January 9, 2003
Over Thanksgiving weekend, 22-year-old filmmaker John Dilley received a call he never dreamed he would get: Your film has been selected for Sundance, he was told.
He was so shocked and surprised that he was convinced, without a doubt, the call was a prank. Even after realizing the person on the other end was a Sundance Film Festival programmer, the surreal feeling still lingered as he repeatedly paced back and forth in his parents' Oakland home.
Come mid-January, Dilley will head to Park City, Utah, for Sundance, the most prestigious showcase for independent films in the United States. His film, titled "Little Failures," was created for an SFSU Advanced Film Production class before he completed his bachelor's degree in May.
Shot mostly in the Potrero Hill and Dogpatch neighborhoods of San Francisco, "Little Failures" is a 16-mm, 10-minute narrative about three teenagers plagued by social inadequacy and miscommunication. In a few short moments, these three -- who seemingly have nothing in common -- are somehow related in their respective failures to fit in, reach out to each other and find the right things to say.
After making several experimental films, Dilley wanted to try his hand at a narrative.
"I needed to write something more intimate and personal," the resident of San Francisco's Richmond District said. "I've noticed if I'm going one way, to just do the opposite and something completely different."
The SFSU Cinema Department selected Dilley as its "outstanding graduate" for 2002.
"When I read the script, I knew he had a really good idea already," said cinema Lecturer Anita Chang, who taught the Advanced Film Production class. "It is important for students to have a love for the subject matter and a love for the craft. John really had that coming into the class."
"He has remarkable maturity, poise and intellectual sophistication," added Britta Sjogren, assistant professor of cinema and one of Dilley's former instructors.
In turn, Dilley commended the cinema faculty -- many of whom are independent filmmakers themselves -- for going "far out of their way" to help him with his film and provide feedback.
"They are phenomenal," he said.
In addition, Dilley attributes part of his success to the SFSU Presidential Scholars program, which provides a group of incoming freshmen with full tuition, aid for textbooks and supplies, priority course registration and special seminars for up to eight semesters.
"I wouldn't have been able to pay for college without it," Dilley said, adding that the program also enabled him to graduate in four years.
"Little Failures" producer Kit Fox, a 23-year-old SFSU senior majoring in cinema and Japanese, is also a Presidential Scholar.
"If it wasn't for the Presidential Scholars program, I would not have met John. That in and of itself is immeasurable to me," Fox said. "Other than that, the program gave me the freedom to concentrate on my studies and meet a wide variety of interesting students and faculty members."
"Little Failures" is one of 90 films chosen, out of 3,345 entries, to screen in the Sundance Film Festival's Short Film Program.
This marks the second consecutive year that an SFSU student film has made it to Sundance. Last year's Short Film Program included "Birju," a narrative written and directed by cinema graduate student Heeraz Marfatia -- who was recently featured in the San Francisco Chronicle as a Bay Area artist "on the verge" of breaking it big.
For more about Dilley, his film and his goals as a filmmaker, see the press release.
Photo by David Krah
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