At 21, Alexander Gonzalez has already made it to the Cannes Film Festival and is more excited than ever to delve into the craft of filmmaking.
Gonzalez, who was born in Redwood City and grew up in Menlo Park, where he attended local schools and graduated from Menlo-Atherton High School, now studies filmmaking at San Francisco State University. There, he participated in the university's 2017 campus film festival, for which he created a short film, called "You."
A lifelong cinephile
Gonzalez said in an interview with The Almanac that he's always loved movies. As a kid, his favorites were the "Star Wars" series, "Godzilla," and movies about Marvel superheroes. He says he appreciates the escapism and unique storytelling capabilities that are possible through film.
He said he didn't get started in filmmaking, though, until a Spanish class tasked him with making a video that depicted him speaking Spanish while cooking a meal. He grabbed an old camcorder, a tripod, cooked up a delicious meal and then got to editing, which is one of the parts he says he's come to enjoy most.
At the time, most of his video editing knowledge came from YouTube tutorials, he said.
His earliest films from about four years ago involved filming classmates prancing around Menlo-Atherton High School in goofy masks staging a heist and making homemade stop-motion Godzilla videos starring a plush dinosaur toy, cardboard skyscrapers and Lego figurine casualties.
The video that brought him to France, called "You," he said, was inspired by a period when he was pursuing filmmaking while simultaneously working to improve his fitness. That summer, he said, he began running regularly and lost about 25 pounds, while also deepening his knowledge of filmmaking. He saw similarities between the daily diligence it took to get fit and to learn his chosen craft.
Gonzalez had only about a week to make the film before the deadline, and it was a time when there were a lot of papers to write and exams to study for, so the friends he'd usually enlist to participate in his films were not available. What emerged was a deeply personal short film about the challenges and victories of self-motivation and working toward one's goals.
The film ended up winning a jury award at the San Francisco State film festival and was entered into the Terminus Conference + Festival in Atlanta. It was then selected to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival in France, considered one of the world's premier film festivals.
"Anyone who watches it can take away the fact that everyone has goals and things they want to do. You need to actually put time and effort into whatever you want to do to see results," he said.
When Gonzalez learned his film would be screened at Cannes, he didn't think he'd be able to go to the festival. He'd have to pay for airfare to get there, and a program fee of about $3,000.
But the same can-do attitude that helped him make the film, and that constitutes the film's message, spurred him to find funding from whatever sources were available. San Francisco State's cinema department and the liberal arts college there contributed funding, and he raised about $2,000 through a GoFundMe page he set up. He was also able to raise funds to travel to the Terminus Conference + Festival.
"It was humbling to see how many people care about me, who believe in me," Gonzalez said.
The experience, he said, was a memorable one. He met lots of young and independent filmmakers, and spent time networking and watching films.
He's returned with a new outlook. "I thought I was determined, but there's so many people hustling every single day, who have made names for themselves already," he said.
Gonzalez is planning to finish his undergraduate degree at San Francisco State and is currently working at KQED as an education production intern. He dreams about working at Lucasfilm someday.
Visit his website for more information.