Deniz Demirer has only been making films for four years. But his unusual blend of intimacy and hardscrabble urban existence has never yielded the stories we expect. “Nocturnal Jake”, Demirer’s 2009 feature debut about a saxophone player who’s lost his vision only to find it again through his deceased mother, walks a thin edge between gritty despair and unexpected warmth. Perhaps closer to home, “Not I” (2010) is an unremitting portrayal of two immigrants—a jaded, destitute dreamer from Poland and an accomplished ballerina from Cuba—who struggle to connect as lovers.
Demirer is himself no stranger to the alienation of the immigrant experience. Born in Warsaw, Demirer spent his youth first in Poland, than as a refugee in Austria, finally coming to the East Coast of the United States with his family at the age of ten. Though always interested in film, he did not attend film school, concentrating instead on philosophy and psychology at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
His films have explored such subjects as exile and self-destruction, often with an eye toward the fragility that these conditions can reveal within human relations. Demirer seeks to establish verisimilitude by means of an immediate relationship between audience and story. Situations are frequently presented in medias res, without the pre-formulated fanfare and plot exposition that typically introduce scenes and events in Hollywood movies.
Part of this fresh approach to the cinematic arts can be traced to Demirer’s discipleship under local maverick Rob Nilsson. An acclaimed force in the world of independent film, Nilsson is an innovator whose contributions to filmmaking include the technique of “Direct Action”, a method that relies heavily on improvisation.
By means of Direct Action, both Nilsson and Demirer endeavor to sweep away the thousand contrivances that dilute the film actor’s performance when it is chained to an inflexible script, creating instead an experience that is as raw for the viewer as it is in the making.
Demirer’s third and latest film takes these themes and runs with them—literally. “American Mongrel” (2012), made in collaboration with actor/producer Daniel da Silva, is ostensibly a road flick. It ranges as wide as the American West, following the ad hoc journey of a group of escapees—Marcos the immigrant pretender, an embittered alcoholic named Johnny, and Janice, a lost girl who’s been following the wrong muse—from a life that has cornered them. But nothing is promised.