Move over, Michael Bay and Joss Whedon – a new Wes film alum is gaining renown. Sam Fleischner ’06 returned to campus last Thursday as part of the Film Series’ Independent Films Speaker series. Fleischner is the first of several alums to be featured in the series, and by far the youngest. In less than five years from graduation, Fleischner and his creative partner Ben Chace have filmed their first full-length feature film, “Wah Do Dem,” which won the prize for Best Dramatic Feature at the Los Angeles Film Festival, where it premiered.
“Wah Do Dem” tells the story of Max (musician Sean Bones), whose girlfriend (played by Norah Jones) dumps him two days before they are set to depart on a Jamaican cruise that Max won in a contest. Left on his own, Max ultimately winds up clad only in swim trunks and completely broke; all his belongings are stolen. Max has to get himself to the US Embassy in Kingston, and experiences the best and worst of Jamaican culture along the way.
Fleischner gave a Q&A after the screening. His advice to students interested in making their own films was “to get a camera” and take matters into their own hands. As a “Hollywood Reporter” article about “Wah Do Dem” states, the film is “sure to be a calling card” for Fleischner in his future exploits.
Argus: Do you feel as though being a Wesleyan film major has helped you in your career?
Sam Fleischner: I think it helped me the most while I was a student. You know, I probably could have ended up doing a variety of different things, but I wanted to make movies. Being a major just kind of reaffirmed or affirmed that path. If I wasn’t a major, it’s hard to say, I probably would’ve been doing more like fine art.
A: Your film “Wah Do Dem” explores Jamaican culture through the eyes of an American. What about this particular culture grabbed your attention for the setting of the film?
SF: The music was the biggest thing. That’s why we wanted to shoot in Jamaica. I’ve always been a fan of Jamaican music, and it just seemed like a great opportunity to get deep into that culture, with the vehicle of the film.
A: The film has been described as having a “cinéma verité” feel. Is that your personal style or did your limited budget convince you to shoot this way?
SF: It was a mix. I think the style worked for the style but it was also the circumstance of the shoot. We were shooting in a documentary way, always on the move. We didn’t have a tripod with us so it was all handheld, and that’s probably where the style comes from.
A: What’s next for you? What films are you planning to make?
SF: I’m going to be the cinematographer on a bigger-budget movie this summer for this director named Michael Krenti, with 10 times the scope of resources of “Wah Do Dem.” He’s done a lot of films, so that should be a great experience. Hopefully I can make my own films as a writer/director soon.
A: Do you have any favorite Wesleyan memories?
SF: I’m not good on the spot with those kinds of things, but there are so many memories… I had an amazing time here.