Filmmaker puts New Haven on screen

Though his work has been shown at many film festivals around the world, filmmaker Stephen Dest kept his cameras focused on the buildings and streets of New Haven to produce his latest project.

“My Brother Jack,” a psychological thriller film written and directed by Dest, will be screened at Best Video in Hamden this Thursday. The movie opens with two brothers named Jack and Vincent, who witness the murder of their parents as small children. Twenty years later, the man who committed the murder is released from prison and is killed on that night. As the mentally ill Vincent becomes a suspect in the murder, the brothers begin a search for the truth behind their parents’ death.

Dest said that though the film has a dark plot, its setting and characters are meant to pay tribute to the favorable characteristics of New Haven.

“This is a film about the beauty, the inspiring and enlightening aspect of the city,” Dest said. “This is a great community because even though tragedies occur, it is amazing how the city recovers from all of these unfortunate events.”

Dest used many of the characters in the film to represent the unique personalities of New Haven residents. Dest said the character Paul, who is a detective in “My Brother Jack,” reflects the police and security guards in New Haven. Having been inspired by detective characters in films from the 1930s and 1940s, Dest said these detectives, much like the security forces in New Haven, were not larger-than-life superheroes, but rather normal people trying to make a difference in their city.

“I went back to what I was influenced by, which is the average Joe,” Dest said.

Dest said the film does not contain any blatant references to New Haven, but that those who are familiar with the city will recognize many of the objects and locations he used. He said the title character Jack is a found-object artist — an artist who uses functional, everyday objects for material — and all of the scenes depicting him working were filmed in the studio of New Haven-based sculptor Silas Finch. Finch said he personally trained Malcolm Madera, the actor who played Jack, in dismantling and reassembling his sculptures in preparation for the role.

Dest said the physical, labor-intensive nature of Finch’s found-object work reflects the gritty, blue-collar aspects of New Haven life.

“There is definitely an intellectual side to the city, like the University and such, but you can’t be afraid to get your hands dirty,” Dest said.

Dest added that Jonny Rodgers, a New Haven-based composer and musician who wrote and performed most of the music in the film, also reflects these themes in his trademark use of tuned water glasses in his music. Dest said he believes Rodgers is the musical equivalent of a found-object artist, explaining that he could imagine Rodgers walking into a department store’s kitchen section and looking for glasses with which to make music.

The theme of murder in the storyline, Dest noted, is not by any means the main focus of the film, though the film must acknowledge it in order to be an accurate portrait of the city and the characters’ lives.

“In New Haven, for all its riches and beautiful things, we have dark and twisted crime in this city,” Dest said. “I love this city and I hate this part of it, but as a storyteller, you’re not being a real storyteller if you leave this part out.”

Dest was the recipient of a 2012 Arts Council of Greater New Haven Arts Award for “My Brother Jack.” Arts Council Director Cindy Clair said she selected the jury members who gave the award to Dest and was present during their discussions.

“The fact that New Haven was the setting of the film appealed to the jury,” Clair said.

She added that Dest’s incorporation of local artwork also contributed to his winning the award.

“My Brother Jack” had its world premiere at the 2012 Bahamas International Film Festival.

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