Campus: San Francisco State University -- January 10, 2003

SFSU student film to premiere at 2003 Sundance Film Festival

Oakland native John Dilley’s ‘Little Failures’ is second SFSU film at Sundance in two years

“Little Failures,” a short film created by Oakland native John Dilley while he was a student at San Francisco State University, will premiere at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival in January.
When the 22-year-old filmmaker received the call with the good news on Thanksgiving weekend, he first thought it was a prank. He is still dumbfounded.

“The whole thing is so mind-boggling. I can’t even wrap my brain around it,” said Dilley, who completed the film this summer after earning his bachelor’s degree in cinema in May.

Shot mostly in the Potrero Hill and Dogpatch neighborhoods of San Francisco, “Little Failures” is a 16-mm, 10-minute narrative about three teenagers plagued by social inadequacy and miscommunication. In a few short moments, these three — who seemingly have nothing in common — are somehow related in their respective failures to fit in, reach out to each other and find the right things to say.

“Some people say it’s cute and charming; others say it’s profound and inspiring,” said Dilley, a graduate of Piedmont High School. “One of my favorite things about the film is the different interpretations that people have given it.”

The Sundance Film Festival, to be held Jan. 16-26, 2003, in Park City, Utah, is the most prestigious showcase for independent films in the United States. Held since 1981, the festival founded by Robert Redford draws an audience of more than 20,000 people each year to its select array of films developed outside of mainstream Hollywood.

“Little Failures” is one of 90 films chosen, out of 3,345 entries, by the Sundance Foundation to screen in the Short Film Program. It was created for an Advanced Film Production class taught by Anita Chang, a lecturer of cinema.

“When I read the script, I knew he had a really good idea already,” Chang said. “It is important for students to have a love for the subject matter and a love for the craft. John really had that coming into the class.”

This marks the second consecutive year that an SFSU student film has made it to Sundance. Last year’s Short Film Program included “Birju,” a narrative written and directed by cinema graduate student Heeraz Marfatia — who was recently featured in the San Francisco Chronicle as a Bay Area artist “on the verge.”

In addition, SFSU cinema alumnus Christa Collins’ film “P.O.V.” is one of 12 finalists for the 2003 Sundance/NHK International Filmmakers Awards. Winners will be announced at the festival.
Dilley’s goals at Sundance are simply to enjoy himself and take in the Hollywood spectacle that invades small-town Utah each winter.

“I’m going with as few expectations as possible. It’s not going to change my life,” he said. “It’s just this strange experience. I want stories to tell people.”

When the festival is over, Dilley will prepare for the next screening of “Little Failures” — at Clermont Ferrand Festival du Court Métrage, a short film showcase in early February in France. The resident of San Francisco’s Richmond District also plans to continue working on two experimental films, serving as producer and production manager on a short film tentatively titled “Culpability,” and writing screenplays for several other narrative shorts.

For the long term, Dilley hopes to be able to make a living as a professional filmmaker. He recently began a full-time job as house manager for the Film Arts Foundation, a San Francisco nonprofit that provides support to independent filmmakers. Dilley interned at Film Arts nearly his entire college career.

He attributes part of his success to the SFSU Presidential Scholars program, which provides a group of incoming freshmen with full tuition, aid for textbooks and supplies, priority course registration and special seminars for up to eight semesters. “Little Failures” producer Kit Fox, an SFSU cinema senior, is also a Presidential Scholar.

Founded amid the political activism and artistic experimentation of the 1960s, the SFSU Cinema Department has educated generations of filmmakers including Academy Award winners Steven Zaillian (Best Screenplay, “Schindler’s List,” 1994), Christopher Boyes (Best Sound Effects, “Titanic,” 1998, “Pearl Harbor,” 2001) and Steve Okazaki (Best Short Documentary, “Days of Waiting,” 1991). In 2000, Entertainment Weekly named the department one of the nation’s top film schools.

NOTE: Photos of John Dilley and stills from “Little Failures” are available by contacting the SFSU Office of Public Affairs at (415) 338-1665 or pubnews@sfsu.edu.


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