Evolution Film Fest Hollywood

CJ Gardella at Evolution film festival

The Evolution International Film Festival successfully kicked off its first event on March 17, 2012 in Hollywood, CA. The screening program included 21 films with categories ranging from; Feature film, Short film, Documentary Feature and Short, Animation short, Music Video and Student short film. The program was truly international with movies from; Egypt Feature presentation ASMAA, Switzerland “Good Bye Mandima”, Mexico “Gustavo”, Lebanon “Good Bye…Hide & Seek.” And the 2012 Oscar Nominated short film RAJU.

All movies were screened in an amazing 345-seat stadium-style theater at the Los Angeles Film School on Sunset Blvd. in the heart of Hollywood.

The award winning films from EIFF will now travel to three more cities; Palme de Mallorca Spain, Cairo Egypt and Dubai UAE where the festival will travel to throughout 2012.

Next stop Palma de Mallorca, Spain!

Evolution Film Festival Announces Program

Evolution International Film Festival 2012

The Evolution International Film Festival has announced their full program. You can see the complete listing here.

I will be present at the Los Angeles screening for a Q&A. Below is a brief interview I did for the festival.

What inspired you to make this film?

The impetus arose from a visit to South Dakota in the summer of 2007. I took a lot of pictures of the people and landscapes and could see a film out of that. Around this time I was feeling disenchanted by screenwriting and just wanted to “write” something with the camera. South Dakota provided its own stories.

How long was your pre-production for your film?

Pre-production was short because I just needed two other good cameramen and a truck filled with equipment. I started shooting it in the summer of 2008 and was in a constant state of production/post-production (editorial mostly) until I finished the film in the fall of 2010.

How many days did you shoot and over what amount of time?

summer 2008- 2 weeks
winter 2009- 2 weeks
spring 2009- 2 weeks
1 day Phantom photography
macro photography and pickups accumulated to about 2 week’s worth of shooting

How did you raise the funds necessary to shoot this film?

I shot the film over the course of the different seasons to lend the film a seasonal structure which also met with financial obligations; since I was shooting it piecemeal and over a great length of time it allowed me to pay incrementally as I went along instead of having to have a budget all at one time. Fortunately, a lot of very generous and talented friends contributed their time and resources to see the film get made.

What other Festivals have screened your film and did you win any awards so far?

The film has screened at Slamdance and the Maryland International Film Fest. It won two awards at Slamdance; Kodak Vision award for best cinematography and the Spirit of Slamdance award. Maryland International Film Fest was non-competition, a great festival. Shunka doesn’t fit an easy genre so despite a lot of initial interest from programmers worldwide its hard to find festivals that will pick it up. I’m grateful for a festival like Evolution that endeavors to find such films and put them on the big screen.

What influenced you to find the cinematic language used in the film?

I wanted to “write” with the camera and find/uncover something with the lens. So that included piling on a couple of macro lenses and filming bugs. In the end it yielded a neat tapestry of interconnectedness.

Tell us about your crew and your workflow with your cinematographer?

We were a small crew that rotated members with each outing to South Dakota, never more than three people. Between Corey, Andrew and myself we shot a couple hundred hours of footage and used only a fraction of it in the final film. When we shot the Phantom, high speed photography footage, we probably had about a 2:1 shooting ratio because it was the last thing we shot and we knew exactly what we wanted because the movie had already been cut and nearly finished.

What kind of prep/research work did you do before shooting?

We built all of our own rigs; dollie tracks out of PVC pipes, a zipline to ropeslide a camera down (it hit a tree and fell in the snow, but survived), a camera car mount out of a skate dollie that we repurposed onto the roof of the vehicle. I went to high school in South Dakota for a year and knew all or most of the people in advance.

Is a new project in the works?

Yes, steadfastly working on a script. It will be hard to have the autonomy I enjoyed with Shunka.

Evolution International Film Festival

Evolution International Film Festival Logo

Shunka has been accepted to the 1st annual Evolution International Film Festival to join the category of
“Best International Award Winning films from 2010 and 2011.” The festival will launch  March 17th 2012 in Los Angeles and will then travel to Cairo, Palma de Mallorca Spain and Dubai. I’m pleased to announce that Shunka will be traveling with the festival for the coming year.

Here are the following dates;

March 17th 2012
Hollywood, CA
Los Angeles Film School
6363 Sunset blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90028

Cairo, Egypt June/July 2012
Palme de Mallorca, Spain July/August 2012
Dubai, UAE November 2012

The goal of the festival is to merge diverse cultures, beliefs, languages and stories and to give filmmakers from all around the globe the chance to support and encourage each other to keep making outstanding films.


My grandma passed away a few weeks ago, 94 years old. The film has become more meaningful to me as an honor to my Grandma who I dedicated it to and has helped me see the relationship between man and animal more clearly. In context, my Grandma’s relationship to our family dog Bronx (who passed a few weeks before she did). She did not want to see him go. She even said she thought she would go before him. She joked that they were both on all the same meds. Bronx appears in the film as one of the dogs in slo-mo. My mom wrote a letter to my Grandma in the hospital thanking her for a vase with a hummingbird design on it. She told Grandma that it evoked good memories of the early days of my parents’ marriage. Grandma gave them a hummingbird feeder that lived outside of their window and they would wake up every morning to the sound of hummingbird wings fluttering. My mom also mentioned how Grandma’s hummingbird, that would visit a feeder outside her back patio, is the closing shot of the film. It meant so much to me to capture that image and immediately show it to my grandma on a giant monitor, in her backyard, so that she could see her hummingbird in that detail. My sister’s boyfriend, Keith, rigged a small GoPro camera onto her feeders to show her her birds up close while she was in the hospital. She loved her birds. Shortly before going to the hospital she was lugging around a twenty five pound bag of sunflower seeds. Towards the end, my Grandma would communicate on a scratch pad because she had an oxygen mask  over her mouth. She wrote, “remember me for my hummingbirds.” My sister kept a regular letter correspondence with my Grandma. A few years ago she sent her this quote; “Legends say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy and celebration. Like a hummingbird, we aspire to hover and savor each moment as it passes, embrace all that life has to offer and to celebrate the joy of everyday. The hummingbird’s delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life’s sweetest creation.”

A letter my grandma wrote to me:

Dear CJ,
From all accounts I hear your film was very well received and besides that you were given two awards. This is your reward after the long and tedious work you’ve put into it. You have to have a very good feeling about what you have accomplished and about yourself. May you very soon see the fruit of all your efforts. Congratulations! You have a very proud grandmother and to think you dedicated your film to me. How honored you make me feel. Thanks from the bottom of my heart. Love always, Gramma

Baltimore City Paper Critic Pick

Best to put aside your notions of narrative or character development when watching Shunka, a lush paean to life’s mysteries filmed in South Dakota’s Badlands. Sure, there are a few characters—among them Donna, a psychic who helps a family come to terms with ghosts in their old farmhouse, and Ed, an old soldier who tools around a reservoir in his fishing boat—but there is no story, per se. Rather, Shunka is a feast of image and sound. It features some of the most beautiful cinematography we’ve ever seen, weaving snippets of conversation and macro closeups of animals, people, and insects going about their business with wide panoramas of that vast, big-sky country landscape. A Walt Whitman influence suffuses Gardella’s first feature film, and you leave with that open-ended appreciation of life’s tiny wonders, but no conclusions. Lovely.
– Tim Hill
Baltimore City Paper 5/4/2011