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Screen dreams

Stewart Oksenhorn
Basalt High School filmmaker Matt Hobbs has won awards in the Aspen Shortsfests Local Filmmakers Showcase, the Rocky Mountain Student Filmfest and Aspen Art Museums Valley Kids exhibit. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.
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Ask Matt Hobbs about “Deathful,” and he’s dismissive of the work, based on Autumn Caughern’s script of a girl who turns from suicidal to hopeful. The first of Hobbs’ non-documentary efforts, and the earliest of what he calls his four major projects, “Deathful” earned the Rising Star award at last year’s Rocky Mountain Student Filmfest. But the piece dates back two years, and Hobbs, a 17-year-old about to finish his junior year at Basalt High School, is moving fast enough that two years can seem like eons ago.”I’ve kind of forgotten about it,” he said of “Deathful.” Hobbs says this without any of the teenage pretensions that might accompany such a sentiment. He has, in fact, good practical reasons for having moved beyond his first significant effort. “State Dreams,” his documentary of Basalt High School’s 2004 soccer season, is a multiple award-winner, having won best student film at Aspen Shortsfest’s Local Filmmakers Showcase, and taking the Grand Prize at the 2005 Rocky Mountain Student Filmfest, held in Glenwood Springs earlier this month. And “Mastication Sensation,” a documentary about food production made as a group effort from Basalt High’s Mpower class, took top honors in the video category at the Aspen Art Museum’s Valley Kids 2005 exhibit.

But it seems not to be the awards or the stack of films that has made his early cinematic efforts a blur. Rather, it is the rate at which the artistic lessons that have been piling up since Hobbs first started messing around with a video camera. As a videographer for Access Roaring Fork, where he is practically a full-time employee once school lets out for summer, Hobbs has spent quality time with the camera. So when Mpower, a video class taught by Bryan Koster and Alec Raffin at Basalt High, set out to make a film, Hobbs opted to move out of the director’s seat and put on a producer’s hat. Instead of working the camera, Hobbs organized the crew and helped procure stock footage from the Tyson Foods, a tricky task. But his artistic contribution to “Mastication Sensation,” a black comic satire about the process that turns produce into a commercial product, is major. Hobbs picked the upbeat pop music – mostly by the group the Presidents of the United States – that gives the short film its ambivalent tone and music video feel.

The process behind “Mastication Sensation” – whose crew included fellow Basalt High students Ari Wolters, Jordan Bacheldor, Nima Noori, Wade Vitany and Mario Loya – was not a particularly pleasant one. “I don’t think any of us enjoyed making it,” said Hobbs. “That class is really structured – it’s like, ‘Oh, we have to go to class again.'”But when the film was screened at the Student Filmfest, Hobbs had the opportunity to see that not all good work is born from an enjoyable experience. “When we finished it, we fell in love with it,” he said. “When it showed at the Filmfest, people just went wild. We didn’t think people were going to get those emotions.”

Perhaps even more valuable were the practical lessons, in production and scheduling, that he carried from “Mastication Sensation” into his next project. “State Dreams” was virtually a one-man show, as Hobbs followed the soccer team from its season-opener to the state championship game. Hobbs put in a Coppola-esque effort, missing just one game. (He had a valid pass for that one; he was helping his brother move into college.) And the hours spent are evident in the thoroughness of the film: Hobbs captured not only the on-field, but also the sideline emotions and the players’ thoughts on the pursuit of a championship. In the process, Hobbs learned both how to make a film and how not to make a film.”At the beginning of the year, I didn’t want to miss one goal. I didn’t want to miss a thing,” he said. “Then at the end, when I found out I used .5 percent of the footage, I learned something that will be of use for the next film: It’s better to get well-framed shots than get every second of the game.”

Hobbs naturally has his eye on a film career. But he brings a wide-angle view to his future, and envisions ways that he can mix film with his passion for the outdoors and skiing. So instead of aiming for the prestigious film schools at New York University or UCLA, he is leaning more toward the Colorado Film Academy, located on the University of Colorado-Boulder campus. Beyond that, in a similar vein, Hobbs doesn’t imagine himself landing in Hollywood, at least not right away.”I don’t want to be cooped up in some studio,” said Hobbs, who will be executive president (akin to student body president) of Basalt High School next year. “I want to be out in the world. I don’t think I’d do well in an environment with people looking over my shoulder.”

Hobbs used to be a big film-watcher, favoring slick criminal action thrillers: “Training Day,” and Guy Ritchie’s “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch.” But film-watching has been supplanted by film-making; most of his viewing now is short films on the Internet. But one film, the visually awesome travelogue “Baraka,” stands out not only as a favorite film, but as a model for his career.”That just makes you want to travel the world,” said Hobbs, whose father, ski bum-turned-accountant Tim Hobbs, had majored in photojournalism. (His mother, Marcee, has been a Basalt Elementary schoolteacher for decades.) “It makes anyone want to travel. But it makes me want to travel the world and make films.

“That’s where I see myself in the short term after college – doing freelance stuff around the world. I don’t want to be in Hollywood. Not until after I’ve been around.”But before the world comes his senior year – and some more locally produced projects. Hobbs has three future projects in various stages. One is a ski film, “Smooth Denali,” which is an extension of a completed shorter piece, “Styles of Beyond.” Hobbs says it is much in the Warren Miller mode, with plenty of voice-over behind the ski footage. But he also plans to break new trails as well: “Where [Miller] puts ski themes into his movies, I want to put life themes. Kind of like how in ‘State Dreams,’ they talk about how soccer is life. I want to get across what skiing, something like being on Highland Bowl, being on top of the world, is like.”

Another project, still being schemed out with his friend Zane Bloomer, is a one-liner short-short film. (Hobbs has experience with the genre: His short short, a chilling warning about cell phones in the theater, was screened before Basalt High’s recent stage production of “Oklahoma!”)Last is a follow-up to “State Dreams.” With Basalt High adding several players to its already strong squad, expectations are high that the school will win the state championship next year. It would be the first state championship for a Basalt team – and Hobbs plans on documenting it, though not in the same overboard manner as last year.

“Last year I got so caught up in my film that I let school fall off,” he said. “That’s one of the things learned.” After a moment of thought, Hobbs reconsiders. Maybe there are some lessons that will take a little longer. “But I’ll probably end up doing it all. I’ll probably get caught up again.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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