still from Sundance Film Festival selection "The Rocket Boy"

'The Rocket Boy' Takes Off at Sundance

Babette Herrmann
1/26/11

Donavan Seschillie, Jake Hoyungowa and Deidra Peaches, who spent their youth staging—and later filming—imaginary battle scenes in their Flagstaff, Ariz., apartment complex to kill time, have come a long way without having to travel very far.

Their 16-minute film “The Rocket Boy” was one of 81 shorts selected out of nearly 6,500 submissions to the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, which is currently taking place in Park City, Utah. Seschillie, 22, has made history as the youngest Native director to have a film accepted at Sundance.

“The Rocket Boy” was shot for about $600, but that doesn’t mean it looks cheap. Peaches, also 22, says budgets are shrinking for filmmakers big and small thanks to high-definition cameras and advanced editing software. “Nowadays you can make a film a lot cheaper than back in the 1990s.” The cost of travel, however, remains high: The three friends used their page at indiegogo.com to raise $1,300—more than twice the budget of “The Rocket Boy”—to fund their trip to the festival.

“The Rocket Boy” is about Calvin (played by Michael Sangsteer), who is haunted by the voice and distant memories of his long-lost father. Against his mother’s wishes, the boy builds a rocket ship with which to search for him. Filming began in 2007 and lasted about three months; editing took another year. The filmmakers point out that the whole process was elongated because they all had other things to do, such as going to school.

All three plan to continue making films, and have taken an official break from college. Their future projects are even further removed from their youthful tributes to Saving Private Ryan (and much longer than “The Rocket Boy”); they talk of making a documentary on Navajo water rights, and possibly a docudrama on the Navajo Code Talkers. Hoyungowa says, “We’re bringing in bigger stories from the rez—where we’re from—and presenting it to the public.”

"The Rocket Boy" made its Sundance debut on Sunday, January 23.

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