Zaki Gordon Institute for Independent Filmmaking
in its First Year
you happened to have been travelling west on 89A toward Cottonwood
a year ago or so, you may have found a nice little right-hand
turnout at the top of the hill on the end of town. A great place
to pull off for a few minutes and watch the sun go down. No
buildings, no concrete, little discernable activity save the
lazy circling of birds and quiet solitude of junipers overlooking
the far mountains, canyons and valley. That environment has
changed somewhat with the breaking of ground in the Spring of
The first of its
kind in the country, the Zaki Gordon Institute for Independent
Filmmaking quietly took up residence off 89A opposite West Sedonas
Upper Red Rock Loop in September, 2000. Located in The Sedona
Cultural Arts Park, and affiliated with the Yavapi College for
Arts and Technology, the Institute chose Sedona as home through
a synchronistic string of events. According to Dan Gordon, a
co-creator and supporter of the new venture, the key connection
happened as the result of a casual airborne meeting as Gordon
returned from work in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, a year earlier.
Said Gordon, "It
turns out I am sitting next to this lady who says she is a consultant
from Arizona, travelling the country researching models on which
to base a new film school in Sedona. I cant explain it,
I had no plan in the working, I just started talking. My words
were basically, I can tell you exactly what kind of school
you will build. You will build a film program, unique in all
the world, for those who have stories they are bound to tell.
You will say to them, come with us for a year and learn to make
your movie. Dont spend $30,000 on a conventional degree
that will take you two to four years to complete. Spend $3000,
get practical hands on experience actually making movies, and
then take your $30,000 in the second year and MAKE THE MOVIE!
Gordon added quietly,
"I believe it was Zaki speaking."
That reference is
to Gordons late son, a young man with a skill and passion
for making movies outside the power structure of the "studio
and suit" film industry. The young Gordon, who had an opportunity
to sell a script hed written, chose, instead, to produce
and direct his own feature film, "Waiting for Mo,"
at age 20. Showing promise as an uncompromising filmmaker, Zaki
was supporting himself, working with an HBO film in New York
before his untimely accidental death a few years later. The
school is named in his honor with an emphasis on the word, "Independent."
Considered a centerpiece
of Yavapai Colleges Sedona Center for Arts and Technology,
the Institute became a concrete reality once seasoned filmmaker
Stephan Schultze was added as program director and key instructor.
On October 2 of last fall, 19 very unique individuals from around
the country and the world, changed their lives and showed up
They found that entrance
into the program is competitive in a non-traditional sense.
Previous life, education or work experience has no impact in
securing a fellowship into the program. Acceptance is based
solely on a 20-30 minute "pitch" to Gordon and his
committee, of the movie the individual intends to make. "The
substance of the concept and the desire to make the movie is
the main criteria," according to Schultze.
Schultze took a break
from his intense involvement in the industry moving from Los
Angeles and has served days, nights and weekends for the last
four months as program director, chief instructor, mentor and
overseer of school activities. He will be a featured presenter
at this years Sedona Film Festival. The second semester
staff addition of local filmmaker, Bryan Reinhart as an Instructional
and Lab Assistant will enhance the programs ability to
According to Schultze,
the uniqueness of the program is that students do not learn
filmmaking as it has been taught in leading American film schools
to date. Rather than separate, theory-based courses taught by
various professors, the institute offers a holistic, process-orientated
approach. A mentor oversees the entirety of the students
work and progress and professionals working in the industry
are brought in periodically to deliver specific workshops on
aspects of directing, lighting, cinematography, sound and editing.
Film students faced
a rigorous schedule of eight to twelve hour days, 5-7 days a
week during their first semester. The activities included a
variety of classroom study, film analysis, scriptwriting and
treks into the field to make their own short exercise movies.
These super-shorts were written and produced based upon techniques
used in scenes by great filmmakers of the past. After a weekly
lecture and analysis with screenwriter Dan Gordon, students
formed teams, wrote scripts and headed to the field with gear
to make a new movie each week. Each student had opportunity
to practice the crafts of writer, director, producer, video
photographer, light and sound technician. Raw footage was then
shared, edited and the resultant mini-film evaluated by the
class as a whole.
into the schools ability to host fellows in producing
movies is the ready availability of affordable digital filmmaking
equipment. According to Schultze, digital technology, still
evolving, has already begun to make an impact in the field of
moviemaking. "The medium was formerly reserved for those
with big budgets and big organizations. It is now possible to
tell stories in light and sound on a shoestring budget because
of this technology." According to Schultze and Gordon,
the wave of the future is for independent filmmakers to have
numerous venues for marketing their film, including the Internet
and cable programming.
"The real uniqueness
of the Zaki Institute, however, is in its students," noted
Gordon. "We have students in their 60s, 40s
and 20s. You can go to any film school and what you see
are a lot of students who look like Zaki looked. We dont
look like any other film school anywhere in this country. We
have everyone here from grandparents to retired businessmen
and active musicians; to mothers with grown children; from a
car-body repairman to computer programmers. People from Ireland
and from Australia and a lot of Sedonans. For Gods sake,
we even have our own resident Buddhist nun!"
characteristic of the school, according to Gordon, is the number
of students who are working on film content of a spiritually
orientated nature. "You wont find so many movies
focused on going out into the desert to seek enlightenment and
searching for or chewing on various leaves and buttons in traditional
film schools! I guess Id call it the "Sedona School
of Filmmaking," he laughed.
According to Schultze,
"Probably one of the most important aspects contributing
to the success of the program is the outpouring of support from
the city of Sedona. They have welcomed the students; willingly
provided their homes and businesses as shooting locations; and
they have turned out in great numbers to volunteer as unpaid
actors and assistants in the student films. There is a spirit
of creative cooperation in Sedona that makes this the perfect
place for the Zaki Institute!"
According to Gordon,
the program is exceeding his expectations in its innovative
format and student outcomes. "Id put any student
here up against an NYU or SC graduate in terms of ability to
get out into the field and make a movie."
Short student films
created as part of the curriculum of the first semester are
currently being broadcast by local cable access station Channel
18. Please see the local channel guide for days and times.
For further information
on the Zaki Gordon Institute for Independent Filmmaking at the
Sedona Center for Arts and Technology, please contact Program
Director Stephan Schultze at Yavapi College (520) 204-2691.
Thankfully, the new
structure housing the Zaki Gordon Institute and classrooms of
the Yavapai College Sedona Center for Arts and Technology does
not impede the sunset or change the nature of the countryside.
The earth, stone, water and light based structure blends with
the red earth of the Cultural Arts Park Road. An information
and visitors center, including restrooms, is nearby.
A sculpture park
with graded trails is well under construction and big inviting
picnic tables dot the edges of the juniper forest. The site
remains an inspiring spot to pull off of 89A when travelling
to Cottonwood or other parts west.