Carissa Nihart, a Film and Media Studies and English Double Major, is the most recent winner of the Cambria Film Festival’s Emerging Filmmakers Grant.
The Cambria Film Festival celebrates films that are “all about romance,” presenting shorts, features, and documentaries that talk about love and its complexity. Recently, the festival introduced the Cambria Film Festival Emerging Filmmaker Grant which “awards 2500 dollars to one or more emerging filmmakers who demonstrate a clear vision and a meaningful connection to the work.” Aside from winning the grant, winners have their films presented in the following year's festival after they have won.
Carissa won the Emerging Filmmaker Grant with her film Promise Kept. The film “centers around a young couple who on the surface appear to be an ‘ideal American’ couple on their honeymoon in the 1970s but as the film progresses you increasingly understand that their actual reasons for getting married are more centered on survival than love. “The project has personal resonance (...) [It] is loosely based on my family’s history of queer people passing as straight due to social and religious pressures,” Carissa continued, “I’m a queer filmmaker who is also part of the first generation of people to marry and live more openly and I wanted to appreciate that fact in creating this project.” Regarding the creation of the film, Carissa hopes to begin the production of Promise Kept in the next several months in preparation for next year’s Cambria Film Festival where she will present her film.
- Tell us about your film Promise Kept. What drew you to this story/project?
My short film project centers around a young couple who on the surface appear to be an 'ideal American’ couple on their honeymoon in the 1970s but as the film progresses you increasingly understand that their actual reasons for getting married are more centered on survival than love. The project has personal resonance for me. What led to my writing the script was looking back on my own parent's marriage and honeymoon after some revelations made by my mother which placed our family history in a new light. The story is loosely based on my family's history of queer people passing as straight due to social and religious pressures. I’m a queer filmmaker who is also part of the first generation of people able to marry and live more openly and I wanted to appreciate that fact in creating this project. Part of that effort is my reimagining a potential history that could facilitate mutual support and connection between the two main characters in the film despite the situation they find themselves in.
- Now with your grant in hand, what is next for you? What are your plans for production/post-production/distribution?
I plan to begin production in the next several months looking forward to the film being shown at next year’s Cambria Film Festival. I am currently assembling a crew and exploring further grants and sponsorship of my short film. After post-production is complete I will be submitting the film to other festivals and seeking out online platforms for distribution.
- What are some of the challenges you are having to overcome when producing an independent film?
Producing independent films like Promise Kept is probably the most challenging in terms of getting the film financed while trying to maintain high production value on a limited budget. Flexibility and creative solutions are definitely necessary to ensure the film is made, but there is also a balance that needs to be maintained between vision and practicality/feasibility. Finding the right locations & people, and making sure everything happens mostly as planned requires a high level of organization and collaboration.
- How has your time at Film and Media Studies prepared you for this project?
The knowledge of film history I have gained during my time majoring in FMS is informing my entire creative approach to my project. The subtext and portrayal of queerness in both classic and more modern films I have examined in classes like the 101 series with Professor Hilderbrand and Queer Asian Cinema with Professor Bliss Lim inform this project. My theory and production classes with Professor Tobing Rony and Professor Cane are very influential in preparing for the upcoming production. I learned something I can apply to filmmaking in all of my classes and I am very grateful for the knowledge I have gleaned and the help I have received during my time here at UCI. This project is me putting that knowledge and advice into practice!