Mirrors to Yourself: Sean Dunne


Mirrors to Yourself


Sean Dunne, Filmmaker of the Fringe

“Vote for Trump! Save this country!”

The nausea set in almost immediately. A woman, probably in her 60s, wearing a turquoise top bedazzled with some sort of glued on, faux diamonds was on the screen, pumping her fist and shouting her refrain of adoration for the most divisive man in the current political spectrum.

“We’re all for him,” her husband grunted behind her. As they waddled away, braving the rat’s maze that is a Vegas Casino in search of the convention hall, you could hear the woman mumbling the standard derisions of the current president, confident that her dissatisfaction with his work was a sure-fire argument for electing a man who had managed to bankrupt four businesses in one lifetime.

“Educate yourself on every candidate and you will decide that Trump is the man,” another woman said, proudly adding that she had been waiting in line to see the candidate’s speech since 4:30 that morning.

A cut rate Elvis impersonator showed up next, singing, “Viva, viva Donald Trump!” in a barely passable tribute to the King.

My liberal high horse was saddled up and I was ready to ride. It was like watching a bad Christopher Guest film (if there was such a thing), a caricature of the absurdity that is today’s narrative, only it was real. This filmmaker was obviously working to expose the stupidity of the day and he nailed it.

“I felt a lot of love for them. I felt a lot of empathy.”

Wait, what? I put the phone down, ran to the bathroom and scrubbed the wax out of my ears with a cue tip. I then went back and asked him again. He doubled down.

“I thought I was going to have a hard time,” he began, “because these people are on the opposite end of the spectrum, really, politically speaking, at least I thought, of where I was. And I got there and I realized they were just like me. They’re the same. We’re all the same here. It took me being around people that are very different than me to realize just how much the same we really are. We’re all just slightly confused and chronically misled. I was amongst my people there.”

The more we talked, the more I began to understand. Contrary to what most would assume, Sean Dunne isn’t in the business of exploiting or satirizing his subjects for a cheap laugh. Instead, the 34-year-old filmmaker is giving his audience a window into someone else’s reality, that of a fellow human being who, on the surface, might be a little different but is ultimately made of the same stuff and equally deserving of love and respect.

“These films, if I’m doing them correctly, they’re just a mirror to yourself . . . really, however you respond to these films, it’s just a reflection of what’s going on with you,” he mused. He then brought up another one of his films to further illustrate his point. “If you watch these people at The Gathering of The Juggalos and say ‘I want to throw a nuclear bomb on that place,’ I think that probably has more to do with the darkness in which you’re processing this experience on earth than anything that the Juggalos are actually doing.”

The film he was referring to was entitled “American Juggalo,” one of several of his offerings now available for free on his website, VeryApe.TV. Like all of his work, it was a snapshot, or as he described it, a “time capsule,” of a specific place, a specific time, and very specific people. Unlike most documentaries, Dunne’s have little to no commentary; just segment after segment of typically the most shunned, overlooked and marginalized individuals of our culture, the outcastes and downtrodden who live under the metaphorical rocks at the fringes of society. If you were to find these characters in a book, you would most assuredly be reading a Bukowski novel. It’s the theme of his entire catalog, those head scratching moments in the lives of social deviants and quixotic misfits that are utterly bizarre, yet wholly believable, putting a human face on those whom the masses would too often choose to label subhuman.

There’s Cam Girlz, a tragically discomfiting, yet heartwarmingly beautiful glimpse into the lives of the women who make their living in the most raw and revealing sector of the internet pornography industry. There’s Oxyana, a collection of moments caught on film in Oceana, West Virginia, a town so devastated by opiate addiction that it now bears the movie’s title as a nickname. Then there’s Florida Man, a work that finds the humanity in the drifters that make up the Sunshine State’s most meme-worthy of stereotypes. The list goes on, every piece of work artfully capturing the beauty within the ugly reality of these people’s existence.

“It’s a statement of love,” Dunne said of his work. “I hope that in one way or another . . . maybe it helps expand your circle of compassion.”

Dunne caught the filmmaking bug in early high school, having been inspired by the great directors of the era. Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, these were the names on his lips when tracing the roots of his inspiration. But though he had his life’s plan mapped out in his mind, this story doesn’t include a full ride to NYU’s film school or a four year beachside romp at Pepperdine.

“No film schools would take me,” Dunne lamented candidly. Not one to give up, he tried another door, opting instead to pursue a degree in cinema studies, which he completed. It was there that his love for the documentary genre first took root. From there, it was a job at the History Channel, where he received his first opportunity to create a work of his own.

Jump ahead to the present, where we find Dunne immersed in a successful, though not necessarily lucrative career as a documentary filmmaker for which he’s received massive critical acclaim. In fact, he even landed a spotlight on an episode of Carson Daly, where they profile his work and praise him as a sort of visionary. Despite the attention and accolades, however, Dunne has by choice, remained independent. In his words, he’s made this conscious decision, “so people don’t fuck with the message here.” As if to prove that money is not the option, all of his work is now available for free on the aforementioned website, VeryApe.TV. In the interims, he supports himself and a lot of his output with the paid work that comes his way as a result of his art, mostly commercials and corporate projects.

“Nobody is just writing checks for people to make documentaries. At least not the good ones, at least not the edgy ones that I want to make that are actually telling the fucking truth.” Hence, the commercials. It’s a precarious balance of paying dues and preserving his art that he’s managed to strike for seven years now, and it doesn’t look like he’s letting up anytime soon.

“I’m kind of slowly but surely doing the bucket list,” he said, describing both his work thus far and future plans. “I have a film that I’m trying to get made right now about psychedelics. It’s very artsy and it is a documentary in the general sense of what documentaries are, but it’s going to be a very cool experience for people. It’s going to be a little bit bigger of a project, so I have to get my lazy ass up and figure out how people get things like that funded.” From there, the next major goal to scratch off the list is a musical documentary, one that he described as “a film about an iconic musician kind of in the style of Don’t Look Back or Give Me Shelter or any of these great, defining documentaries from the 60s and 70s.”

Looking at where he’s been and the future he envisions, it’s pretty safe to say that Dunne’s work will eventually be looked at as a staple of modern cinema, one that is steeped in reality, but meant to challenge our perception of that reality. While he’s at it, he has plenty of suggestions for how that reality can be enhanced.

“All of these films pair really well with pot . . . extremely well with a blunt, a bong, whatever you’ve got, a bowl, if you’re hitting dabs, this stuff pairs very well with it. Because, you know, I think that forced introspection, that perspective shift, marijuana can provide that for you. Shrooms can provide that. LSD can provide that. These films can provide that if you’re looking at them through the right lens. If you look at them through an accepting and understanding lens, these films can be psychedelic in themselves. It’s a rapid perspective shift.”
Yes, please.


I mean . . . don’t take drugs, kids.

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