After two years living under the weight of a global pandemic, the public’s perceptions about death and dying continue to evolve. Meanwhile, two New Mexico State University professors made an award-winning 21-minute film exploring these issues in terms of human connection rather than statistics and headlines.
“Fowl,” a short film by Ross Marks and Mitch Fowler, professors in NMSU’s Creative Media Institute, guides viewers quietly through a day in the life of two elderly men in an assisted living hospice facility during the COVID-19 pandemic. At turns humorous or heartbreaking, the film demonstrates how humans struggle with impending death and the isolation it creates, compounded by forced pandemic isolation.
The film took eight months to complete and has been on the film festival circuit since February 2021. So far, “Fowl” has taken awards from the Berlin Shorts Festival, San Francisco Indie Short Film Festival, Phoenix Shorts Film Festival and the Niagra Falls International Film Festival. It took the top spot in the Studio City Film Festival in Hollywood and it will be featured in the 2022 Las Cruces International Film Festival, which runs March 2–6 at the Allen Theatres Cineport 10.
Marks, who wrote the screen play and directed the film, said he was inspired by his late father-in-law Mark Medoff, a long-time NMSU professor and famed playwright who was in hospice care before he died.
“The two characters in the short film represent the two elements I saw Mark was going through. As he knew the end of life was coming for him, he knew he was dying and that idea combined with the isolation during COVID. So, the film is about two men seeing the end of their lives and being alone, being isolated, not being able to be with family, not being able to be with friends, not having that human interaction. But they briefly find that connection with a fellow resident”.
The film was shot over two days last November under strict COVID-safe protocols inside St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (a hallway was converted into a bedroom) and the courtyard of Jud Wright’s Las Cruces home.
Mitch Fowler served as director of photography and CMI alumnus Keagan Karnes produced the film. “Fowl” is the 12th film Marks and Fowler have made together. They always reach out to CMI alums and invite CMI students to crew their films as part of the hands-on educational experience. For many, it was their first real job on a film set. But shooting a film during COVID, it became much more complicated.
“We had to get approval from NMSU and had to follow very strict protocols,” said Fowler. “Everybody had to be tested before the shoot, there had to be social distancing. Everybody had to wear masks. We had to use an extreme skeleton crew to limit the number of people on the set. It was really difficult and challenging, but I wanted that to parallel what the characters were going through in the film. Thankfully not one person tested positive before or after the shoot.”
CMI students Kyle Ivey was co-producer with Kagan, Angel Sanchez was the film’s editor and Savannah Willingham the costume designer. The crew also included CMI students Nathan Lefever, Luis Gutierrez, Mario Martinez and Ralph Diaz.
Marks, who recently directed the full-length feature film “Walking With Herb,” starring Edward James Olmos, George Lopez and Kathleen Quinlan, said he is in discussions with a Los Angeles producer about turning “Fowl” into a television series.
Both professors enjoy mixing teaching with professional film making.
“I teach in the classroom, directing and screen writing and then put my students on an actual film set and let them see first-hand how I do it,” Marks said. “I’m not just in teaching theory, I give them opportunities to work on a film and do jobs they can put on their resume.”
“When they graduate from CMI, they might have a first assistant camera credit, or some other professional credit that helps them to get jobs when they graduate,” said Fowler. “It’s exciting when we work with our students because it’s putting into practice what we talk about in the classroom. Real world experience – that’s the goal.”
Watch the film at: https://bit.ly/3IzIwV2