UVA grad taking the international film community by storm
Coming off a jury award for narrative short at Park City, Utah’s Slamdance Film Festival, Sisley is about to take his short film, “Stay Awake,” to the esteemed Berlin International Film Festival.
He submitted the film to the Berlin festival for consideration last fall. “It’s one of those pipe dreams,” Sisley said in a phone interview from New York City. “I went in with low expectations. The festival is so competitive and I’m absolutely thrilled we got in. It’s a dream come true.”
Nearly 14 minutes in length, the semi-autobiographical film features two teen-aged brothers as they go through their weekly routine of taking their mother to the hospital to receive treatment for a prescription drug addiction.
Admittedly a serious topic, Sisley said there are elements of comedy as well. As one of four brothers growing up, he said he drew on personal elements to highlight “brotherly love” in the film.
Sisley graduated from UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce in 2005 and allows that his career path has not gone the traditional route of most of his peers. “It’s a hard right turn,” he said with a laugh.
Not knowing what he wanted to do post-graduation, Sisley took a job at Charlottesville-based Red Light Management, which manages musical talent, including the Dave Mathews Band and Alabama Shakes. He said those five years awakened his love of the arts, and filmmaking in particular. He draws inspiration from directors Robert Altman, John Cassavetes, Gus Van Sant and The Dardenne Brothers.
Sisley said he has leaned hard on the skills he learned at McIntire – especially for fundraising, a major part of independent filmmaking.
“I learned how to put together grant proposals and budgets through my time at McIntire,” he said. “‘Stay Awake’ was mostly [funded] through crowd funding via Indiegogo, but I’m sure the promotion and marketing skills I learned while at McIntire were helpful for that campaign as well.
“The fundraising part of filmmaking is so tough.”
That part of the job has not slowed Sisley down. “Farewell Ferris Wheel,” a 70-minute documentary that explores the U.S. carnival industry’s fight to stay alive, has won several awards, including the Tribeca Film Institute Creative Promise Award. It is set to air on PBS later this year and Sisley is also raising funds for a feature-length film set in the country music world.
The filmmaker said he is not counting on winning any awards in Berlin. “Honestly, I’m just happy to be there,” he said.
If “Stay Awake” does win an award, Sisley will likely learn something on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day. What a sweet surprise that would be.