Sundance Film Festival, January 2009: It was impossible to ignore the menacing crawl of an ’80s Nissan Quest daily descending through the thronged roadway of Park City, Utah’s Main Street. Seasoned with frozen blood, a crudely fashioned bird, and the malevolent screeching of fowl from the stereo, I assumed the van was part of another tired PETA outcry which is popular at such events. To the astonishment of my colleague Bobby Hacker and I, the stunt was revealed as a clever ploy to market a new film suitably titled Birdemic: Shock And Terror.
The abrupt halting of the vessel before me was my introduction to Birdemic’s mastermind, James Nguyen. An impassioned early 40s Vietnamese-American filmmaker, Nguyen was energetically hopping around persisting, “come see my movie!” “come see my movie!” No, Birdemic was not a documentary concerning the current plight of birds in their natural habitats. Further inspection revealed an apparent similarity between Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece: The Birds, (including a puzzling cameo appearance by Tippi Hedren!) Nguyen handed us a glossed handbill advertising the screening at a Main St. bar, which included a foreboding visual of a “platoon” of avian aggressors ambushing a small town and “many people died.” Contact with that damned leaflet marked my decent into a yearlong submissive addiction where withdrawal would have rendered my remains unsuitable to sustain human life.
A dazed retreat to our lodge with the internet at hand led to a revelation of the unimaginable. Operating with only meager threads of information available from the handbill, we were able to uncover the eccentricities of this subject and infer a shockingly accurate back-story. Our quest began on Nguyen’s IMDB page, which lists his three feature films (Julie And Jack, Replica, and Birdemic: Shock And Terror), declares him “The Master Of Romantic Thrillers”, and confirms his avid Hitchcock admiration. We then clicked through to Nguyen’s production company website “Moviehead Pictures”, where we viewed the unforgettable Birdemic teaser trailer. Viewing of which was beyond words and cannot be purged from the human mind nor recounted without a present visual reference. Compiling further evidence from other sources, it was concluded that Nguyen’s genuine passion for Hitchcock’s work propelled his determination, without either financial nor mental inhibition, to salute The Birds and obtain his desired Hollywood director lifestyle. It was agreed that our presence at Nguyen’s debut exhibition was absolutely mandatory. Neglect to do so would be shameful error beyond regret.
Our afternoon arrival at the exhibition was greeted by Nguyen himself and his bird-like reproduction cheerfully fixed in hand which no doubt flawlessly rang of a celebrated Hitchcock publicity photo. His excitement and warmth was intoxicating, influencing Hacker and I to participate in a series of photographs with Nguyen and his fowl appendage.
Appreciative of the attendance of the few occupying moviegoers, Nguyen insisted upon purchasing drinks for the viewers and lead Hacker and I to a table with an appropriate view of the projector screen. The lights dimmed and the film began.
It is a combination of bewilderment and awe that hinders my ability to articulate the presentation. It serves no justice to the work to verbalize an experience so uniquely visceral. However, it can be deduced that I have witnessed the most singular cinematic vision of a man embracing his limitations. Relative to the artistic manner of a single painter painting, or a poet writing, Nguyen embraces the bare essential tools needed to execute a film’s production and transmit his pure, undiluted vision; free from allegiance to anyone contrary to the common filmmaking process. In the times of Hitchcock, with cumbersome equipment and the necessity of dedicated crew members, editors, writers, producers, executive producers, script supervisors, cinematographers, and key grips, the magic of cinema was established as a collaborative process. Certain film equipment and personnel have been deemed extraneous due to recent advances in technology. Because of this, Nguyen is able to act as a one-man crew authoring his sole romantic and thrilling vision. After spending time with Nguyen, one can conclude that even the characters in Birdemic are pure extensions of Nguyen’s own ambitions, desires, and feelings – if possible, he would have performed as the main characters himself. To conclude with the sentiment where the greater part of all films produced are actualized by the means of artistic collaboration means that Birdemic is the purest, sole vision of a single man realized.
The negative effect of a more achievable filmmaking process is an over-saturated market of indie films allowing the undisciplined to create and generating the assumption that “anyone can make a film”, which embitters me. However, Nguyen’s existence is proof we are exponentially better off to living the digital age as fifteen years ago it would have been impossible for Nguyen to create Birdemic due to monetary and technological restraints. Nguyen is truly a rarity among the league of low-budget/post-film school filmmakers in that his ambition and discipline are unmatched. He does it all from creating the film, editing the film, scoring the film, compositing computer generated birds, driving from San Jose, CA to Sundance, rigorously promoting the film in a bloody bird van, sleeping in the van in freezing temperatures, renting a theater on Main St., showing the film, and at the end of the day walking away with a distribution deal are rare accomplishments only the earnest and determined can savor.
I have no shame in over-zealously boasting about my introduction of Birdemic to Severin Films. However, I am overly humbled that David Gregory, John Cregan and Carl Daft deemed the film an important enough work of independent art to crown it as Severin Films’ first contemporary acquisition.
Originally posted on Severin-Films.com.
Jackson Stewart is a writer/director living in Los Angeles. He created the web series 'The Cartridge Family' and wrote for the CW show Supernatural. He re...