One-on-one with Filmmaker Nathan Cowles on his heart wrenching documentary Obtusion, and more.
Born in April of 2003, Nathan Cowles is a young indie filmmaker from Phoenix, Arizona who has been infatuated with the art of moviemaking since the beginning. Creating his first feature length film in 2012, and responsible for the creation of over 100 short films during his elementary school years, he began his true filmmaking journey within Willow Canyon High School and their film program. Slowly absorbing knowledge from hands on experience and the discovery of contemporary/classic films, Nathan became one of the highest ranked students in the film program, creating a multitude of short films, and ranking in a statewide competition with his short film "Pulsating". After graduating in 2021 amidst the Covid outbreak, he is continuing to create short films and write scripts for upcoming projects.
His minuscule yet heart wrenching documentary short 'Obtusion' follows an older brother as he interviews his sister, 4 months after she was diagnosed with anorexia, body dysmorphia and an eating disorder. On the verge of legally having to go to a facility, the older brother tries to untangle his sister's inner voices and find out why she refuses to get better, as well as connect with her on a much need emotional level. Combining stark imagery and haunting insight, 'Obtusion' not only showcases what this dreaded illness does to the victim, but how it emotionally impacts their loved ones as well.
iFilmFestival: Tell us a bit about your most important film so far.
NC: “Obtusion is most definitely my most important film thus far in my early career. Not only in terms of how I've grown as a filmmaker, but on a personal level. No other film I've made has gotten me to the point of an outright breakdown like this one, and it's through this tough process that caused me to push forward, that I was able to make something that I was not only proud of, but wanted to show people more than ever.”
iFilmFestival: What were the key challenges making it?
NC: “The interview itself was challenging in its entirety, especially since the subject matter is so close to my heart at the moment. The editing however was just as tough. I had to rewatch key moments that I didn't necessarily want to, and it caused the post production to take up a lot more time than I both expected and wanted it to.”
iFilmFestival: What’s one aspect that you’re particularly proud of?
NC: “The use of the videos in between, and getting things to match with what my sister was saying. That took quite a bit of preparation and planning, so getting that all together was very satisfying.”
iFilmFestival: How did you get involved in filmmaking?
NC: “I've made films for years in elementary school, by high school I was in a class with a very large group of friends and we got to creating throughout the four years. I wouldn't say my filmmaking career got incredibly serious until mid Junior year of high school though. Prior to that, I didn't take it as seriously as I should have, but with the pandemic making things much more difficult, it caused me to explore more avant-garde films and create things that were much more personal.”
iFilmFestival: What new projects are you working on or are you hoping to work on in the future?
NC: “I am working on a narrative short with some of my high school friends, as well as some people who I've been very close with since my early filmmaking days in fourth grade. It deals with the subject of suicide and deep depression, a topic I am fairly close with, and I imagine is very personal for other people as well. I know that the subject has been the base of a film for quite some time, but the script that is written makes me happy to work on it.”
iFilmFestival: What role do film festivals play?
NC: “The film showcasing is one thing, it's very important, but the networking is one of the most useful things I've ever had the pleasure of doing. Meeting so many incredible people, and building foundational relationships is why I look forward to them so much.”
iFilmFestival: What is your advice to filmmakers tackling the festival circuit?
NC: “Don't get discouraged. The first film I made got accepted into one festival out of 30+ submissions. It's a challenge, and it's not an easy feat. Know that rejection is inevitable, and getting into every single festival you submit to is not possible. Sure, it would be amazing if it was, but it's not. Also, make your film personal, because that's when your best work shine through. When you're crafting a story, even if it's a familiar plot, use your imagination to make it your own. People want to see something new, and it's only then will you find out how you want to make films in the future.”
iFilmFestival: How do you see the future of film?
NC: “There is a saturation of filmmakers coming through, just due in part to how easy it is to make one now. I believe the digital revolution is already in effect, and will go forth for years to come. It's not hard to make movies anymore, but it is hard to make a good one. But I do see people with low budgets making incredible things, and it gives me hope. The idea that you need grand cameras and extensive budgets are unable to grasp what filmmaking is. If you have enough passion and sustainability, you can create beauty with the most minuscule of products. It's up to you to create something with what you have, and not to complain that you don't have access to things others do. A good camera can only do so much.”
iFilmFestival: Which filmmaker do you admire and why?
NC: “Too many. I can say the obvious (Haneke, Tarkovsky, Akerman, Bresson, etc.), but I'm gonna go with another well known name in Edward Yang. Nobody can capture their environment (except maybe Tarkovsky) so vividly and beautifully as Yang does. But it's not just the look that captures me and encapsulates me, the man knew how to write. The best stories and screenplays of all time belong to Yang, A Brighter Summer Day is maybe the greatest ever told. His characters have so much depth, his long poetic style is hypnotically startling, and it breathes new life into you. Obviously I'm overly metaphorical for this man, but it's hard not to be after you've seen a film of his.”
iFilmFestival: What film have you recently seen that you have admired in one way or another?
NC: “La Belle Noiseuse by Jacques Rivette. Four hours have never been so amazing, and it's stuck with me for a long long time. I love everything about this movie, but it tells so much with so little, and that's what I admire. Even with minimal sets, twelve characters with speaking roles, and a story that isn't even close to the world "vast" or "expansive", it still manages to be perfectly paced throughout its long runtime. It makes me look at the work of art in a whole new way, and makes me ask "How is it possible to tell so much, with such minuscule resources?" This was the first Rivette film I've seen, and I most definitely want to watch more and more as soon as I can.”
iFilmFestival: Thank you Nathan for answering our questions!
Interview by iFilmFestival on July 19th, 2022