North Texas Daily

UNT alum to premiere acclaimed film in Dallas

UNT alum to premiere acclaimed film in Dallas

UNT alum to premiere acclaimed film in Dallas
January 28
23:52 2015

Samantha McDonald / Senior Staff Writer

It began in Austin, making its way to California and eventually the international cities of Moscow and London, where it gained widespread recognition and critical acclaim.

Now it’s back in the United States – from New York City to Los Angeles – and more than 10 months after its world premiere at South By Southwest, UNT alumnus and director David Alvarado’s documentary “The Immortalists” is coming home to Dallas.

“I’m really excited about showing in my hometown,” Alvarado said. “I love the idea of showing it to some of my friends that I went to UNT with [and] some of my colleagues.”

Scheduled for a Thursday night screening at the Angelika Film Center, the film is Alvarado’s first feature documentary for Structure Films, a Brooklyn-based company he founded to honor science, health and technology through the media. It has played at a number of top festivals in the world and is completing a 22-city theatrical run, which is considered rare for documentaries, regardless of genre.

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Co-directors Jason Sussberg, left, and David Alvarado shoot video on set for “The Immortalists.” The film has played at select festivals around the world.

In “The Immortalists,” two scientists explore the possibility of eternal youth, believing the aging process can be stopped or even reversed within the next 50 years.

“There’s a lot of really important questions around this because people actually are living longer right now,” Alvarado said. “The expected longevity has doubled since the earlier part of last century. We have to take this seriously.”

The film

After graduating from UNT in 2007, Alvarado left to get his master’s degree at Stanford University where he met Jason Sussberg, the co-director of “The Immortalists.” Both men were self-confessed science geeks, he said, and the large community of science and technology enthusiasts in the San Francisco Bay area helped the two meet some of the industry’s most interesting faces.

“By the time we found the two main characters, Bill Andrews and Aubrey De Gray, we knew that we had a good documentary film on our hands,” Alvarado said. “‘The Immortalists’ was the first big step of my career.”

Alvarado and Sussberg began filming on October 10, 2010, following molecular biologist Andrews and scientist De Gray around the world. Alvarado said Andrews is a marathon runner in his 60s and De Gray is a Cambridge graduate with a 2-foot-long beard. Despite their differences, both men are convinced that science should be solving the problem of aging instead of simply focusing on curing diseases like cancer and diabetes.

Such a premise would be difficult to trail, particularly when the project began with only two grants from two nonprofit organizations, Alvarado said. The rest of the film’s financial backing was handled through private investments and crowdfunding platform Kickstarter.

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The film was part of the South By Southwest 2014 festival showcase.

“It was very ground-up,” Alvarado said. “There were times when I would wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning in a cold sweat, worrying about money. So it was just extremely stressful and scary.”

Alvarado said he still found the stress and tension rewarding.

“I had the freedom to make the film I wanted to make and follow the story lines I wanted to make. It wasn’t like I was making a film for a TV channel that told me what to do,” he said. “It was both the most terrible thing I had ever done and probably the best.”

The filmmaker

Alvarado’s roots can be traced to his undergraduate career as a radio, television and film student at UNT. Among the senior-level courses he took was documentary pre-production, which Alvarado said focused on documentary research, budgeting and legal aspects as well as ethical issues that may arise in the process of filmmaking.

Media arts professor Melinda Levin, who taught the class Alvarado took, said he easily made an impression through his professionalism and ability to craft a story.

“At the time, this was a cross-listed undergraduate/graduate student class, and David was already working at the level of an advanced graduate student,” Levin said. “He is a genuinely curious person about life and the human condition, and beyond that, someone who reaches out with honesty and true intention.”

Although Levin has yet to see “The Immortalists,” she said the film has proven to be thought-provoking and engaging. Its recognition as an official selection at HotDocs Festival in Toronto and Mill Valley Film Festival in California, two respected and juried venues for independent cinema, has undoubtedly gained Alvarado newfound fame.

“There are no clear-cut paths to success in the media fields, or any pursuit for that matter,” Levin said. “But David’s combination of understanding his own talents and his ability to pursue a career with gusto and respect has led him to very early successes in his career.”

The filmmaking

In the same way Alvarado found his future co-workers, the UNT Short Film Club is a student-run organization that stresses the importance of networking as a tool to success in the field of filmmaking. Since its founding two years ago, the club has become a means through which students and aspiring filmmakers can watch, learn about and collaborate with one another to create various kinds of short films.

“To me, the creation part is the most exciting of all, because it offers a special opportunity to grow as a filmmaker and meet people who could potentially become lifetime working collaborators,” said Drew Allen, a radio, television and film senior and member of the club.

At the beginning of each semester, members are encouraged to pitch ideas for short films, which is narrowed to the best three in the group. These ideas then go forward as official productions with full cast and crew, and students work on the films until the end of the semester.

When finished, the club holds a screening to present the films, the last appearance  occuring in December. Allen said the films shown in the fall of 2014 reflected the improvement of each student throughout that semester.

“Every single seat was filled, and the films received great praise,” Allen said.

Allen is currently in post-production on a film he directed, entitled “Flush.” Created as one of the unofficial productions for the semester, the film was shot in 19 hours in a single location with cast and crew. Allen said the date of release is still undecided.

“Everyone worked hard and I think we made something special,” Allen said. “I can’t wait to finish it up and premiere it for everyone.”

Featured Image: Bill Andrews, left, and Aubrey de Grey are the two main characters in the film “The Immortalists.” Photo courtesy of David Alvarado

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