NATO of CA/NV - UCLA Fellow has film selected for San Francisco Independent Film Festival




More than fifteen years ago I made my first drawing of Stewball, the star of my NATO of California/Nevada (NATO) fellowship-winning animated film Dear Death. I drew him in my sketchbook: a bipedal horse wearing a necktie and a crash helmet, knocked off his bike by a rock in his path. A blend of animal and human, Stewball has always been a metaphor for the struggle of body versus soul, life's daily obstacles versus the human ambition to live close to our best dreams.


Winning the fellowship from NATO has given fresh legs to my longtime dream: turning my now numerous Stewball comics into an animated series for teens and adults. With help from NATO, I created, as an animation graduate student at UCLA, a seven-minute short film. In it, Stewball forges an uneasy friendship with Death, spurring him to recalibrate his balance of daily life versus imagination.


Since I completed Dear Death, in 2016, the film has begun traveling the festival circuit. Premiering at Animaze in Montreal and scheduled for appearances in San Francisco and Rio de Janeiro, Stewball has come a long way from that first sketch. Visit Dear Death movie for the full story.


Dear Death has provided "proof of concept" to potential TV series development partners in Los Angeles. It has spurred me to develop a cast of supporting characters and sparked dialogue about how the narrative arc of the film can be expanded into several seasons' worth of TV episodes. I have even given Stewball something of a makeover for his run at the red carpet. But while the body may change, the soul remains a consistent, unique light—if prone to anxiety, in Stewball’s case.


I believe that Stewball is like no one else on television, in live action or animation. Stewball is about childhood wonder staring down the sometimes crushing realities of contemporary adult life, and adulthood looking back at childhood. So often our media targets only one of these ages at a time, when in reality, adults are motivated by timeless hopes and fears. Stewball offers an invitation to laugh at our predicament, and to be as wondering as we are wise (or even, at times, jaded). With screens lit up everywhere we look, we may think we’ve seen it all, but we haven’t.


The idea for a series is pure, but its execution requires constant attention to the rocks in the road, and sometimes a crash helmet. With NATO's grant, I have been able to capture my idea on screen as clearly as possible, clearing my path for the ride ahead.


— Kate Isenberg, January 2017

Click above to watch trailer.


Editors note:

Ms. Isenberg is the recipient of a 2015 NATO of CA/NV UCLA Fellowship in Film $10,000.00 award in Animation.

NATO of California/Nevada has renewed its commitment to the NATO of CA/NV - UCLA Fellowship in Film for 2017 and will once again award $10,000.00 grants to five deserving UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television film students.  Since the inception of this award in 2004 NATO has provided $488,000.00 to UCLA Fellows.