Indie Shorts Awards Cannes

Sam Gostnell & Max Sznewajs

With a body of work dating back to 2004, Sam made his directorial debut at 8 years old and has been behind the camera ever since. He likes to say his focus has evolved from short LEGO Star Wars films and Lord of the Rings ripoffs into documentary filmmaking and most recently narrative shorts. Having grown up in rural Southern Oregon, Sam brought his personal experience to the world of Sheep Hills.

Max Sznewajs is the Co-Founder of Dark Time Entertainment. Originally a Detroit Michigan native, he set his sights on Los Angeles and graduated from Loyola Marymount University in 2017 with a BA in Film & Television Production and an award winning short film under his belt.
His keen eye for great storytelling attracted him to Sheep Hills, and his eventual partnership with Jack Paal to found Dark Time Entertainment in the winter of 2019.

Sam, what is a key question that will help spark a debate about the film?
I think the thing that this film is trying to tackle is how the systems of social norms and traditions can create violence and harm, but we’re not trying to vilify anyone. The characters in this film are as much victims of their circumstances as they are the perpetrators of violence. We want to explore how the confluence of masculinity and violence can have generational effects, and when you throw in gun culture in the US it becomes even more visceral.
Watching the scenes about the boys' relationships with their respective fathers one right after the other made it really easy to understand the similar toxicity in both families' dynamics. What were your ideas on those sequences?
We wanted to show how the language of violence is core to the way many men interact with each other, and how that is taught to boys. On one hand you have Jack and his father, who is clearly very physically and emotionally abusive. That dynamic is a little bit more black and white than the one between Todd and his older brother, who have a more nuanced and caring relationship. Their relationship still maintains the aggression, but it’s in the form of play. The expressions of love are filtered through layers of social pressures of masculinity that leave them feeling like their only way of connection is through violence.
Max, what was your greatest breakthrough moment on the production of Sheep Hills?
The greatest breakthrough happened on our 2nd and final day of production. Up until that point it had been controlled chaos on set because we had such a short shooting schedule. However, I remember that morning ran like a symphony orchestra. We were out in the woods of Malibu Creek State Park, and everything went off without a hitch. It gave me a few short minutes to pause and realize how incredible the filmmaking process is when everyone is in sync and working towards the goal of telling the best story possible.