Narrative filmmaker and former CU student Derek Cianfrance won the 2006 Chrysler Film Project and $1 million to finally produce his nine-year project “Blue Valentine.” Cianfrance credits his time in the CU film studies program with nurturing his passion for filmmaking.
Cianfrance left school after 1994 to pursue filmmaking on his own. His film “Brother Tied” opened at The Sundance Film Festival in 1998. Cianfrance also took home the award for best cinematography on the Joey Curtis film “Streets of Legend” at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival.
Cianfrance has done a series of musical portraits including “Run D.M.C. and Jam Master Jay: The Final Interview” and “Black and White: A Portrait of Sean Combs.” The Combs portrait got rave reviews after airing on BET, and it is scheduled to come as a bonus DVD on Combs’ new album.
A native of Lakewood, Cianfrance dreamed of following in the footsteps of Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola. He was not able to afford film school at New York University or any of the other marquee schools, and was at first disappointed about attending CU. His opinion soon changed.
“The education I received at the University of Colorado was unique, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Cianfrance said.
At the time Cianfrance attended CU, the program was small and under-equipped, but he saw this as a plus. Cianfrance said he was given the opportunity to do everything on his films, unlike other programs that push students toward a particular aspect of filmmaking.
“I learned how to put every penny on the screen,” Cianfrance said. “When you can learn to do something with less, you’re not as spoiled.”
His Chrysler Project winning film, “Lately There Have Been Many Misunderstanding…,” of course required a Chrysler car to be featured, but still allowed Cianfrance enough room for creativity.
Cianfrance will now begin production on what has been his life’s work, “Blue Valentine.”
“Blue Valentine” is the story of a blue-collar family dealing with their own inability to understand themselves, Cianfrance said. The title “Blue Valentine” is inspired by the Tom Waits album of the same name, but that is all they share. Cianfrance said that both have a similar “Blue overtone,” but Waits’ album is from the perspective of a man and the movie tells both sides of the story.
“It’s kind of like an Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong song,” Cianfrance said. “It is not about one or the other, but both of them together.”
Cianfrance said that the movie should leave viewers with questions, not answers. His goal is to get people talking, and possibly arguing.
Phil Solomon, a professor in the film studies program and Cianfrance’s mentor, saw his potential from the beginning.
“He was so far ahead of the pack,” Solomon said. “He was the finest student I have had and the most enthusiastic.”
Solomon said Cianfrance never had any interest in making commercial Hollywood films. He said Cianfrance is the type of filmmaker that will make the viewer have come to the movie and never sacrifice his integrity.
“It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, and a better filmmaker,” Solomon said on Cianfrance’s Chrysler Film Project win.
CU’s film studies program has grown exponentially since Cianfrance’s time from 1992 to 1994. Chairman Dan Boord said the program now features state-of-the-art equipment and a masters program that rivals any other nationwide.
The new ATLAS building now allows students to send video and audio to different stations through fiber optic cables. Compared with 10 years ago, the program that had around 200 majors can now serve over 600.
The crown jewel of the program is the screening theater, also in the ATLAS building, that allows students and faculty to watch their work in high-definition.
“Students can view their work the way it was intended to be seen,” Boord said.