“I think I was always drawn to how filmmaking can bring people together,” said Michael Stevantoni. The Vancouver Island native is now an internationally-accomplished director, but his beginnings as a boy with a hobby of making short films with his friends launched a passion that has crafted a prosperous career. As he grew, he continued to explore film and he fell in love with the process of discovery that comes through the realization of a story.
Having had success with films such as Desert Shores, The Banality, Eduardo and more, Stevantoni has shown audiences around the world just what he is capable of as a director. His versatility is evident, and with experience in many fields of filmmaking, such as producing, screenwriting and production design, he is acutely aware of how much work it takes to make a cinematic masterpiece. Wearing so many hats on film sets has allowed him to become a formidable director.
Stevantoni’s feature Desert Shores recently had its world premiere on November 11, 2018, at the renowned Gene Siskel Theatre in Chicago, part of the Blow-Up International Arthouse Film Festival. The emerging director was also co-writer of the screenplay, adapted from the book Salton Sea by George McCormick. The film tells the story of a man struggling to recognize the American dream at a time when the country is gripped in fear after 9/11. Hoping to convince his wife that a promotion across the country could change their lives, Brian takes her on a trip to the faded resort town of Salton Sea, where they once honeymooned. Here, Brian is forced to examine his marriage, fears and integrity.
“Like Brian and Ramona’s failing marriage, the Salton Sea is a once glamourous resort destination now fallen into decay and memory of better times. Nationally, the country is dealing with domestic terrorism. As Brian is wondering what it means to be a good man, America is struggling to define itself and is more nostalgic of an imagined past than it is sure of its future”, said Stevantoni.
After its premiere last month at the Blow-up International Arthouse Film Festival, Stevantoni was awarded the Stanley Kubrick Award for Best US Feature. The movie’s star, Joel Bissonnette, won the Marcello Mastroianni award for Best Actor.
Stevantoni was inspired to create a film set at the Salton Sea after discovering it on a trip to Los Angeles, stopping along the way to investigate the mysterious buildings he saw from the highway. In its heyday, the Salton Sea had spawned several boomtowns created around the artificial lake to syphon vacationers from Palm Springs. After a series of ecological disasters, the resorts, restaurants and yacht clubs were abandoned and left untouched. Consumed by disrepair, what can still be found at the Salton Sea are forgotten artifacts of another time, immune to progress but shrouded in the mysticism of nostalgia. Stevantoni saw this strange landscape as the perfect way to express the anxieties that America is experiencing nationally and globally today. This led him to find and fall in love with George McCormack’s book, which he adapted over the course of many excursions to the Sea itself, each ripe with inspiration.
“When going through a creative process, I experience a tremendous amount of awareness and consciousness of the world and people around me, taking what’s inside my head, allowing it to evolve, and then putting it on the screen. Following a film takes you to fantastic places. Working from an immersive perspective, you truly get to know and understand its back rooms and inner workings. It becomes my duty to meet anyone and everyone, go anywhere and absorb as much as I can. This experience helps me better understand my own life and defining the meaning I see in it”, Stevantoni says. “It’s very exciting to finally get the honour of sharing Desert Shores with an audience. After countless hours of work by so many talented people, it’s thrilling to get to share not only the film but the Salton Sea itself with so many people”.
Audiences can continue to expect exciting things from this young director for years to come, and for those looking to follow in his footsteps, he offers some words of wisdom.
“You should always keep your well full of things you believe in and look for ways to seek them out. Be ready to devote yourself to something that becomes much larger than yourself as your film grows and takes on a life of its own. Always appreciate the privilege that comes with the way film is regarded in society and your responsibility to offer something that you believe in is helpful”, he advised.