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Programs Fri 4.3.2020

Fiscal Spotlight: Three Stories of Deferred Desire and Coming Out

Welcome to Fiscal Spotlight, a special monthly round up of projects—at all stages of production—working their way through Film Independent’s Fiscal Sponsorship pipeline. Enjoy!


To varying degrees, life under corona-quarantine has forced all of us into lives of itchy solitude regardless of how self-assured we may have moved through the world prior to COVID-19. But for many people out there—those hailing from marginalized communities and those whose self-identities are misunderstood or maligned, for example—a life of quiet yearning was (and is) a state of being that requires no governmental “Safer at Home” measure.

For those in the queer community, while its true that life in the 21st century has improved by leaps and bounds, what’s true for a demographic as a whole level doesn’t necessarily represent the experiences of each individual. In this month’s regular Fiscal Spotlight column, we’re looking at three different projects—a short film, narrative feature and feature documentary—about stifling one’s true identity and navigating the hidden desires thereof. As per usual, our projects this month take us across the globe, from sunny Catalina Island to the jungles of Vietnam.

As always, this month’s Fiscal Spotlight subjects are all currently taking advantage of Film Independent’s 501(c)3 nonprofit status to obtain institutional grants and tax-deductible donations via Fiscal Sponsorship. Here’s how:

This month’s include CatalinaPortrait of a Young Man and Jimmy in Saigon. Learn more about each film and how you are able to support them below. These filmmakers need your support now more than ever!



Project type: Narrative Short

Project status: Development

Director: Andrew Rothchild

Writer/Actor: Sam Digiovanni

Producers: Dana Leonard, Luca Piccin

About the project: Gus, Will and Brian have been fast friends since Junior Lifeguard Camp in middle school. Now in their mid-20s, Gus is the only one to have left their hometown for New York City, steeped in queer culture and a tight-knit group of his chosen family. Gus returns home for a weekend camping with the boys on Catalina Island, throwing into stark relief how their lives have diverged. When Brian to heads back a day early, Will and Gus spend the last day and night of the trip on their own. Together, they discuss how they’ve changed, while all-too-familiar feelings rise to the surface for Gus. Every moment of eye contact, every errant touch becomes charged. Is this his wishful longing? A straight man letting his mask down in the presence of an old friend? Or is the feeling mutual? As they rediscover this isolated paradise from their childhood, Gus acts on his feelings. What follows is an examination of the complex intimacy between gay and straight friends, its limitations and consequences.

Meet the filmmakers: To learn more about Catalina and how to support the project, click here. Andrew Rothschild is a Brooklyn-based writer, director and film editor. After graduating NYU, he began his career directing and producing documentaries for Katie Couric, with a focus on international human-interest stories. Sam Digiovanni is an actor and a writer living in New York City. He attended the William Esper Studio’s Two-Year Acting Conservatory, and upon graduating signed with Headline Talent Agency’s Film and TV acting board.



Project type: Narrative Feature

Project status: Post-Production

Director/Writer: Brandon Shenk

Producer/Editor: Yining Xu 

About the project: Portrait of a Young Man follows a high school boy’s struggles with both identity and an eating disorder, as his family attempts to heal past wounds and nurture future hope. As Grayson Johnson is struggling with his sexual identity and descending into the mental sickness of his eating disorder, his parents—Trisha and James—attempt to revive their marriage. They do everything in their power to keep the family afloat and instill Christian values in their boys. But, at the crossroads of parental, peer and spiritual influences, Gray has to learn to navigate his own life-path.

Meet the filmmakers: To learn more about Portrait of a Young Man and how to support the project, click here. Filmmaker Brandon Shenk received his Master’s in Film Production from Florida State University and his Bachelor’s from University of Florida, graduating Summa Cum Laude in English and Mass Communications. His short films have screened at numerous film festivals worldwide. Yining Xu is an America-China based producer and director. Her past works have won or been selected by Beverly Hills Film Festival, Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner, Beijing International Short Film Festival, European Cinematography Awards and Hua International Shorts Festival, among others.



Project type: Documentary Feature

Project status: Post-Production

Director/Producer: Peter McDowell

Producer: Lucia Palmarini

About the project: Director Peter McDowell was only five when his brother died, and much about Jimmy’s death remained hidden from him. Jimmy in Saigon is an elegiac work examining grief, family secrets, war, drug use, sexuality and healing. Jimmy grew up in Champaign, Illinois, and was drafted in 1970. After serving a tour of duty, Jimmy made the radical decision to move to Saigon even as the war continued. During the year he lived in Saigon—the last year of his life—Jimmy worked as a reporter for the English-language newspaper The Overseas Weekly, and lived with a Vietnamese family, learning Vietnamese, Cantonese and French. On the night of June 5th, 1972, Jimmy checked in to an American military hospital with a serious infection. He was dead the next morning. Like most tragedies, Jimmy’s death left scars in the form of silence, with an added layer of shame and secrecy: after his death, Jimmy’s family received conflicting medical reports. Through filming, Peter has also discovered evidence that Jimmy was leading a life hidden from him. After more than 40 years of silence, Peter tells Jimmy’s story while discovering his own.

Meet the filmmakers: To learn more about Jimmy in Saigon and how to support the project, click here. Trained as a musician and actor, Peter McDowell has always been drawn to melding music and film. He produced opera professionally in Chicago from 1999-2006. Prior to that, he made two Super-8 short films that were shown at the San Francisco International LGBTQ+ Film Festival. One of those, I Dream of Dorothy, went on to festivals worldwide. Peter is the recipient of a highly competitive three-year DeVos Institute for Arts Management International Fellowship and in 2018 was also the recipient of a City of Chicago Public Arts grant for Jimmy in Saigon.


Learn more about Fiscal Sponsorship, including its benefits and eligibility requirements by visiting our website. See which projects are currently being supported via our Sponsored Projects page.

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(Header: Jimmy in Saigon)

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