D.J. Higgins is an American filmmaker, writer and director of Irish / Italian descent. He is not your typical film producer, though. With 4 Master’s degrees in Italian Cinema, Italian Literature, Spanish Generalist Studies and in Film & Television, he is now going for a Doctorate in Modern Languages through Middlebury College, a private liberal arts college located in Middlebury, Vermont. While following his passion of filmmaking he holds teaching positions at schools in Greater New York. His films, just like the answers to his interview questions, are thought provoking and inspiring.
The feature film “Meet Mario”, for instance, which is available on Amazon, is about racism. A young Italian man, the son of an African-American father and an Italian mother, finds love while battling racism from his fiancé’s Italian-American family. It’s a kind of “ Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” story that makes you think.
His 2016 multi award winning short film “Pasquale’s Magic Veal ends in a way that allows viewers to decide, how to interpret it. It’s a dark comedy about a magic piece of veal that forces all who eat it to tell the truth. It has been through the festival rounds already and is now available on Amazon. The short already won 14 awards including the Best Comedy/Best Dramedy Short Award at the Hollywood Boulevard Film Festival, Best Narrative Short at the California International Shorts Festival as well as the Best Actor in a Comedy for Joseph D’Onofrio and Best Ensemble Award at the Brightside Tavern Film Festival. It was also nominated for Best Actress in a Comedy, Best Comedy and Best Director.
Watch the “Pasquale’s Magic Veal” Trailer here:
His gripping short film “Smack” filmed in April 2017 is only about 8 minutes long and ventures into addiction.
This director is ahead of the game of diversity. He has surrounded himself with an outstanding cast and crew, which includes Julie Robinson, his African American producing partner, whom he met in grad school. Watching these two on set together, you can feel the chemistry that has brought them to where they are today.
D.J. has also written a dual language ‘learn Italian’ book entitled “Un Giorno a Staten Island con la Nonna e Santino” available on Amazon, which he recently turned into a short film with a grant received from the Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum supported by the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) and The Italian Sons and Daughters of America.
The story of “Santino” and his grandmother is about loyalty, love, passion and language. An amusing story, which follows a 27-year old modern-age single Italian man and his beloved nonna who desperately wants to find a suitable wife for her grandson. This 25-minute comedy shows the audience what an Italian family dinner is all about – good food and family, even if the family members are of the zany type. The perfect cast includes Guiseppe Santochirico (Santino), Angela Rago (Nonna), Artie Pascale (Cosimo), Samantha Scaffidi (Michaela) as well as opera singer Cristina Fontanelli, just to mention a few.
Filmed in Italian with English subtitles, it is in competition with the other 6 grant recipients’ films. The winner will be announced at the annual NIAF gala in Washington DC in November 2017.
Following is an interview with writer/director/producer D.J. Higgins.
Has there been a book or film that changed your life or had a major impact on you? Which one?
I ended up doing 4 master’s degrees largely in part as an excuse to travel, watch movies and read. Film and books, when done well, have the ability to change one’s social consciousness. It is amazing to think that after watching a certain film or reading a captivating story we change (evolve) and feel differently about certain issues. One of the major problems with today’s world is that the role of an intellectual has been demoralized. People sit down in a theater or at a discussion panel with the intention of trying to disprove something… this is 100% wrong. We should go into each film hoping to be proven wrong and learn about the author’s prospective. The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Desmund Tutu is a book that changed my life and My Left Foot by Jim Sheridan is a film that taught me to be a better person. Daniel Day Lewis is one of the most talented actors ever to grace the big screen and this film proves it ten fold.
Which actor or director has influenced you in becoming a filmmaker?
Francis Ford Coppola is the master, in every sense of the word. Stallone’s story, making Rocky and not selling out (selling his dog to survive), is what this industry lacks today. People will take a paycheck to tell horrible stories. Everybody is looking for a shortcut and these imposters feel that being a filmmaker is a VIP seat to being an artist. Ladri di biciclette (Rossellini) is a film made under the poorest conditions that has an amazing story. Neorealism, a cinema where you tell your story no matter the money available, is the movement that most impacted me as a filmmaker.
How do you come up with the ideas in your scripts?
By living life to the fullest with a bird’s eye view.
What do you consider to be your biggest achievement?
Making the people I love smile.
What do you admire in other people?
My uncle’s kindness, my mother’s unconditional love, my nonna’s toughness, my stepfather’s wit, my brother’s patience, my sister’s charisma and Julie Robinson’s loyalty.
What would your life look like if you had the power to design it the way you want to?
Exactly how it is. We do have the power (especially in this country) and I have done everything possible to be the best architect possible.
If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be and why?
My grandfather. I never met him and the way my nonna describes him has always left me yearning to hear more. He died when my mom was a young girl and on the day he died my nonna won a Cadillac in a raffle. Long story, but he was a man of great mystery and apparently filled with love from head to the toe.
What are your hopes what the future holds for you?
Making movies with Julie Robinson that help people better understand the world and who they are.
What is one of your greatest motivators in life?
I have been blessed with a great family. My mom went through a lot in her life and I never once heard her complain about anything. She is the strongest woman I know and I strive to have a quarter of her resilience. My uncle taught me how to be a man and my grandmother still reminds me on how to be one.
What has been one of your favorite moments in life?
Graduating college and seeing my mother’s reaction when I received my diploma… none of us thought I’d finish!
How would you describe yourself in three words?
What do you consider to be the most valuable thing you own?
My driver’s license.
What is your favorite quote and why?
“I once had the blues because I had no shoes until I saw a man that had no feet”. There are many people who have nothing in this world and to justify what we have we must give ourselves to he world while appreciating all of the gifts that God has given us.
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Karynne Summars is an author, screenwriter, film producer and freelance journalist. She is a contributing writer for several international magazines. Her feature articles cover entertainment and culture as well as international travel and personal development. Born and raised in Berlin, Germany, Karynne currently resides mainly in New York with additional residences in Berlin and Marbella, Spain. Website: www.karynnesummars.com