunk beds. Our family had two bunk beds for four people. Like this high." Tran raises a hand to shoulder level. "We crawl all the time. We sleep. We crawl."
A child refugee's loneliness and unarticulated sense of displacement permeate From There to Here, Tran's deeply personal half-hour documentary about his odyssey. From its opening archival news footage of the fall of Saigon to its shots of manicured subdivisions in Apple Valley, where Tran's family ultimately settled, From There to Here seems to consciously adopt the POV of a bewildered nine-year-old.
Despite the incorporation of newsreel footage, From There To Here isn't primarily concerned with Vietnamese history or with the plight of international refugees. It is, rather, a personal document, a diary of Tran's integration into American society. His is, in many ways, the typical melting pot narrative. But that familiar story is also grounded in specific personal detail--Tran's minor epiphany upon first tasting McDonald's fries, for instance. Indeed, what From There to Here lacks in technical polish or startling originality, it more than makes up for in the sincerity of Tran's narrated recollections.
"When I got to America," he says, "I saw everything was so organized. Houses, trees, sidewalks--everything lined up perfectly. My first thought was, 'Wow. This is like heaven to me.'" In the film, Tran uses repeated images of telephone poles and lawns to juxtapose this neatly regimented suburban paradise with noisy, crowded Vietnam.