Cannes Festival showcases SF State film graduate’s work

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

While waiting to learn if he was accepted into the Cannes Film Festival, Joey Izzo received an unexpected email from the festival requesting more information. Having submitted his short film for a slot in the prestigious film festival that receives 16,000 student films, the 28-year-old film graduate was anxious to know the verdict.

“I thought it was a weird, cruel joke. Why would you ask me about these things and not accept me?,” Izzo said.

He sent them the queried information and two hours later received an email that urged him to check his spam folder.

“And sure enough there was an e-mail saying, ‘Congratulations, you’ve been accepted into the official competition at Cannes Film Festival.’ That was amazing, my eyes went blurry and I ran downstairs and told my girlfriend we got in.”

Izzo’s 18-minute short film, “Stepsister,” is the first film from a SF State alumnus to be chosen for Cannes Cinéfondation Film Festival; the festival’s program meant to showcase the works of emerging international filmmakers.

“Stepsister” stars comedian Brent Weinbach, author Beth Lisick and San Francisco-based stand-up comic Anna Seregina. It’s a dark comedy about a girl named Anna who is threatened by her stepbrother’s fiancée, Beth. Izzo talks about how he was inspired to create the film while conversing about it with friends and listening to conversations around the Lower Haight neighborhood.

“I would overhear about the ‘right’ people that should be living in the Lower Haight versus the ‘wrong’ people. It’s really about the class division that exists in this area. It creates this hostile nature, but hidden underneath the surface,” Izzo said. “It’s not the biggest divide of SF, it’s a neighborhood divide that’s kind of caddy at first, but potentially has deeper significance. This movie is an exploration of these characters trying to find common ground.”

Izzo, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s in the cinema program at SF State, says his filmmaking was inspired by a number of cinema professors at SF State, including Bill Nichols. He worked with Izzo on his thesis project and has witnessed his progression toward his cinema career.

“Joey Izzo is a natural born filmmaker. He has ‘it,’ that intangible, intuitive feel for what makes a character vivid, a situation rich and a scene memorable,” Nichols said. “Some learn how to get better at it with hard work, and some, like Joey, refine a talent or creative bent through practice, but begin with an exceptional sensitivity to how a given artistic medium works” he said.

Jesse Dana, 33, the cinematographer for “Stepsister,” attended SF State with Izzo and earned his bachelor’s in cinema studies. The two SF State graduates have been collaborating since college, having made five music videos and two other short films together. As a peer, Dana has always recognized Izzo’s talents and uses his time with Izzo to grow as a cinematographer.

“I’ve always thought that Joey is someone to watch; even in undergrad it was apparent that he had a deeper understanding and command of cinematic language,” Dana said. “Joey is a very collaborative filmmaker. He is very good at recognizing good ideas around him and incorporating them in to the film. We are always trying to find the best version of whatever we are working on and I find that very rewarding.”

When it comes to Izzo’s time at SF State, he credits the school for his current success. Izzo hopes to show students, especially in the cinema program, that they are just as good as the rest of the schools represented in Cannes.

“I hope I represent SF State well, I feel more indebted to these people than I do represent them. There’s a lot of creativity at SF State and in San Francisco. And we do a lot with very little,” Izzo said. “These other schools have these connections already in place whereas we have had to build them from the ground up. Now we’ve made it to the international scale. We’re just as good as any of those other schools.”

And when it comes to advice, Izzo has some unconventional words of encouragement for SF State’s newest filmmakers. “A lot of the times people like to paint themselves in a box. You want to be free to change everything you believe in at any given moment,” Izzo said. “Go outside of your comfort zone and do the thing that you’re the most afraid to do. There’s value in that.”