When an idealistic reporter uncovers a sex-trafficking ring, it does more than expose the horrors of everyday existence for young women around the world � it brings award-winning recognition for a USC filmmaker.
On Sept. 16, the New York International Independent Film & Video Festival named “Fragment of Daniela” the best dramatic feature, celebrating the work of Sasha Knezev, 28, a critical studies graduate student at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.
“I want to keep building my films so I can continue to get noticed and hopefully get more backing,” said Knezev about the attention he’s received with the award.
Taking a year to complete and filmed over three months on weekends in Los Angeles and New York, “Fragments of Daniela,” in which the writer/director also plays a leading role, was a stark contrast to Knezev’s first and more personal feature, “Welcome to San Pedro.”
“Acting in this movie was also a fascinating way for me to examine my own identity,” Knezev said. “I’m a big fan of critical studies because I’m a fan of the filmmakers who not only made movies but theorized on their own films.”
Knezev attributed a large part of the success of his film to the “instant synergy” he felt with his crew, which included director of photography Raymond Park, composer Eric Froeberg and assistant director Jeremy Weiss, all members of the class of 2003.
“I made a conscious effort to find these guys,” Knezev said. “We constantly fed off each other, and it really was a collaborative process.”
The result of their efforts, which Knezev first thought of during his frequent trips to his family’s Eastern European roots in Northern Serbia, is a dark and disturbing representation of an underground prostitution business that is all too real in the United States and around the world.
“It’s fascinating how people appropriate their lives to something that goes on around them,” Knezev said. “Here in the States, people are just so unaware. I’m not sure if it’s because of the pace of our lifestyle or we just choose not to open our eyes to what exists.”
In addition to being submitted to various festivals, including Sundance, the film is garnering national attention and recently was screened at the Laemmle Fairfax Cinemas.
Knezev relishes the experience of watching his audiences’ reactions to the film’s startling statistics over the credits.
“Through a narrative, you have such an incredible ability to convey a story that is able to touch the audience on so many levels,” he added.
Knezev is already planning his third feature. And the one spot where he’s sure to find inspiration is at his apartment in Northern Serbia.
“While critical studies opened the doors of cinema to me, Serbia is a perfect place for me to stretch my creativity. People’s everyday lives are so fascinating, and it helps to write and direct what you know. I couldn’t begin to write a story about football players,” he joked.