If there is one conclusion that can be made after an encounter with filmmaker and Salt Lake City native Dustin Guy Defa, it is that he knows what he wants, he knows who he likes and he makes no apologies for it.
During an interview about his short film "Person to Person" screening at the Sundance Film Festival, the actor/editor/screenwriter/filmmaker is a bit reluctant to talk about his Utah roots. Playing with a rubber band as he answers questions, it is clear that he has a lot going through his mind. Defa finally admits that coming back home is difficult.
Sundance Shorts Program IV
“Person to Person” is among eight films in the Shorts Program IV, with screenings Wednesday at 9 p.m. at the Temple Theatre, Park City, and Saturday at 8:30 p.m. at Holiday Village Cinema 1, Park City.
"It’s hard to be here. When I used to come here I used to have a place to stay. I don’t have a place to stay anymore so it’s very hard," he says.
He’s referring to the loss of his close friend David Fetzer, a local actor and musician who died a year ago in December from an accidental prescription-painkiller overdose.
Defa, one of the board members for the Davey Foundation, which was created in Fetzer’s honor by his mother and friends, explains that he will return to Utah once a year in December to help the foundation present grant awards to aspiring filmmakers.
"It’s very emotionally intense for all of us. He was such a giving, artistic person. There was already a community centered around him but now it’s sort of solidified. Now we’re all in it together. And we’re sort of a community. It’s very hard for all of us to go through. It’s also something that has to happen, I think. It’s what he would have wanted," says Defa, who describes Fetzer as the kind of person who was always helping others.
Defa’s short film at Sundance speaks toward his own loyalty to friends and loved ones.
He wrote "Person to Person" specifically so that his old roommate and friend Bene Coopersmith could act in it.
"I have been trying to get him into a movie for a very long time. Essentially, the main impetus of making the movie initially — my intention — was to just find a vehicle for Bene and get him into a movie and try to capture his essence," Defa says.
The 18-minute film, about a man (Coopersmith) waking up in the morning after hosting a party to find a girl who won’t leave his apartment, is part of the fourth installment of the Shorts Program.
"I wanted to show how beautiful Bene is but also the fact that the drama of the movie I put him in is to flush out the part of him that gets mad. The film is basically somebody who is taking advantage of his generosity, which is a thing that makes Bene the maddest — if somebody does that or does that to somebody he loves."
Defa adds that though the film was written specifically for Coopersmith, it was quite difficult for the first-time actor to play the part: "He worked very, very hard at it."
"Person to Person" is Defa’s second short film to premiere at Sundance; his "Family Nightmare" screened at the 2012 festival.
Although his feelings about being back in Utah are bittersweet, he says he appreciates the opportunity to be at Sundance and to network as much as he can.
"Festivals are always just these great cesspools of talent. I just like to meet other filmmakers. Sundance in particular is very strong in the programming department. So I hope to see some really good films, really. I hope to be inspired by the movies that are playing here."
Once a major player in the local filmmaking scene, Defa offers some advice to aspiring creators: "If you’re an independent filmmaker, you should realize you’re an independent filmmaker and not try to make it or break into the industry, which is something I’m not trying to do in any kind of way. Try to just work and try to find your original voice."
As for whether he would be willing to be a part of "the industry," Defa says he will take the industry if it will have him as he is.
"I’m just not trying to change myself in any way to get into something that is some sort of machine that wants you to be something else," he says. "I just love making movies and I love making movies with people that I like. I don’t want to make movies that I don’t like and I don’t want to make movies with people I don’t like. So, that’s all. The goal is to make movies with people that I like and to survive."
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