If you’ve got four minutes and a desire to experience the existential yearning of bohemian Paris as filtered through modern day Los Angeles, artist, filmmaker and Santa Monica native Catherine Corman would like to talk to you.
Her pandemic-shot film “Lost Horizon” has garnered international accolades for its distillation of a prominent Parisian novel and is currently on the long-list for an Oscar nomination.
The source material is “In the Cafe of Lost Youth” by Nobel Prize winner Patrick Modiano and Corman describes the novel as the story of a young woman perpetually ignored or misunderstood who is searching for where she belongs.
Corman’s short film adapts a single chapter of the larger work in a way that seeks to evoke the emotional resonance of the original in a vastly condensed time frame.
“So this is an adaptation of one chapter of the novel and the original screenplay was about three times as long and it had 11 characters and we pared it down to three, but because of the pandemic, I couldn’t shoot it in a way that was practically authentic to the whole chapter,” she said. “So what I was trying to do was to just, pare it down to the colonel, what gives this chapter feeling and just string those elements together, and what I was trying to do is make you really feel like you felt reading this book without necessarily including all of the elements that I wasn’t going to be able to include.”
Corman said she was able to evoke one specific time and place while residing in another by identifying the emotional overlap between residents of the two communities. She said she felt a kinship with the past residents of Paris who had been through several cycles of uncertainty and were yearning for understanding and wisdom about their world.
“And I was thinking about the depth of that yearning as I was driving through those little streets in Hollywood and thinking like, people who come here, they want to be in film, they want to be in music, that yearning is so intense that it drove them out of hearth and home from the comfort of their family to drive across the country and set up shop for themselves here and try to do the impossible,” she said. “So what I really tried to match was the yearning of the students and scholars and philosophers and people who studied metaphysics in 1960s, left bank bohemian Paris culture, with the yearning of all of the creative people who come to LA and know their dream has any almost no chance of ever happening, but they’re going to stake their whole life on it. And that’s what I tried to match between two times and places.”
The work also evokes memories of the past through its use of old film technology. She shot the work on a Kodak Super 8 camera using analog film. The cameras have been out of production for decades but there’s an enthusiastic culture of Super 8 filmmakers who keep the technology alive. Corman said the camera can help evoke a pre-digital world that appeals to people in this day and age. Corman’s recent work has drawn the attention of the Kodak company itself who are interested in working with her as they work to relaunch the camera back into the public sphere.
Corman has found success with other short films in the past. She has also been recognized for her writing and photography, all skills she attributes to the lessons of her legendary father and filmmaker Roger Corman.
She said while her father is a giant in the movie business, he made sure his children had a broader arts experience.
“It can be like a really totalizing experience and my father was very, very careful about never making us feel that film is the only world, even though that for him it really is, that making sure that we had so much freedom to explore any other world that we were passionate about,” she said. “Art is the most important thing in the world to him so he made sure that we had a really broad, a really deep education in art, in all forms of art and music and visual art and literature and theatre and everything. So I would say it was just a perfect, perfect, perfect upbringing as far as being really supportive in any field any of us wanted to go into it.”
The film itself has yet to receive a public release but Academy members can see (and vote for) it via the Academy screening room. Corman said she hopes to have a public version available soon and is already working on a sequel.
For more information, visit http://catherinecorman.net/.