The 405 sat down with film-maker and photographer Noah Canavan, who is currently pursuing his MFA at Emerson College. We talk film-making, his thesis project 93 Miles, Cuba, baseball, movie influences and what is next for him.

Noah Canavan is an award-winning filmmaker, currently based in Boston, MA. Coming from Quincy, Illinois, Noah ventured to the East Coast in 2014 to expand his work into the independent world of cinema. He is currently enrolled at Emerson College, where he is engaged in a three-year MFA program in Media Art. Noah also gained his Bachelor's degree studies in graphic design and photography, with a minor in film production. His past and primary works, set him up as a well-rounded director, with experience in all areas of a film's production.

Noah currently has over 20 films to his name, with work shown in over 10 festivals. A few of his works have achieved "Best of Festival" status; including a piece that went on to be awarded the "Best Student Short Film in Missouri", presented by the Missouri Broadcasting Association. His graphic design work produced two Addy Awards, and his photography has been placed in multiple galleries and cafes.  

Find Noah on the web here.

"93 Miles tells the story of Miguel (Danny Royce), a fictional baseball prodigy, whose journey is inspired by the many Cuban players who defected from Cuba prior to 2014. These young men made the difficult choice to leave the island, believing they could never return to see their loved ones. 93 Miles isn't about the disappointment of leaving everything behind; this story is about the optimism in the future. Miguel's story is an introspective observation about his opportunity and his decision. Over the course of this journey, you see both Miguel and our national pastime objectified and exploited at the hands of a greedy few. We are left to wonder whether Miguel's decision and the game we love can be redeemed. It is the very human experience of a human commodity."

Check out 93 Miles on Facebook, on the web here, and check out the Kickstarter campaign here – great indie filmmakers like Noah deserve our support, especially when he is telling such an important – and overlooked – tale of a sport that does quite a bit to define the American experience.

We welcome Noah to The 405!

What was the original spark of inspiration for 93 Miles?

The original spark for the idea of 93 Miles came from an article my brother, Josh, sent me via text. I play fantasy baseball with him and I picked up a prospect that this article centered around. He and I were talking about this player and he forwarded me his defection story. It was both an amazing and horrible story. So this baseball player's story was left in the back of my head after reading it. Coming up, a few months later, I was watching ESPN’s 30 for 30: Brothers in Exile, which is about the defection of two Cuban brothers, who both came and played baseball in the States. It was focused on the families they left behind in Cuba, and how they weren't legally allowed to re-enter Cuba to visit them, due to defecting illegally. This was considered "betraying Fidel". With my love for baseball, I couldn't understand how this has been going on for decades, and still not getting the "light of day" it deserves. I enrolled into a Writing the Feature class, in my graduate program at Emerson College. Professor Jean Stawarz told us that each student would be working on one feature script over the course of the semester, and that we were to start writing a treatment for that script we wanted to write. After brainstorming ideas, I realized that I wanted to write a baseball film, but not the same old Kevin Costner style baseball film. One with a current event topic attached to it. So I read more into Cuban baseball and the dreadful defection stories. After starting the script, Yoan Moncada became the first Cuban to be legally signed to an MLB team. My professor, Jean Stawarz told me in a meeting that I should pursue this story. So I did. And since then, I have become deeply attached to these characters as well as the real Cuban ballplayers who have risked it all to come play in the U.S.

93 Miles tells the fictionalized story of Miguel, a Cuban baseball player who defected to the US. Was there a more personal spark of inspiration for this story then the collected stories of baseball players who defected? A particular ball player perhaps?

There was one who sparked my interest in learning more about Cuban baseball players. But it became a collective, because his story wasn't the only one. For many Cuban ballplayers, the only option to play in the MLB, is through human trafficking. Which involves ransom, until they pay the coyotes off. This isn't one man's story, this is the average Cuban baseball player's defection story.

93 Miles is also a story of exploitation and objectification. What are the larger points there you would like people to take away?

I want this to show what our two governments' feuding does to humanity. This is a political story, more than a baseball story. I want every baseball fan to be aware, and hopefully realize that this feud against a "socialist" government isn't worth risking the lives of these athletes and their families.

First day of production on Black's Beach in San Diego, CA. Noah is in the distance with the actors blocking the shot with a wireless monitor, as DP Dan Lies frames the shot. Photo by Clint Hess.

How have things in the arena of defecting ball players changed since Obama’s lifting of the US Embargo with Cuba? Or have they?

It started to look good with the Yoan Moncada deal, and with the Tampa Bay Rays playing the Cuban National team in Havana - but it has been halted with the new administration and possibly on the verge of being reversed with half of the U.S. diplomats pulling out of Havana..

That is an odd situation with the sonic attacks in Havana especially. I wonder what will come of that – although some neurologists are saying the phenomenon was a product of mass hysteria.

Favorite directors and favorite films? Influences?

I have many favorite directors, but my most favorite are Spike Jonze and Stanley Kubrick. Favorite films are Boogie Nights and The Shining.

Not too much inspiration came from these directors or films. My main inspirations came from those types of films where the characters are stuck in a room and they experience tension with their presence with one another. Examples range from 12 Angry Men to Misery. I also watch Lucy Mulloy's Una Noche for character motives. For visuals, my DP and I settles on a Richard Deakin's "Western" look, but with a shoulder mount aesthetic. I was on an HBO’s Leftovers kick while discussing camera aesthetics with him, so we went with the loose camera to create a sense of realism and drama.

What makes a great film?

That's a difficult question to answer. What makes a "great" film, is by opinion. For example, Stanley Kubrick made a film called Eyes Wide Shut. Most critics and viewers saw it as a mediocre film, while Kubrick considered it to be his masterpiece. I don't think a "good film" can be answered by critics. It is an opinion that is first held by the filmmaker themselves.

With whose opinion, the next factors are where the filmmaker is in their career, the genre, what their goal is when making the film, time, and timing. Factor one: the filmmaker could just be starting out in school. If they're on their second film, and it to them, is a successful project that is showing growth in their work, then it is a "good film".

Factor two: you have to compare the film to others like it. You can't go in and compare a film like Frances Ha to Jurassic Park. They're each on their own spectrum of genres, and their goal.

Which brings in factor three: goal. Frances Ha was made to experiment with this style of film that he makes, similar to ‘mumblecore’. Where the audience stays on the same level as the characters, as they hang out with them throughout the film. Where Jurassic Park was first made to entertain with shock, drama, then and push the bar in computer graphics at its time.

Which brings up the next factor: time. Citizen Kane was great for its time because no one ever shot and made a film like Orson Welles. Same goes for more contemporary films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, or even The Blair Witch Project, which both completely changed the games in their genres. The Dogme 95 movement works within this factor, as well. As these filmmakers were pushing the bar with digital film-making, and progressing the format into cinemas, before the format was able to be anywhere close to film.

Finally, the last factor: "timing". This is when the film comes out containing a certain topic that has to do with the current events. Kathryn Bigelow is a director who really works with this. Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker during the same time frames of their wars. They both were considered "great" by critics. Same goes for technical timing, like Slumdog Millionaire, which was the time where digital film-making became comparable to film, becoming the first cinematography Oscar to a digital film.

Not all factors all work well alone and depend on the others, but they’re all about setting their goals and then achieving them. Which to me, makes them a ‘good’ film.

Greatest accomplishments and greatest challenges as a filmmaker?

My favorite and most exciting accomplishment was being accepted into Emerson's grad program. It's a very selective programs and I really wanted to be on the East Coast for film. Being accepted has opened many doors for opportunities and I am still grateful to have been accepted in 2014. I have connected with many people that I hope to work with throughout my life. I'm not sure if this is a filmmaker's accomplishment, but this is a life accomplishment for me.

Where can we see 93 Miles?

The Emerson MFA thesis screening is happening in May of 2018, instead of December of 2017. A change suggested by Emerson faculty to group all the thesis films together.

After that, I will be submitting it throughout 2018, into a variety of festivals. I hope to be able to screen it in St Louis for family and friends, as well as all over the country. It is aimed for an American audience, as it is a story for them to be aware of.

Future projects? What is next for you?

I am hoping to produce 93 Miles into a feature. This short is a sample from the feature film. I made this to make the feature, like many directors do. I want to be a director, but I don't know if I am right for 93 Miles' feature. I would want a Spanish speaking director. Just to have this film made into a feature would be amazing.

I am also working on a TV series inspired by Rosemary’s Baby, and produced in the style of Black Mirror. It's still being hashed out, but it's there and being pitched around with a friend.