Daniel Junge remembers helping screen a Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger film, Brother's Keeper, as a college kid working at Kimball's theater.
In February, he found himself nominated for an Academy Award alongside Berlinger. "I told him that I used to sell popcorn and show his movies," says the 42-year-old Colorado College alum. " ... It was very moving for me."
On Feb. 26, Junge's Saving Face went on to win the Oscar for Best Documentary-Short Subject. Less than two months later, Junge will return to the Springs to present that film and host a Q&A, as part of the Indie Spirit Film Festival.
The Denver resident says his time at CC and in Colorado Springs greatly impacted his career, which also includes a prior Oscar nomination for The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner; an Emmy nomination for They Killed Sister Dorothy; and several other prestigious awards for short and feature-length works.
Below is an extended, web-exclusive version of an interview which ran in a more brief format in our paper this week.
Indy: Colorado College has been in film news a lot lately. Marc Webb and The Amazing Spider-Man, Kaui Hart Hemmings and The Descendants, Cynthia Lowen and Bully, and of course your film.
DJ: You may also want to mention my friend and mentor Doug Pray. Both he and I have taught at CC as well. He just won an Emmy for his film Art & Copy; he did Hype!, Scratch, Surfwise, a ton of great docs. He's 10 years older than me, but I reached out to him and he was a really great mentor to me.
Indy: What was your major at CC?
DJ: I had a self-declared major, in film. You have that ability at CC, to declare your own major. My faculty members were from English — John Simons — and theater — Jim Malcolm. And a film historian who was there.
Indy: How did CC prepare you for filmmaking?
DJ: I don't think filmmaking has all that much to do with the technical stuff. When I was at CC, there was no film program, no [professor] Tom Sanny, no filmmaking class. There was just, in Armstrong Hall down in the cage, a couple of 16 mm films and lights and stuff that you could take out. Those of us that did film did it completely on our own. ...
But the school allowed for it, the fact that I could design my own major, that I got the award in literature for screenwriting ... the school was supportive even though there was no program, per se.
Indy: Anything else from a liberal arts education that you think informs your filmmaking?
DJ: Again, I'd say filmmaking has very little to do with the tools, and everything to do with storytelling and critical thinking. And I had great storytelling teachers and great advocates for critical thinking at CC. I'd say my film studies classes at Colorado College were superior to the ones I took at NYU.
The only advantage at NYU was that all the equipment was there, and they'd give it to you and say, "Your next film is due on Monday." And that put a fire under your ass. It was helpful as a young filmmaker. But I would say that most of the skills that I used on a day-to-day basis — writing, storytelling, forming compelling arguments — those are all things that are established with a liberal arts education.
When people come to me, young kids out of high school, when they ask me about film school, I generally dissuade them. I say a liberal arts education is a better way to go because filmmakers who go to film schools often make their films about other films. And films should be about life. I think at a liberal arts school, you learn about life in the pantheon of human experience.
Indy: And you worked at Kimball's [movie theater] when you were a student?
DJ: Yeah, it was actually Poor Richard's then, they had just reopened. Kimball [Bayles] had just come back to Colorado Springs and was partners with Richard Skorman. I was manager, which is a very highfalutin title for a guy who ran the projector and sold popcorn. Kim is just a dear friend and also a great mentor as well. He taught me how to drink straight vodka.
Indy: Let's get to Saving Face. First, the unavoidable question: What's it feel like to win an Oscar?
DJ: It's utterly surreal. I'm sure that it is for any cinema professional. But especially for wee documentary filmmakers, and more for social-justice documentary filmmakers who generally work in such obscurity to be bathed in the limelight and to be surrounded by all this glitz and glamour. ...
It's almost disconcerting because it's such a disconnect from — for instance this film, shot in rural Pakistan. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I've been lucky enough to do it twice. I just want to soak it up as much as possible, because you know as a documentary filmmaker that it's very likely that you won't ever have that type of platform ever again.
Indy: For those new to your film's subject matter, can you briefly describe acid attacks?
DJ: Acid attacks are obviously a form of domestic violence. The vast majority are male-on-female.
It's hard to generalize because every case is very specific, but in general it's where a man feels his pride has been hurt, or he feels spurned. It's the rejected marriage proposal, or in the case of one of the women in our film, it's a woman who asked for a divorce.
It's a part of Pakistani society where the women are disempowered and there's a lack of law-and-order. And this is something men do when they feel their dignity has been affected. Obviously a premeditated crime and the intent is not to kill, but take away potentially the greatest thing you can take away in Pakistani culture, a woman's face.
Indy: Even though this is an international problem, is Pakistan ground zero for it?
DJ: No, it's equally prevalent in Bangladesh and India and in Cambodia as well. And Cambodia is Buddhist, so although many would like to differ, there's not necessarily a religious component here.
Indy: How did you meet [co-director] Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and find the subject in first place?
DJ: I knew about acid attacks as global phenomena, but especially in South Asia. And when I was listening to the Katie Piper story — she was the model on the street in London who was attacked by acid — she mentioned that her personal hero was doctor Mohammad Jawad. ...
I called him out of the blue ... he said, "I've been travelling back and forth from Pakistan to help these women out. My next trip is in a month, do you want to come along?"
So that's how the adventure began. And it became immediately apparent that I needed a full-time partner on the ground in Pakistan, which I've done before. I did it with Iron Ladies of Liberia — I had a Liberian co-director female. I knew that I needed a partner on the ground, ideally a female, and it just so happens that Sharmeen is the country's finest filmmaker, in my mind. And she said yes and we got together.
Indy: Have your audiences even heard about acid attacks before seeing film?
DJ: We're finding a lot of audiences that had no idea that this was happening. There's even Pakistani audiences that didn't know this was happening in their country.
Indy: Does that indicate that you found something that's really useful to shed light on — like an untold story, in a way?
DJ: Yeah, well you know, human rights abuses usually exist in shadows. There's no better tool than the media to illuminate those shadows. There's also no better way to get your human rights issue on the front page, than to win an Oscar. We were just mentioned again on the front page of the New York Times three days ago. That has to do with the notoriety of this award.
Indy: The film's website features "outreach pages" that urge action. What's happened since the film's release as awareness grows?
DJ: We're getting requests from around the globe to show the film ... We just showed it in The Hague and in London at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival ... Sharmeen was given the country's highest civilian honor in Pakistan, a hero's welcome when she came back to Pakistan.
This has been front-page news for months, which just goes to show again how we have the chance to potentially annihilate this problem in Pakistan. ... We're hearing from countries that are saying, "We have this problem, too." Colombia, for instance, had a church reach out to us, so we're going to show the film there and start our outreach program as well.
Indy: Fakhra Younus, a Pakistani acid-attack victim, committed suicide in Rome in late March. Out of such a tragic event, what good can come?
DJ: The New York Times article said she knew about the film and was "buoyed" by it. That's pretty amazing to hear ...
It's absolutely a tragic story, but out of tragedy sometimes can come profound change. Our film is about that as well, the fact that we were able to document it and put it together in a cohesive fashion and get this kind of attention and get worldwide broadcast means that we have a great chance to effect change.
Indy: Are you hoping that change will come through government action or at a community level?
DJ: We're hoping for both. There are some concrete things that happened on the federal level in the film, which is very pleasing. The film's really about Pakistanis addressing this problem. We're hoping that there's going to be more of that. In fact, there's new legislation that's being offered by the Acid Survivors Foundation, our partner on the ground there.
Indy: Other humanitarian films will come out and push this one back in time. How long is the shelf-life of a documentary like this, so to speak?
DJ: Honest answer: I don't know. I can say that in Bangladesh, where there was no Oscar-winning film, there was concerted governmental action and an incredible awareness campaign, which I'd think will be even greater in Pakistan with the huge renown of this film.
In Bangladesh, there's been a lessening of the problem by as much as 20 percent per year, up to 50 percent per year — we've heard both figures. That's a tremendous effect. There were over 400 cases recorded when they first did the awareness campaign, and now there was less than 100 last year. That was before our film.
So when we take the same kind of approach, we'd hope to see a greater impact. But I'm just a filmmaker. I'm not smart enough to figure out how to solve these problems.
Indy: Can you give us a quick rundown of current projects you're working on? I see Fight Church and Alpha Boys on IMDB.
DJ: Alpha Boys is about a school for disadvantaged boys in Kingston, Jamaica that helped give birth to reggae, and a lot of the greatest musicians from Jamaica have come out of this one school. So we're kind of doing a retrospective on the history, as well as following some of the boys. Fight Church is really about evangelical churches that either teach or endorse mixed martial arts. It's really about the overlay of Christianity and violence.
Those two projects have been going for over a year. Almost two years. They're still going strong. They're smaller films. But I'm also doing a film on Evel Knievel. And a film on LEGO — an official, endorsed LEGO documentary.
Indy: All shorts, or are any feature-length?
DJ: I don't really set out to say what length the film will be. I think those are all features. Maybe Alpha Boys might be a broadcast hour. But I don't generally set out to say, "This will be this certain length." The subject matter usually informs what the appropriate length is.
Indy: Are you stepping back and having more fun with a project like Fight Church?
DJ: I feel like the best stories are stories of injustice — those are the greatest stories in the world. I've been making human rights films for over a decade now. With Evel and LEGO, I'm ready for a bit of a break and I want to use my skills to get to a larger audience. And that will help inform my social-justice filmmaking and make the next film even better. ...
I've always said that I'm a storyteller first and foremost, rather than a human rights advocate. I think sometimes advocates make the worst filmmakers, and filmmakers make the worst advocates. They are two different disciplines, obviously closely related, but I don't consider myself an advocate.
Indy: Is there anything I didn't ask that you'd like our readers to know?
DJ: I really appreciate the mention of CC and Kimball's, where my film career started. It was really so formative in my experience. The people we mentioned at CC and Kim, they have everything to do with who I am as a filmmaker now. I'm just really pleased to come back to the Springs and show this film as an Oscar-winner.