JAKE Yuzna is a film director, screenwriter, and curator whose debut feature Open was the first American film to win the Teddy Jury Prize at the Berlin Film Festival.
Jake’s latest short film Young Adult tells the story of a teenage girl (played by Allison Cameron Gray) with Cerebral Palsy who fights to connect with the boy (MacGregor Arney) she is attracted to.
Close-up Culture caught up with Jake to discuss the film in more depth ahead of its screening at the BFI London Film Festival (13 & 17 October).
Q: I heard ‘Young Adult’ was inspired by a 1976 lecture from French philosopher Michael Foucault. What that the case?
A: I have always been interested in finding new processes to make films and had a hard time accepting that there is only one way to do something. When I’m told,’ films are made this way.” I always find myself asking “why?”
Adapting non-traditional or un-adaptable source material is something in this vein that I enjoy. It pushes you into unexpected territories. For instance, how does one adapt a painting into a narrative film, or a poem, or the phone book. I’d love to adapt something like the 1976 Dallas phone book into a film. What would it become? The possibilities seem wonderfully open and endless.
Foucault was one of the first theorists that really influenced me when I was 18 or so. I’ve always wanted to adapt some of his works. I have had a much larger project in mind for years, and Young Adult was a test run or sorts for that.
Q: I found it interesting that the film starts in a zoo and this in some ways reflects Annie’s reality. She is full of life and love but because of her different abilities and the way she is sometimes treated, she isn’t always able to act on those feelings. Was that something you wanted to explore in the film?
A: YOUNG Adult was heavily influenced by my experience of moving to Los Angeles and beginning to enter the Hollywood industry. The entertainment industry is very complicated when it comes to those who are different, or anyone really. It can be argued that Hollywood creates visibility for the marginalized, but simultaneously it can be said that it is exploitative. Both are true. With the renewed enthusiasm for inclusivity in Hollywood right now, these complications and contradictions are all around. You can’t help but have what is around you seep into the work.
To me, Annie is just a human being. She has the same desires, fears, hopes, and capacity for love as anyone else. It is everyone else that sees her as exotic or different. Zoos are similar to the entertainment industry in that regard. You can argue that the animals in zoos are supported, helped, and given a full life, but it is also argued they are exploited and exoticifed. Like Hollywood, both may be true.
Q: Can you talk about your experience working with Allison Cameron Gray and what she brought to the project?
A: ALLISON is an absolutely wonderful and talented person. There isn’t too much to say, because she was so easy to work with. When you are fortunate to find a person like her, you just let them perform and get out of the way.
Q: Can you tell us about your background and what led you to making this film?
A: I am originally from Minneapolis, MN, and my parents are a poet and civil engineer. Growing up, my childhood and adolescence was split between counterculture and the arts.
Eventually, I moved to NYC for about a decade where I worked in arts, design, and cinema. Eventually, I was invited to become a directing fellow at the American Film Institute in Hollywood. I was intrigued because in America all film lives in the shadow of Hollywood. And to me, Hollywood felt like this strange, dark continent. My experience in LA and Hollywood were the biggest influence on this film.
Q: How excited are you for the film to screen at the BFI London Film Festival?
A: VERY much so. I’ve admired the BFI for decades and it is an honor to have my work presented by them.
Q: Lastly, what is next for you?
A: I am prepping a new feature to be shot in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Birthplace of the indoor mall. It is going to employ a very different process and may or may not be about the end of the age of reason. We’ll see. Nothing is fixed yet.
Title image by Dan Bronfeld