In Pursuit of Low-Budget Thrills

. December 4, 2018.
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A woman hides from a bounty hunter. Ruthless and aided by three threatening drones, the hunter methodically chases her through a futuristic, industrial building where danger seems to lurk around every corner. This is the premise of James Aponte’s thrilling short film Pursuit, but the story goes deeper than that.

“‘Pursuit is a sci-fi action/thriller short film,” Aponte said. “It’s set in a dystopian world where the population is overcrowded in the cities, there’s rampant crime, and to deal with the problem we have bounty hunters called Collectors. The focus is on one Collector, named Briggs, hunting his bounty, Valorie.”

The film, shot in the summer of 2015, is a visceral and exciting ride with a surprisingly emotional conclusion, an impressive achievement for a young, low-budget filmmaker. For Aponte, the core idea of the short came from a common influence— a talk with his mom.

“She came in from work, she was in the warehouse, and a co-worker was playing around with a tiny little drone, and was kind of buzzing people with it,” Aponte said. “And I was like, hey, a drone as a prop, a drone as a character, that could be really interesting.”

As creative as I wanted

Aponte fell in love with movies as a kid. He’d always dreamed of being a writer, but after seeing James Cameron’s Aliens and learning that Cameron had written and directed the movie himself, Aponte realized he too could bring his stories to life on the screen.

While attending Sylvania Northview High School, Aponte took a course on Interactive Media. “That’s where I made my first films, in high school,” he said. “I was very much encouraged to be as creative as I wanted. I made a 20-minute long thesis movie.”

After high school, Aponte attended the University of Toledo, where he poured his heart into his senior thesis film— Pursuit. In creating the film, Aponte said that he took a page from the book of filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, who famously made his debut feature El Mariachi with a budget of roughly $7,000. He did things “Mariachi-style,” taking advantage of what he had access to.

“There’s an engineering building on the University of Toledo’s campus, where I was a student at the time. And I really liked the look and the aesthetic of that building, and we had shot (film) in there before. And I really wanted to go back and do it all over the place.”

Technology and society

Filmed over the course of two weeks, the final product is so impressive that Debra Davis, the director of the School of Visual and Performing Arts, asked if UT could use Pursuit as an example of the kind of work that students can produce. The short has played at festivals ever since, including a screening at the Maumee Film Festival in October.

Aponte believes that his short film speaks to basic worries about modern life. “I think there are definitely anxieties about technology interacting with society and how that also affects our interactions with each other.”

Pursuit is available on demand, for rent or purchase, with behind-the-scenes extras and commentary, at: vimeo.com/ondemand/pursuit