When film major Nick Chianese ’14 landed a summer internship at the Cannes Film Festival, he looked forward to meeting some of the filmmakers whose works had been chosen for the prestigious event.
As it turns out, Chianese is one of those filmmakers. Return of the Loving Dead, his silent, six-minute, black-and-white homage to old-time horror movies, was chosen to be screened at the festival this month.
Chianese said he was “stunned” by the news. “After I got the internship, someone at Cannes asked me if I wanted to submit a film, but I figured they had hundreds, maybe thousands, of entries, so I didn’t give it much thought after I sent it,” he says.
When he still had not received word nearly two weeks after the deadline for entries had passed, Chianese assumed his film had been rejected. But just to be sure, he logged on to the Cannes Film Festival website and perused the list of selected films. And there was Return of the Loving Dead.
He says he doesn’t remember exactly what happened next, “but I think there was a lot of yelling and jumping up and down.”
Chianese is the third Vassar student in the last four years to have a film shown at Cannes. Alex Camilleri ’10 won a Best Student Film-Emerging Filmmakers award in 2010 for Still Here, and a film directed by Spencer Richards ’10, Henry and Anthony, was screened in 2011.
Chianese made the movie during the fall semester with the help of cinematographer Tori Larson and actors Ben Kaufman, who plays a mad scientist whose lover has died, and Carly Belko, the woman Kaufman’s character attempts to bring back to life – with somewhat grisly results. A ferret named Vin Weasel makes a brief, if gruesome, appearance.
Chianese says he decided to make a campy horror spoof because the grainy black-and-white film he was working with lent itself to the genre. He and his crew spent “a lot of hours a lot of nights” shooting the movie in a laboratory on the second floor of Ely Hall. His film class then viewed and critiqued his dailies until the project was finished. “I’ve always been a fan of horror movies, and when you play around with zombies you can get away with an awful lot in terms of plot,” he says.
Chianese began the project by writing a six-page “script” outlining the plot and the action of the characters. As the scenes were filmed and edited, he added a soundtrack he composed himself.
Chianese says he doesn’t know how he’ll split his time between his job as an intern and a filmmaker showing his work, but he was told he’d need a tuxedo “for my time on the red carpet.”
Chianese maintained the horror theme for the movie he made for his spring semester film class. “It’s about a student who gets a job with a filmmaker putting the films on DVDs and he sees a film he shouldn’t have seen about his boss being involved in a kidnapping,” he says.
Chianese says he hopes the French press in Cannes doesn’t ask him a lot of questions about Return of the Loving Dead. “I don’t speak any French – I’ve always studied German -- but I bought a French phrase book and I’ve been studying that.”
As he prepared to leave for France last week, the honor of having a film screened at the most famous festival in the world still hadn’t quite sunk in, Chianese says. “It’s something every filmmaker aspires to, and to have a film chosen when I’m still in college, it’s overwhelming.”