“Forced Perspective” Shows Another Side of Artist Derek Hess
Director Nick Cavalier is a filmmaker from Los Angeles with deep Cleveland roots. His new documentary short, Forced Perspective, which shows at the Cleveland International Film Festival, is an intimate portrait of iconic Cleveland artist Derek Hess. Nick is currently working with Derek to make the short into a full-length feature.
When did you first see Derek Hess’s artwork and what first attracted you to it?
I’ve been a fan for a long time. I have a fine arts background myself and was quite the angsty teen. I used to play drums in a metal band in Cleveland in the early 2000s. At that time, I was really into post-hardcore and metal. I’d constantly go to local shows. I randomly saw one of Derek’s fliers at a show, and I immediately looked into him. I had heard of him before but never really dug past the name. He definitely is a rock star to everyone in Cleveland. I became an instant fan the second I saw that poster.
What made you decide to make a film about him?
Being a fan and a filmmaker, I realized he had an interesting story that needed to be told. So I reached out to his manager via email. It was basically a shot in the dark. To my surprise, Derek himself got back to me.
I met him for coffee, and we became fast friends. We started shooting the short 25-minute documentary. The intent in the beginning was just for me to make an honest documentary portfolio piece that wasn’t a commission in order to flex my creative muscle. And, of course, to tell the story of someone whose work I admire. But it has since evolved into the production of a feature. I went deep down the rabbit hole of his story and found it to be too complex and rich to tell in 25 minutes.
How is the feature coming along?
It’s coming along great. We just shot for a week in Cleveland with some of the people who Derek influenced and who influenced him. One of my favorite interviews was Derek’s first drawing instructor, Jose Citron. I believe he is in his nineties and still sharp as a tack. He’s also a masterful painter. Incredible stuff. I am really excited about the film. It’s also visually beautiful and the content is emotional, much like Derek’s art. That’s important me.
I see that there are requests for fans to contribute their stories online. How has the response been so far?
We have received a ton of fan submissions. I still need to sort through most of them, but we have some amazing stories of people getting through tough times with Derek’s art. I plan on formally interviewing a few of them in the near future. We are still looking for people to submit webcam videos that we can use telling their stories in relation to his art. Help get the word out on that if you can!
Music is a big influence in Derek’s work. Being a music video director and a musician yourself, I’m sure it’s a major influence for you also. How did you go about choosing the music for the film?
I wanted to reflect Derek’s love of rock and roll in the soundtrack. It’s important because it’s been a huge influence on his work and his life really.
We have former members of The Felix Culpa helping compose the score. They will bring a dark atmospheric brooding quality to the film, as well as a rock influence. On the metal/punk side of things, we are working with Derek and my buddy LT Magnotto from Above This Fire, as well as Grammy-nominated songwriter Matthew Santos. With all of these talented people contributing, I feel like we will have something really special.
The short version will be playing at the Cleveland International Film Festival. Is this the first festival screening for the film? Do you plan on having it in more festivals, or are you focusing on completing the feature-length version and submitting that?
I’m really excited about that. At this point, it’s the only one for the short. As I mentioned before, the short was never intended to be any more than a portfolio piece for me. So, since we are diving into the feature, we will be refocusing our efforts on its success. This is now an extremely huge project for me and I want to see it through as something that both Derek and I are very proud of. My goal with the feature is to paint a portrait of Derek that is real, honest, emotional and heartfelt. He is a very interesting guy, and I want people to see him for how interesting he really is. On the micro, it’s about Derek and his art. On the macro, it’s about culture, music, art, hard work, Cleveland, perseverance and commitment to excellence. Oh, and fishing too. Derek loves fishing.
Will you be attending CIFF this year?
I definitely will be there. I will be doing a Q&A after the screening as well.
Are there any other films that you’re looking forward to seeing at the festival?
I’m actually excited about seeing the Sax Man. A few friends of mine worked on that film. That’s another great Cleveland story.
During the filming process, what did you learn about Derek—besides the fishing— that surprised or inspired you?
That is a great question. It’s been really interesting. I came into this knowing of Derek and his work, but not really knowing him. Derek is a pretty subdued guy. He definitely treats art as a respected craft and knows what he likes and what he doesn’t. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. As we spent time together, I learned more about him and we have become friends. When we shot the second time around, I was able to speak more freely with him about his work and the skeletons in his closet.
Let me leave it at this: you don’t get a prolific person like Derek or any of his imagery out of chance. The hottest fires forge the strongest steel. He has shaped his voice from some incredibly challenging life experiences. We covered all of those and he has been generous enough to share some things with me that I don’t even think most people know happened.
I’d also like to add that I look at the short version of the documentary as a rough sketch of sorts. Much like how Derek lays down loose lines before he refines his art, that’s exactly what the short is to me. I look forward to finishing the drawing.
See “Forced Perspective” March 24, 26 or 27 at the Cleveland International Film Festival.