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UCSD Alum Has New Indie Film 'A Knight's Tour' Streaming

Filmmaker and UCSD graduate Marvin Choi on the set of his film "A Knight's Tour," which just became available streaming.
Marvin Choi
Filmmaker and UCSD graduate Marvin Choi on the set of his film "A Knight's Tour," which just became available streaming.

Kickstarter project now available on iTunes, Google Play, YouTube

"A Knight's Tour" is a Kickstarter-backed independent film from UCSD alum Marvin Choi and it just became available in digital release.

"A Knight's Tour" began its long journey to completion more than 5 years ago, yet its story about a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by some sort of viral outbreak that has left the main character isolated in his home feels amazingly relevant right now.

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UCSD Grad Has Debut Feature 'A Knight's Tour' Streaming

But filmmaker Marvin Choi was drawing on his own struggles with loneliness and depression when he began writing it years ago, and not on the current coronavirus pandemic.

I have been following Choi for more than a decade. I saw his inventive, short, animated film "Said Black" at the 2009 UCSD Up and Coming Student Film Festival. But Choi wasn't actually studying film at UCSD. Back then he was studying cognitive science and was planning to be a scientist. But he was interested in filmmaking and found support in two film professors, Babette Mangolte and Jean-Pierre Gorin. That led to him making film and changing careers.

After UCSD he went to Cal Arts for grad school and when he started to do his Cal Arts thesis film, then called "LaMoe," he decided he would need to do a Kickstarter to finance it.

"Kickstarter is really interesting because a lot of people tend to approach Kickstarter as, 'Oh, hey, a way to get free money.' But what you're really doing is starting a part-time job or really a second full-time job," Choi explained. "You kind of spend all of your time trying to make sure that this campaign that you're working on gathers enough money in."

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Choi and his producer, Sara Razack, only had to raise $6,000 but that's still a large sum for a small indie film. For full disclosure, I donated $35 to the campaign just so I could stay up-to-date with its progress because I admired his work and wanted to see what he would create as his first feature film.

Choi said there were benefits from Kickstarter that went beyond getting the financing.

"It's gratifying because you start off knowing that you kind of have somewhat of an audience already built in. So you are ready are starting to make a film for somebody. It's not just for yourself. It makes it a much different experience when you know — up to that point I was making a lot of these shorts and random other little projects just for my own entertainment — now it's like I really have a commitment to these people. I really need to deliver for them. So we it turned into almost like a social contract where I'm trying to make this movie as good as possible for them. And I want it to be something that not only am I proud of, but something I know my Kickstarter backers would be happy to see."

This Kickstarter backer was more than happy at the results. Sometimes first-time filmmakers start with an ambitious script that taxes resources. But Choi deliberately began with a practical script that basically required two actors and one main location.

Choi cites Robert Rodriguez' book "Rebel Without A Film Crew" as an inspiration.

"He [Rodriguez] describes the way he made his first feature, 'El Mariachi,' and it's very much along the lines of, 'OK, what do you have access to and what do you find most valuable in a movie?' And you put that forward. For Robert Rodriguez, it was he wanted it to be cool with lots of action, with great editing and sound design. In my case, the thing that I value the most from movies; the movies I love the most are the ones that have performances that are gripping and make you almost forget that you're watching a movie and that you're kind of stuck with characters and following their psychology and their motivations and their feelings. So luckily, that type of motivation is easy enough for a low budget film if you have the right actors. So the actual script itself was an idea I've been throwing around for a while. It's just when it came time to make my first feature, I was like, this is doable."

Filmmaker Marvin Choi (back to camera) with actors Darnel Powell and Joseph Price on the set of "A Knight's Tour."
Marvin Choi
Filmmaker Marvin Choi (back to camera) with actors Darnel Powell and Joseph Price on the set of "A Knight's Tour."

"A Knight's Tour" looks to two men, Henry (Joseph Price) and JD (Darnel Powell) who cross paths in this futuristic world. Henry has holed up in his home cabin far from any other people or signs of civilization. JD is a scout searching for supplies that he can take or sell to others. Henry is naturally suspicious of JD and JD's intentions, yet the two form a wary friendship.

Joseph Price is Henry in the Kickstarter funded indie film "A Knight's Tour."
Marvin Choi
Joseph Price is Henry in the Kickstarter funded indie film "A Knight's Tour."

The film is well shot and edited with a pair of strong performances. Watching the story unfold as I shelter at home, many of the scenes of Henry carefully gathering food and being mindful of every resource resonated with me. For the most part, Choi smartly allows the visuals and the actors to convey the subtleties of the story. Only occasionally does he resort to some unnecessary dialogue to explain something to us.

But you can see where Choi's cognitive science background may still be playing a part in his life as he investigates what happens when two very different people are forced together and feel a need to make a connection. It's a quiet, reflective film that plays even better to an audience experiencing some of the isolation that Henry feels, and people may find appreciate the accuracy of some of those feelings depicted in the film.

Darnel Powell is JD in the new independent film "A Knight's Tour."
Marvin Choi
Darnel Powell is JD in the new independent film "A Knight's Tour."

So as you are out there searching for something to watch during this pandemic, consider supporting a talented young filmmaker and seek out "A Knight' s Tour." The film is currently available on iTunes, Google Play and YouTube, and will be available on Amazon Prime Video soon.

Here's the trailer.

'A Knight's Tour' Trailer
UCSD Alum Has New Indie Film 'A Knight's Tour' Streaming
Listen to this story by Beth Accomando.