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Professor’s New Film Puts Students to Work

When Matthew Porterfield’s eagerly awaited film, I Used to Be Darker, debuts in early 2013, several Johns Hopkins film majors will be listed in the credits.

“With each of my films, we’ve had JHU [and Maryland Institute College of Art] students fulfilling internship or independent study requirements on production,” says Porterfield, a lecturer in the Film and Media Studies Program. He employed students and recent graduates as grips, best boys, camera assistants, and sound technicians.

“I like to create an atmosphere where people are learning on the job. It makes everybody work a little harder and gives the production process more meaning and fresh energy,” says Porterfield, 34. “Our film and media studies students are extremely capable and dedicated, but most haven’t had the opportunity to work on a feature film shoot. After three or four weeks on set, they’re even better prepared to work in the industry.”

I Used to Be Darker, completed in June 2012, was named one of the most anticipated films of 2012 by Porterfield hopes it will debut at one or more of the prestigious winter film festivals early next year.

Co-written by Amy Belk, the film follows a pregnant Irish runaway to Baltimore, where she seeks help from her aunt and uncle, who are having marital problems. The movie explores divorce and the changes that ensue when two people separate.

Although he continued to work with mostly nonprofessional actors for this film, stylistically it is something of a departure from his earlier work, says Porterfield, with much less improvisation.

“I like to think of it as a melodrama, in the traditional sense,” he says. “We’re going to deal with heightened emotion through music.” The film contains Porterfield’s characteristic wide shots, but cinematographer Jeremy Saulnier used a handheld camera to achieve a greater degree of intimacy with the characters. “The breath of the cinematographer is felt,” Porterfield says.

Porterfield’s first two films, Hamilton (2006) and Putty Hill (2011), won accolades from such prestigious critics as Roger Ebert and The New Yorker’s Richard Brody. Yet, as an independent filmmaker, whose singular vision rarely holds the kind of mass appeal sought by mainstream movie studios, he continues to rely on grants, donations, and the kindness of strangers to further his creative journey.

To obtain the last $42,000 needed to complete I Used to Be Darker, Porterfield turned to the crowd-funding website Kickstarter. He even offered to tattoo major donors’ initials on his arm as an added incentive.

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