Story last updated at 3:23 PM on Thursday, September 22, 2005

‘Magic’ brings film director to Homer

Chain not ruling out store on lower Kenai Peninsula

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff writer

Pilgrims take a holy dip in the Ganges as the dawn mists clear.  
“This happened because of the magic of life,” Maurizio Benazzo, producer, co-director and cinematographer of the documentary film “Shortcut to Nirvana,” told the Homer News in a phone interview from Kansas on Sept. 19.

And he wasn’t talking about the film, which has received widespread acclaim.

Benazzo was referring to being in Homer to introduce this documentary about the Kumbha Mela, a once-every-12-years spiritual festival that takes place in Allahabad, India.

“I’m a guy who lives at the end of the road,” he added, with a laugh, equating his lifestyle with Homer’s reputation for existing at the end of the beaten path. “I am so excited. You have no idea. I am sure it is one of those magical places that a person has to see in a lifetime.”

Benazzo’s visit to Homer is testimony to the magic he claims flows through his life.

“A couple of months ago I was sent an e-mail from somebody telling me she had heard about the movie, knew it was going to be fantastic, wished it could be in Homer, but knew that was impossible. Therefore, she wanted to buy the DVD.

“But I said, ‘Why impossible?’” he said. “She started moving the magic, and all of a sudden a guy from the Homer Theatre was calling me.”

During Benazzo’s visit to Homer, he will introduce “Shortcut to Nirvana” at its showings on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. After the Monday screening, he will lead a discussion at Amped Café on self-distribution and production of films. “Shortcut to Nirvana” is one of six films featured in the Homer Theatre’s second documentary film festival.

The success of this film makes it clear Benazzo has much to share. The film received the audience award for best documentary at the Sedona International Film Festival, was named best documentary at the Tiburon International Film Festival and was an official selection of the Newport, Maui, Cinema Paradise and Empire State international film festivals.

“There are filmmakers in Homer, young talented people who want to know more about making films and I would be delighted to share my experience and knowledge of, basically, what it means to make a movie,” Benazzo said.

For him, it began by taking a chance.

“I was living in New York, working as a camera man, an actor, whatever to make a living and a friend came into the studio and said there was an incredible gathering going to happen in four weeks or 12 years,” he said. “I couldn’t wait 12 years. ... The bottom line is that my life has changed because when you say yes to life, to taking chances, when you are affirmative, positive and going forward, all of a sudden life gives you incredible gifts.”

The resulting film places the audience in the midst of some 70 million pilgrims that spent more than 40 days at the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers, celebrating the Kumbha Mela, “festival of the urn,” believed to pour out the nectar of immortality. Its history dates back thousands of years. Hindu and Buddhist leaders, including His Holiness The Dalai Lama, join in the celebration. And when spiritual leaders were asked to bless the film, they offered a blessing on every audience member that will see the film.

“When you take a chance, something magical holds and rewards you,” Benazzo said of the quick decision to make the film rather than waiting another 12 years. “It’s very inspiring to know that if you take a chance, you’re safe.”

And you learn.

“Everybody teaches you how to make the movie, but, honestly, shooting the movie, editing it, basically that is 30 to 40 percent of the process,” he said. “When the movie is over, that’s when the business really starts. ... What do you do with (the completed film)? That’s the hard part. ... You have to show your muscle. You have to hold your ground. You have to believe.”

To date, the film has opened in more than 100 theaters across the United States without the help of a distribution company.

“It’s completely, pure marketing,” Benazzo said. “You have to have confidence that you can do it. You also have to know what to say and when to say it. You have to be able to have a one-liner that will open the door. You cannot have long-winded speeches. It’s a completely different set of skills. That’s the real lesson. The movie doesn’t end when you put it in the can.”

It also helps to have someone eager to see the film.

As was Frani Scheffel, the Homer resident that heard about the movie and e-mailed Benazzo, asking for a DVD.

“My heart sure wanted this to happen,” said Scheffel. “I’m amazed that (the movie) is coming, but not really because this is Homer. Here we are in beautiful downtown Homer.”

The Homer Theatre’s documentary film festival will be held Friday through Thursday. For more information about the films and show times, call the theater at 235-6728.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at