Nothing watered down about filmmaker re-entry student’s path to UC Berkeley

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Getting accepted to UC Berkeley is difficult enough as it is, but for filmmaker Chris Watters, admission looked completely out of reach. Watters tells the story of his obstacle-ridden journey to Cal in “Re-Entry,” which took home the Campus Best Picture Award (his second in two years) at Campus MovieFest in Wheeler Auditorium on Friday night. The Daily Californian caught up with Watters to discuss the challenges of being a re-entry student, the filmmaking process and the importance of putting yourself out there.

The Daily Californian: Your film “Re-Entry” centers on your acceptance to UC Berkeley and what it’s meant to you. Why is this the story you wanted to tell?

Chris Watters: To be honest, it’s something that’s been going through my mind ever since I got to Berkeley. I didn’t know if I was going to do it at the CMF, but because I’m taking an avant-garde class, it made me think about doing something autobiographical … I honestly feel bad sometimes because I’m competing against kids that are younger, even though I probably picked up a camera around the same time they did. I didn’t enter into the whole video-film game until I was a lot older. I didn’t pick up a video camera until I was 39 or 40 … But I told myself if I made a story about what I did here at Berkeley and who I really am, I’m not going to feel bad about my contribution to CMF. That’s kind of where the film idea came from.

DC: What do you mean when you say you feel bad?

CW: I guess because I’m older and I’m competing against kids. Maybe they think I’ve done it for 25 years. I was so worried about what somebody else was thinking, I wasn’t thinking about the big picture. This is a college competition, and I’m going to college. I’m going to learn just like everybody else is. It was kind of a battle I had to do with myself to make this film, because I was putting myself down. I would say, “Ah, your story’s not that good; this isn’t a good thing to do” … I had to get over myself. I had to put it out there. It was kind of cathartic for me to do my own story.

DC: Is there anyone in particular who inspired you in making the film?

CW: After I was told no the first time, and after the second time I was told no, I was thinking about appealing. Ron Williams, who is the director of the Re-entry Student and Veteran Services, I went to him and asked him, “Should I appeal?” He said something that I used in the movie: “If you don’t appeal, you already know your answer.” That’s a line I gave my wife in the movie, and I used a voice-over of myself to say it. It was so inspirational to me, and he’s just been such an inspiration to me to continue my education … He’s just been this person that’s been instrumental in the educational progression of both my wife and I.

DC: What types of characters are you drawn to when you’re making a film?

CW: I would look at things through a comedic lens. The characters are a little bit ostentatious; they’re big and very vociferous. I kind of like those characters, but I think when I do drama, I tend to do more of a quiet rendition of something. But I lean more towards the comedic, so if I do something comedic, it’s louder. That’s why (“Re-Entry”) is different for me — it’s kind of comedy, but I was able to be who I really am, which is kind of quiet.

DC: It it scary to put yourself out there as a subject?

CW: It is. It really is — especially when you’re sitting in an auditorium full of a bunch of people who have made films as well. You’re in the middle of everybody, and you can hear the laughter (or the nonlaughter) or if they got it. It’s hard. You put yourself out there, and you hope it’s received well. I’m just glad it went over last night really well.

DC: What would you say is the most rewarding moment in the filmmaking process?

CW: It’s sitting in the audience. I know it’s hectic to be out there … You’re sitting in the audience, and you’re hoping your movie is well received. So you’re very nervous. My hands get sweaty, and I’m holding my wife’s arm. But that is the best feeling: when you hear the laughter where you wanted the laughter to be, and you hear a sigh when they get it. I don’t know how to describe it, but there’s a feeling when people really get what you’re trying to do … That’s what I really like — to see that people get my vision.

DC: You mentioned in your acceptance speech that you had gone to Cannes last year. Did you learn anything surprising there?

CW: I learned an immense amount. I know that this is art that we put out as filmmakers, but it’s also show business. Cannes has a very artistic side to it that celebrates the auteur, film theory and the history of film, but on the other side, it’s a business. People are there to buy and to sell films.

I think if I go back this year, I’m going to be more business-minded, like there’s a product to put out. It’s my art, but people want to buy it. There are ways of getting out your message, your vision, and there are people in France that want to buy that. This year, I’ll have more of a knowledge of that, and if I go, I’d like to pursue that earlier. I figured it out at the end of the festival. If you go in early, and you know what to expect, then I think you can have a better success rate.

Grace Lovio covers film. Contact her at [email protected].

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