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University of Iowa News Release


April 18, 2011

UI graduate students' film to screen at renowned Cannes festival
The Cannes Film Festival has selected a film by University of Iowa graduate students Joe Bookman and D. Jesse Damazo to screen at this year's Cinéfondation, the festival's student film competition.

"The Agony and Sweat of the Human Spirit," an offbeat comedy about a professional ukuleleist, his manager, and an ailing Chihuahua, was one of only 16 student films selected from more than 1,500 entries from around the world. Only three American student films will screen at the 64th Festival de Cannes, which runs May 11-22 in France.

Bookman, a doctoral candidate in communication studies, and Damazo, a master of fine arts student in the cinema production program, are the first filmmakers from the UI to receive the honor of screening at the Cinéfondation. Michel Gondry, director of "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and "The Green Hornet," will be the president of this year's Cinéfondation jury.
"Getting your film into Cannes is a mind-bendingly unlikely thing to have happen," said Damazo, a native of Paradise, Calif., who came to Iowa City for graduate school. "Since hearing the news, Joe and I have been pretty much overwhelmed with gratitude and disbelief."

Bookman and Damazo wrote and directed the film. They also play roles onscreen as the only two characters in the film. (The other star is Edie, a Chihuahua owned by Bookman's brother.)

"Neither Jesse nor I have ever made a fiction film before," said Bookman, a native of Chapel Hill, N.C., who came to the UI for graduate school after teaching English in China. "Jesse has done more experimental-type films, and I've made some personal essay documentaries. And neither of us had acted before. It was all really new to us, but we surrounded ourselves with cinematographers and assistant directors who could provide great advice and technical expertise. It was definitely a collaborative effort."

Consisting of just five shots, their 15-minute short is an experiment in long take filmmaking. They were assigned to create a long take film for a fall 2010 UI course, "Colloquium on Film and Video Production," taught by Andrew Hulse.
"A lot can go wrong during a long take," Bookman said. "When you go for two, three, four minutes without cutting away, there's always an element of luck in getting the shot.

"The long take was the formal constraint that led us to pursue the plot structure we developed, and the particular kind of comedy we deployed. I think the film works because we managed to create an original, off-beat kind of humor, the characters are entertaining, and the writing is sound."

They shot the film from October through December of 2010 in four Iowa City locations: the Chauncey Swan parking garage, a field space near Oakland Cemetery, a recording studio on campus, and Damazo's apartment. The budget for the film was roughly $500 –- much of which was spent on coffee and food for the crew. The biggest expense was helium for a scene that required balloons.

Several UI units are providing financial support to send the students to the festival: the Graduate College, International Programs, the Departments of Cinema and Comparative Literature and Communication Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Film and Video Production Program, the Fine Arts Council, and the Executive Council of Graduate and Professional Students.

"We don't really know exactly what to expect, but we plan to watch a bunch of fantastic films and meet a lot of talented people," Bookman said. "It's a huge honor, and a very special opportunity."

Learn more about the film at For more on the festival, visit

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Joe Bookman, UI graduate student and filmmaker,, 919-943-2513; Jesse Damazo, UI graduate student and filmmaker, 530-521-4697,; Nicole Riehl, University News Services, 319-384-0070,