Jowan Carbin’s locally shot thriller, “Cut Off,” is a feature-film debut 14 years in the making.
The writer-director’s journey to Monday’s “Cut Off” premiere at the New Orleans Film Festival began in 2003 with his Columbia University thesis film, “Welcome to Life.”
“Welcome to Life” established Carbin, a San Francisco area native who’s lived in New Orleans since 2011, as a young filmmaker to watch. The film screened at the Sundance Film Festival and many others, earning Carbin a Directors Guild of America student award.
“I was really young and very naive,” Carbin recalled. “I didn’t understand how big of a deal it was.”
Despite the attention and acclaim Carbin and “Welcome to Life” received and his meetings with film industry pros, no one green-lighted a feature film from him.
“I wanted something to happen right there,” he said. “Like, ‘I’m meeting with you. Give me a movie.’ There was a lot of conversation about what I wanted to next. I had a script. It wasn’t the right script. But from that point on, I thought I’d made it. I hadn’t.”
Peter and Bobby Farrelly, the filmmaking brothers whose movies include “Kingpin,” “Hall Pass,” “Shallow Hal” and “There's Something About Mary,” spoke at Carbin’s Columbia University graduation ceremony.
“They said, ‘Whatever you think, it’s going to take at least seven years from when you graduate to make a feature film,’ ” Carbin remembered. “I was like, ‘Not me. I was at Sundance.’ ”
But the Farrellys were right. It would be 12 years before Carbin began shooting “Cut Off.”
“Every year was painful, but there was nothing else I wanted to do,” Carbin said of the many years between film school and “Cut Off” production. “I was waiting tables that entire time. I didn’t want a job that would make filmmaking a hobby. I devoted every minute of the day to making my dream true. There were really tough times. I was always struggling to get a project off the ground.”
In the meantime, contacts Carbin made at Sundance and elsewhere grew cold.
“They’re on to the next short film and director,” he said. “The window started to close. It felt like I was never going to get there.”
Carbin’s move from New York to New Orleans in 2011 proved a big step in making his dream project reality.
“When I arrived here, I couldn’t believe it,” he said of local film production. “It seemed like every corner I turned, there was a film shoot going on. It was exciting to have it right in front of me all the time. My goal was to meet as many local filmmakers as I could.”
In 2015, Carbin met Carol Bidault de l’Isle, the future producer of “Cut Off.” His Sundance experience impressed her.
“The benefit of being in New Orleans is you have access to more film people than you would in Los Angeles or New York,” Carbin said. “There’s a great sense of community here.”
Carbin returned to Sundance in 2015 on a networking mission. His 15-day visit to Park City, Utah, yielded a casting director and the first two actors who signed for “Cut Off,” Lew Temple and Oscar-winner Brad Dourif (“Blue Velvet,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”).
A successful Kickstarter campaign also helped “Cut Off” launch. With budgetary constraints demanding an intense 18-day shoot, filming begin in March 2016.
“Cut Off” stars John Robinson (“Elephant,” “Lords of Dogtown,” “Transformers”) as Clive, a young transplant from Los Angeles who moves to New Orleans with his wife, a native of the city. After Clive experiences a life-altering tragedy, he becomes involved with an ex-college professor who leads a cultlike group in the Lafourche Parish community of Cut Off.
Carbin filmed “Cut Off” in the Irish Channel, the West Bank and St. Bernard Parish.
Joining Temple and Dourif, the other famous members of the “Cut Off” cast are William Baldwin (“The Squid and the Whale,” “Backdraft,” “Gossip Girl”) and Jean-Marc Barr (“The Big Blue,” “Breaking the Waves”).
“We have a great cast,” Carbin said. “Everybody was fantastic to work with, and we’ve all became friends. More than 90 percent of the cast and crew are here, so it’s definitely a Louisiana feature.”
After enjoying the New Orleans Film Festival as a filmgoer in previous years, Carbin is thrilled his film is screening at the 2017 festival.
“It’s a great festival,” he said. “From what I’ve seen from a distance, they really take care of the filmmakers, and now I’m one of them.”
WHEN: Monday, 8:30 p.m.
WHERE: The Broad Theater, 636 N. Broad St., New Orleans
ADMISSION: $10 New Orleans Film Society members, $13 nonmembers