We interview Kristian Fraga, a young filmmaker whose documentary, Severe Clear, plays at Big Sky on closing night, Sunday the 21st at 4pm.
BSDFF: Give me a little background on the film and how it came about.
KF: It was pretty interesting how this film came together. I was developing a completely different project when Severe Clear literally fell on my lap. Mike Scotti, the Marine our film is about, walked into NYU with a bag full of mini-DV tapes figuring some young filmmaker might find the footage interesting. He ended up bumping into a student who happened to be interning at our production company at the time, and a couple of days later we were all sitting down with Scotti watching his footage and talking about his experience. Right away I knew his was a story I very much wanted to tell.
BSDFF: What is your background in film?
KF: I’m a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and a founding partner of Sirk Productions, a New York based film and television production company. Severe Clear is my second feature length documentary. My first, Anytown, USA, was theatrically released by Film Movement in 2005. To be honest, I’m a product of George Lucas , Steven Spielberg, and Francis Ford Coppola so I never thought in a million years I would make documentaries. I’ve always wanted to direct space operas and Indiana Jones pictures, but as an independent filmmaker from New York, I’ve also been inspired by Spike Lee, Oliver Stone, Woody Allen, and Martin Scorsese. For me it all comes down to the story and what’s the best way of telling that particular story. Whether it’s a documentary or a traditional narrative is irrelevant to me. As a filmmaker I’m not too caught up with being pigeonholed as a certain kind of director. These two last pictures happened to be docs because that was the right way to go. I’m currently writing my next feature, which is a narrative and there are other docs I would love to make. Once I fall in love with a story I’ll figure out how to get up on the screen.
BSDFF: Who is your audience for this film, ie who do you hope to reach?
KF: Obviously I’d love everybody to see Severe Clear. The reality of the situation is, this is a tough picture about a subject many people may not be ready to deal with right now. At the end of the day, Severe Clear is really a blue-collar film about these men getting up everyday and doing their job. It’s about what that job represents and everything that goes with a Marine being good at what he does— which is part of the inherent depth and complexity of Mike Scotti’s story. This film asks a lot from its audience and it isn’t a passive experience. We hope to reach an audience who is willing to sit back for 93 minutes and be open to going for a ride. The picture is a tough pill to swallow and it’s the kind of film that’ll stick with you well after you’ve left the theater.
BSDFF: What other festivals have you been to so far, and what is the upcoming schedule looking like?
KF: The film premiered at SxSw and we were an official selection at the Rome International Film Festival where were given a special award for cinematic excellence. Along with Big Sky, Severe Clear was also an official selection at: St. Louis Film Festival, San Diego Film Festival, Palm Beach International Film Festival, Lone Star International Film Festival, Salem Film Festival, IDA Docuweeks Showcase, and the New Films/New Filmmakers Series at the Anthology Film Archives in Manhattan. On top of the festivals coming up we’re releasing Severe Clear theatrically starting in NY and LA in March. So our upcoming schedule is pretty intense.
BDSFF: Do you have any mentors or idols that have helped you or inspired you?
KF: In terms of mentors and idols, I did mention earlier that I am a product of George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Francis Ford Coppola. For me, these are the three kings. I could go on and on about other filmmakers who have inspired me but those are the top guys along with Oliver Stone, Tim Burton, Alfred Hitchcock… I can go on and on. I just love film and when making Severe Clear inspiration would come from all sorts of places. I always turn to the films of Victor Fleming or Vincent Minnelli, two guys you’d never in a million years link to documentary filmmaking but their pacing, transitions, story structure, it all influences me.
BSDFF: Why documentary?
KF: Why a documentary? My answer is simply "why not?” It’s all about filmmaking. I’m always amazed at how people like to pigeonhole you within the industry. Certainly Severe Clear is a documentary and I understand, especially with festivals, why films have to be put into a particular category but I never sat down and thought, “well since Severe Clear is a documentary it has to be made this specific way.”
From Saving Private Ryan to Cloverfield, you’re seeing studio pictures using “documentary” techniques to strip away the gloss, allowing an audience to connect deeper with the material and feel the story. What I set out to do with Severe Clear was to take the raw mini-DV footage that Mike shot and put it together in the style of the traditional Hollywood narrative.
I think it’s the fusion of those two opposing styles that gives the film its energy and I think we’ve put something together that many people haven’t seen before. What’s funny was after one of the IDA screenings in LA an audience member came up to me after the screening and said “Wow…that was like a real movie,” as if a Documentary is not a “real movie.” But I totally got what he was saying. Filmgoers have been trained through the years to expect something specific from a Documentary as opposed to a narrative. More and more those lines are bleeding together and it’s exciting because as filmmakers we’re allowed a greater freedom to make the pictures we want to make and not have to worry (so much) about getting labeled as a certain kind of filmmaker.