In Summer 2016 I met Josh Zev Nathan, writer and director of an upcoming feature titled, The Dreams of Rene Sendam, a film shot in various locations around Lawrence and on the KU campus. Seeing the Kickstarter campaign promotion for the film, I was immediately drawn in. Rene (played by another KU graduate Jake Smith) is a poetry grad student living a lonely life that straddles reality and fantasy. As he tries to maintain what few genuine friendships he has, Rene’s two worlds begin to merge to the point where he must question everything around him, including who he really is.
Talking to Josh about The Dreams of Rene Sendam, his artistic and mental connection to the film comes through in the way that he talks about the project, the ideas, and individuals that helped make it. What Josh really seems to have on his side is his strong sense of direction and feeling. The conceptual and stylistic choices made in the film are thought out and intentional but also chosen by what felt right the moment of creation. In one of our conversations in August of 2016 Josh mentioned that he felt ‘art should be created with purpose’ which makes sense when talking to him and hearing how he describes the process of creating rough edits of the film
“This process has been about finding what the film is and finding it’s best part. In a lot of ways I feel like a vessel rather than a creator. It has so many people’s fingerprints on it… everybody who was a part of it is now a part of it’s life… It’s not just me. And as I learn that and as i see that, it really becomes apparent that Sayer and my job is to discover the film and to find it’s best self and present it.” he said
Though The Dreams of Rene Sendam is Josh’s first feature, he’s definitely not new to to the film world. He’s attended Werner Herzog’s Rogue Film School, received awards and recognition for his short film Another Easy Going Brother in the Meadow Wind, but Josh admits that creating something on this scale is still a learning process for him despite the admitted luxuries of modern technology
“I definitely made a feature film quicker than I expected and part of that came about with the digital age.. before crowd sourcing you could’ve never made any sort of efficient move towards making a five dollar donation worth something so I think that’s a very functional reason why I made a feature film earlier than I expected. That doesn’t take away from all the people that helped us and had dreams of their own… but even five years ago when I graduated from KU I would have said… and remember saying ‘I can’t quite conceive how to make a feature film creatively and effectively’.”
Advancements in technology and crowd-sourcing platforms have made it easier for budding artists to produce, fund, and disperse their projects independently, but creating a feature film as an up-and-coming director still remains a challenging task to conquer. Which makes it all the more interesting that Josh, just five years after graduating from the University of Kansas, has been able to reach this point in a relatively short amount of time.
For many students currently earning their degree, living in LA, debuting their first original professional project, sounds like an elaborate fantasy come true, but when I asked Josh about how he feels about living a life that a younger him might’ve only dreamed of, his response was simple
“a connection that’s important for me to make is that the creative team had a big dream to make this feature film, but it took a lot of small really practical steps and that for me has always been important for chasing the dream which isn’t very romantic… it’s just a lot of small steps and hard work.” he responded
But really, what else would you expect someone to say? Despite any obstacles Josh and his crew may have had to overcome, it’s this incremental growth and support system that eventually (we hope) brings us to where we’ve always hoped to be. In all of these different narratives we dream up about our future, the day when we succeed seems so far away, intangible. A story viewed from a third person perspective. It’s this dreaming that sometimes removes us so far from the life we’re experiencing that we forget that these aren’t just fantasies, they’re a future we envision ourselves experiencing. And those futures are only attainable by reentering our first person perspective and finding the path that could lead us there.
The Dreams of Rene Sendam can remind us that whatever grandiose, dark, or ‘silly’ fantasy worlds that we enter to indulge in our imagination, may not be as distant or improbable as they seem.