Consulting the MAYA calendar

“Stilled Life of a Motion Picture”
If a film wanes in the prairie with no one pining to see it, does it merit ever being shown?

by Jason Pankoke


Forget December 21, conspiracy theorists. It’s simply another Friday during which I plan to eat, sleep, breathe, and even work somewhat. I’d rather talk instead about this Friday, December 14, but not today per se.

It was an unseasonably warm December 14 that fateful Saturday long ago when I led my actresses through a pick-up shoot next door to my apartment building. Just one month earlier, a crew larger than us three had taped scenes in downtown Champaign and West Side Park while weathering a kaleidoscope of elements ranging from brash sunshine to flirty snow. One month later, several hours’ worth of consistently dry blah was just what this redheaded novice filmmaker ordered.

I had scripted via storyboard a sequence I hoped would add shading to the film’s central drama wherein one friend leaves a goodbye letter for the other friend in lieu of meeting face-to-face. An A-frame rental on Hill Street provided the curb, front porch, and bay window in which to stage our scene as the young woman seeking escape struggles to write said letter. The material would imply a long-gestating disconnect between the two as well as replace shaky travelogue footage recorded by my original cameraman.

An overcast day agreed with us by casting a hazy shade of winter to set the mood indoors and curtailing potential accumulation which could have thwarted our effort outdoors. Then again, it may have been symbolic that such a grey denouement to the location shooting would resemble ennui that has hung over my head ever since. Our collective effort remains in an organized shambles of papers, photographs, video tapes, and a beat-to-hell prop letter as opposed to a finished work. I am not proud of this fact.

NEITHER COULD MAYA was meant to be my entry point into creating dramatic low-budget media the likes of which I’ve now chronicled for 15 years through MICRO-FILM and C-U Blogfidential. After logging innumerable hours observing the fruits of others’ labors at theaters, on my television, during festivals, and in person while standing on their sets and sitting at their editing stations – never mind all the additional hours committed to writing and interviewing about the same – I wanted to leave my fears behind and jump right in.

Memory has not failed you, dearest readers. Personal superstition has discouraged me from writing about MAYA on CUBlog until now. Google searches might turn up a cursory mention or two on ancient Web pages elsewhere, but that will be all the chatter you will manage to dredge up on the subject until you read on, MacDuffs…

Conceived as an entry in a University of Illinois student-sponsored film challenge which I ultimately sidestepped because of its 48-hour time constraint, MAYA is a series of moments in the lives of Maya and Sylvia when reality finally sets in that they are drifting apart. Then-UI graduate student Lexi Hadley played Maya as a demure, bohemian spirit with heavy things on her mind; then-townie Angel West Faull portrayed Sylvia as mannered in demeanor and poise while still being thrown by the words resonating on her conscience.

In addition, then-WILL-TV cinematographer Brian Paris recorded all the takes during our first weekend, then-budding photographer Inga Mucha took many of our stills, and then-Illini Film & Video members Kelly Kiekow and Jenna Baranowski Goad helped out with additional photography and script supervision, respectively. Other than background denizen davep and voiceover engineer Larry Gates, everyone involved with MAYA has moved on geographically and I could spend many paragraphs updating you on their lives and achievements since we canvassed central Champaign with Sony PD-150 in hand.

That stands to reason, of course. Lexi, Angel, and I wrapped MAYA on the afternoon of December 14 … 2002.

Therein, as they say, lies the rub.

I feel hesitant in offering any further making-of minutiae since it would be narcissistic to go starry-eyed over a film which can’t easily be watched by anyone. It is but one entry in my invisible oeuvre featuring unfinished work and barely-seen creations more effective in building up a backlog than branching out into the universe where it belongs. More than most things on the list, MAYA should already be done.

Myriad reasons led me to take a chance on MAYA when I did. The MICRO-FILM “golden era” ended with the release of issue 5 that summer, sticking me with a large printing bill in the middle of prolonged unemployment. I contemplated moving away and changing course in my line of work, but the desperation subsided when I landed a semi-new job in the fall. I happily dove into MAYA right afterwards but I sometimes wonder if I psyched myself out somehow instead of plowing through post-production to the very end.

I’m equally at a loss to provide reasons for why I haven’t truly attempted to put this one to bed – Inexperience? Nerves? Doubt? Hesitation? Apathy? “Too damn busy?” – let alone take another stab at making a movie, or a dozen, or even a hundred thousand. I can vouch that opportunities abound in our cozy little Champaign-Urbana movie-making scene if I really wanted them, yet

I’m as baffled as you, dear sir or madam.

Admittedly, I have gone back and looked over the MAYA elements more than once during the past 10 years, mostly out of curiosity. The closest Sylvia and Maya’s near miss came to connecting with a silver screen was in a rough edit sans audio put together by IFV regular Joey Burgess a couple of years after we wrapped. Despite all the dramatic, logistic, and aesthetic little flaws I can see while watching Joey’s cut, fast-forwarding through the original raw footage, or reviewing my so-called script, I think it still works for me.

Every producer’s prerogative is to make sure a film is completed and delivered to an audience, if at all possible. Flutters in my heart intensify every time I reconsider MAYA. If lovely Maya can give herself permission to press on when she realizes something vital is missing in her life, even at the risk of reshaping a long-standing relationship with her trusted friend, I can do the same in, gasp, real life. Right?

Let’s remember December 14, 2002, with more revelry in the future than I can muster today, December 14, 2012. NEITHER COULD MAYA still matters greatly to me, both as a singular experience and concrete evidence I am willing to try something new. It has no reason to be treated as a one-off artifact or held from joining the cinema canon of Champaign, Urbana, and the cities beyond, then. I simply wonder what that means right about now.

Maybe fortunes will improve soon for my dearest Maya and Sylvia, if not yours truly as well.



For those folks nosy enough to take a peek below Inga Mucha’s wonderful Market Street portrait of Lexi Hadley and Angel Faull taken Sunday, November 4, 2002, after we had finished shooting NEITHER COULD MAYA that weekend, C-U Blogfidential has an extra read for you!

While it is true MAYA had not made its CUBlog debut until now, this is not the first time we’ve brought it up. Back during the Internet dark ages – April 2003, to be exact – your humble editor issued a press release about three film projects courting his involvement. Apart from discussing the Chris Folkens student short TRIAD and the unmade Texas–based feature MOVIEHOUSE, I had this to say:

“Currently in production is [Jason] Pankoke’s first short film entitled NEITHER COULD MAYA, starring Alexis Hadley and Angel West as friends acknowledging the gap continually widening between them without meeting eye-to-eye on the matter. The film will be edited in a unique ‘symmetrical’ style that keeps them from appearing together on screen yet addresses their differences through repeating events and actions.

“‘This is intended to be a trial run for me to see what I can do, to kick the monkey off my back that’s restrained me from diving in all these years,’ says Pankoke, who shot the film in downtown Champaign, Illinois where he lives. ‘MAYA is an artistic collage that talks about the way we remember certain people in our minds versus our perceptions of them in the present. When friends change over time and they don’t seem to be on the same page anymore, their memories of what once was can haunt them mercilessly.’

“A photograph of MAYA’s cast and crew working in downtown Champaign was recently included in the book CU in 7 plus. Edited by Brian K. Johnson and published by Illini Media Company, CU in 7 plus uses photojournalism to document 10 days in the life of Champaign-Urbana at the end of October 2002. The lovely and talented Kelly Kiekow snapped the shot, which appears on page 109 [and appears below, for the first time in color! – ed.].

NEITHER COULD MAYA should be completed by fall 2003. Look for more detailed information to be posted on the MICRO-FILM web site in the near future.”

Yes, it pains us to repeat that second-to-last sentence, but there you have it.

~ Jason Pankoke


MAYA screen grabs: Courtesy Jason Pankoke
Actress portrait: © 2002 Inga Mucha
Team MAYA picture: © 2002 Kelly Kiekow

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