Less than three years out of high school, 20-year-old JamesKicklighter, a Georgia Southern junior, has already directed twofeature-length ﬁlms and runs his own media company, James-Works entertainment. What did you do in between classes?
Interview by Cory Cunningham • Photo Special to
The 11th Hour
Why did you want to be aﬁlmmaker?
I think the inter-esting thing about ﬁlm is youhave the opportunity to take somethingand explore it in ways that I don’t think youcan in other mediums. So, for example, if you’re doing a documentary, you’re able totake a topic and view it from other people’sperspectives and diﬀerent points of view. Ithink people are just so interesting becauseyou can see something your way all of yourlife and then you meet someone else andthey have a completely diﬀerent perspectivebecause they grew up diﬀerently or they came from a diﬀerent situation and ﬁlm al-lows you to take all these diﬀerent perspec-tives and the audience is able to see it fromdiﬀerent vantage points, which I think really causes us to grow as people if it’s done right.
How did you get started?
Itwas something I was interestedin for many years and I kind of came to it through a diﬀerent way. It’s kindof a strange story. I started ﬁlm by lyingabout it, by convincing newspapers and tele-vision stations and such that I was workingon ﬁlms, and the ﬁlm actually does tacklethis. Aer my father died, it’s hard to explainto someone who hasn’t gone through a loss,because when you go through that processyou get all kinds of attention from lots of people and then suddenly it goes away. Iwas young when my father died and I wasn’tready for that. It was a very traumatic expe-rience because he went from being in per-fect health to dying in a week. So I createdthis fantasy for myself where I was makingﬁlms and doing all these things on majormotion pictures and I was able to convinceall these newspapers and tv stations, in sortof a catch-me-if-you-can situation, that Iwas doing these things. So, through that, Istarted to believe my own bullsh*t essen-tially and I became interested in ﬁlm, butalong the way, I actually became pretty goodat what I do, and through that experience Ibecame interested in being a ﬁlmmaker. Sonow the question was how did I get frombeing a fraud to becoming legitimate andthat was just through a lot of hard work anddedication.
How old were you when youstarted?
Legitimately, when Iwas 18. I did a project beforethis called “at Guy: e Legacy of DubTaylor,” a documentary about the characteractor Dub Taylor. He was in over 200 ﬁlmsand television series over a ﬁve-decade ca-reer and we interviewed John Mellencamp,Dixie Carter, director David Zucker, whodid “Airplane,” people all over the country who had worked with Dub. at was whatI did immediately aer I graduated highschool. e day aer I graduated I steppedon a plane to start producing this projectand went all over the country making it. Itwas really fascinating and pretty much acrash course in ﬁlmmaking because whenI was asked to do the project I didn’t quiteknow what I was getting myself into, but itdid teach me a lot and it really has preparedme for the things I do now.
How many projects have youworked on?
I do a wide variety of things because my company,JamesWorks Entertainment, we do web-sites, marketing campaigns, audio books,and ﬁlms. So I’ve done all kinds of diﬀerentprojects. As far as ﬁlms are concerned, I did“at Guy” two years ago and just wrapped“Di Passaggio.” So this is my second ﬁlmthat I’ve actually directed, but I have a lot of projects that are in development or I mightbe able to do in the next few years. I’ve gota lot of opportunities in front of me, It’s justa matter of deciding which one is the rightmatch for now.
How did you decide to makea documentary about stu-dents studying abroad?
Oneof the things I wanted to do when I came tocollege was study abroad. So when this tripto Italy opened up, I said as a ﬁlmmaker Iwould be an idiot not to use the wonderfulscenery and backdrop that Italy provides.So initially I was going to make a short ﬁlmthat featured locations in Italy. en I talkedto my production partner Mark Stokes andwe batted around some ideas and eventu-ally came to the conclusion that I wouldmake a ﬁlm that proﬁles the students on thestudy abroad trip. Mark thought this wasn’tgoing to work. He was pretty certain thatthis would be a really boring travel chan-nel kind of thing and not be interesting toanyone because who cares if I went to Italy for the summer, the question is what is thejourney that these characters take. So itkind of evolved from that point. Anyonecan sit down to the travel channel any day and see, this is what happens if I go to SanFrancisco, this is what you do, and there’s aplace for that. I do think that is interestingand I like to watch the travel channel, but Idon’t think that you necessarily get anythingout of it because it’s essentially a 30-minutecommercial for the place that you’re goingto. And that was the ﬁlm I didn’t want tomake. I didn’t want to make a ﬁlm about thestudy abroad student going to study abroad,because that’s not interesting. e interest-ing thing is how that student grows throughthe experience.
What did you think of yourtime in Italy?
It was wonder-ful. If I could aﬀord to, I’d go toItaly right now and stay there for the rest of my life. We were there six weeks and I wastaking two classes while I was also ﬁlming amovie, so that was interesting. But I was stillable to absorb the culture and meet a lot of very interesting people there.
How much footage did youend up getting and how longdid it take to cut that down?
We had 60 hours of footage and broughtthat down to 65 minutes. Most of what wasshot was thrown out, and that’s not becauseit wasn’t valuable footage. ere were somefantastic moments that were thrown away.e question was, what story do we want totell? I started thinking about transportationmodes in Italy. In the United States, we’rea very car-centric society. But in Italy, they have a fantastic train system that will takeyou anywhere. So I started thinking of theﬁlm as a train, and about the passage or thejourney that it takes you on. So everythingwas cut sort of like a train. You don’t havetoo much time to stop and look at every-thing, but you get the main concepts as yougo along. We tried to integrate diﬀerenttypes of transportation into the themes andinto the narratives, and you start getting acriss-cross eﬀect where this journey parallelsthe emotional journey the characters aretaking. So once we found that, that madethings a lot easier because then we couldthrow out the cultural bits. Not to say thatI didn’t want to talk about culture, but wecould get rid of things that didn’t necessar-ily apply to the story I wanted to tell, whichultimately was about growing up. I felt theﬁlm had to tackle themes about growingup because you have these four studentsthat, one of which had never been overseasbefore, one of which had never le his girl-friend before, one of which is about to grad-uate and the last one is trying to reconcilehis religious beliefs in an American culturethat is becoming less religious. ese peopleare struggling with all these things internal-ly. When you take them out of their cultureand throw them into a culture where they don’t know anything about the language,they don’t have any friends, family, connec-tions, they’re all strangers, there’s going to besome growing up that takes place.
Why did you call the ﬁlm “DiPassaggio”?
“Di Passaggio”means ‘of passage’ in Italian,and this ﬁlm is not just about the way weget around, but also the way we get aroundlife. It’s about the way we discover who weare through the experiences we share. Of course, ‘of passage’ isn’t a whole thought,it’s a fragment, but the reason I used it isbecause life is a fragment to a certain extent,we don’t know how that sentence is going toend and I think that journey that the charac-ters make in this ﬁlm is only the beginning.All of the characters are in their early 20’s ornot even in their 20’s yet. And then we havein contrast Charlotte, who is 69 years old.She’s going back to school aer 51 years tocomplete her college education. So we’ve gotthese four idealistic students with all of theirplans, hopes and dreams for the rest of theirlife, and then we’ve got Charlotte, who’sapproaching the end of her life. So lookingat the train again, we’ve got people who arejust boarding and she’s about to get oﬀ of it.
See 11 QUESTIONS, Page 27