Filmmaker’s project tells of unmade masterpiece
By Bryan Kuriawa
A book referred to as a science-fiction bible, and a director seeking to enlighten the young audiences of an era. For two years he pursued his dream, believing his would be a defining cinematic achievement, one for the ages.
Yet at the height of everything, the studios he sought went against his vision. The book went to another director and the story went untold for years, until one documentarian broke the silence. That director was Alejandro Jodorowsky, the novel “Dune,” and the man to reunite them, Frank Pavich.
Premiering at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, Pavich’s latest film, “Jodorowsky’s Dune,” tells of the two years Jodorowsky spent tailoring “Dune” into a feature film. A dream project for Pavich, the film told of one’s man quest to create art and another to tell a personal cinematic tale.
Born the son of a Shakespearian actress, Pavich found his interest in cinema growing from a personal perspective. During high school, his experience watching Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” allowed for a better appreciation of film than previously before. Upon taking a series of classes and learning about filmmaking, he soon made the leap to his first film. The result was a documentary about the New York Hardcore music scene entitled, “N.Y.H.C.”
“When I was in L.A., I kept coming back to New York which is where I’m from, and kept going to hardcore shows, when I’d come back for Christmas break and stuff like that,” Pavich said. “In 1995, the summer of 95, there was a huge upswing in New York hardcore music, New York hardcore kind of seesaws. You get good years and then you get years whenever it kind of implodes and they have fights with each other, all the bands hate each other—and 1995 was kind of like one of the many resurgences. So I said what the hell, let’s just get a camera crew and start filming it and just document it.”
While he and his crew were uncertain of how the project would turn out, Pavich set out to document the events of that summer. The resulting film, which took four years to edit, was finally released on VHS and has enjoyed a cult following since.
After several years of working in various capacities in the film and television industries, Pavich found himself returning to documentaries. This time, the subject was Jodorowsky and his ill-fated quest to make “Dune.”
“I’ve always been a fan of his; I’ve always really admired “El Topo” and “The Holy Mountain” in particular, those two films I think are completely two of the greatest films ever,” Pavich said.
Discovering the story of a lost Jodorowsky film and the “spiritual warriors” who brought together this vision, Pavich began to construct his documentary. Through his interviews and information gathered, he learned of a film beyond the category of simply being unmade.
“Not only did they try to make this film, but they really succeeded,” Pavich said. “Everything was created and then they just didn’t get to film it. It’s the most realized unrealized film that I’ve ever heard of. And then we start to learn the fact that this unrealized unmade film would still exist and still kinda influence so many other films is just an amazing story which I thought needed to be shared with the world.”
During production and in between interviewing, Pavich turned his attention to visualizing Jodorowsky’s script and storyboards through an animated form. Referring to a former colleague from his time living in Los Angeles, he found his animator.
“When I knew that we were going to make this movie, and I knew that all of these storyboards existed, I knew that I wanted to animate them, to bring them to life,” Pavich said. “So I called up my artist friend and I was like do you know an animator, do you know anyone you would recommend? And he said, Oh absolutely, this one guy, he’s the greatest guy in the world, his name is Syd Garon and he pointed me towards his website—and I said this is the guy.”
With the intention of not over-animating the storyboards, Pavich’s intentions for the animation were to simply bring them to life. This he intended to show off the film’s vision as an example of its imagination and to show the viewer the scale of the project itself.
Shooting footage all to the way to its world premiere at Cannes, Pavich continued editing the film following its festival screenings to create the final product presented in release. It was during these screenings, “Jodorowsky’s Dune” gained several awards.
“To sit in that audience and hear people laughing at the funny parts, cheering at other parts and silence where you could hear a pin drop during serious moments, that’s the ultimate prize I think,” Pavich said. “It’s to get that feeling that you’ve transformed people, Jodorowsky’s whole point in all of his art is to transform people. So what’s the point of making a movie if an audience goes in there and then they walk out two hours later, exactly the same?”
“Jodorowsky’s Dune” is in limited theatrical release by Sony Pictures Classics, and Pavich said he’s not sure what his next film subject will be at the present time. Considering his work, it will truly be something of a personal nature.