"I told myself I'd get out of Iowa City before I was 30," Jim Haverkamp says. Luckily for the Triangle film scene, he made good on his vow, four months before deadline. Now, five years after he chose North Carolina to be his promised land, our local film scene would be unimaginable without Haverkamp's industry, talent and generosity. Mention Haverkamp's name to local film artists, and the testimony pours forth. "Jim is the most easygoing, coolest and helpful film guru I know," says Durham filmmaker Nayeli Garci-Crespo. Another Durham filmmaker, Jason Middleton, chimes in, "Probably everyone has gotten help from Jim at some point."
Haverkamp recently offered some modest reflections on his still-young career while sitting in the new upstairs lounge of Durham's Bully's Basement. Downstairs, a benefit concert for the recently burglarized Radio Free Records was under way. The whole Durham art and music scene was out in force, and Haverkamp, true to his public-spirited form, was pitching in with a gig by his band, Holy Roman Empire.
Tall and bespectacled, Haverkamp exudes an air of expertise and helpfulness. He has curated local film programs, served on festival juries, won an N.C. Arts Council grant, and taught filmmaking classes. Somehow he's also found time to pursue his own filmmaking muse and play in a rock band while holding down a full-time job.
With so many accomplishments already under his belt, it's surprising to learn that Haverkamp is a relative newcomer to filmmaking. He made his share of Super-8 extravaganzas in his adolescence, but as an undergraduate at the University of Iowa, he concentrated on his major in American Studies. He later struggled in the usual post-collegiate slacker limbo before making the decision to become a filmmaker. "After five or six years, I reached a point where I decided to do it. I never felt like I had the right to do it. Filmmaking was for other people, smarter people," he says.
Undaunted, Haverkamp enrolled in a production class at the University of Iowa, taught by a man who was to be an important mentor, Leighton Pierce. Pierce's rigorous exercises, such as having his students produce 10 one-minute films, forced his students to work "instinctively and visually," Haverkamp recalls. "We had to think, but not too much." Haverkamp capped his training with his first synch-sound film, a 16mm opus called Universe of Sound.
Looking for a place to settle, he visited a friend in North Carolina. It was during this exploratory visit that he spotted a flyer promoting an upcoming Flicker event. In those days, the popular bi-monthly short film program was still being run by its founder, Norwood Cheek, who has since moved to Los Angeles. Haverkamp called him up, and the two met at the Skylight Exchange in Chapel Hill to discuss area filmmaking.
"I was so impressed that he would agree to meet a complete stranger," recalls Haverkamp. "It told me something about the sensibility of the scene." The meeting helped cement his decision to move with his future wife, Joyce Ventimiglia, to North Carolina in 1997. In the fall of 2000, he took over Flicker, and in the two years that he ran the series he packed the houses, added door prizes and wrote witty program notes. As the host of the shows, his dry (yet never condescending) asides between films kept the viewers giggling. (Once, after a filmmaker broadcast full-frontal footage of himself skinny-dipping in the Eno River, Haverkamp deadpanned, "Thanks, Doug, for showing us so much!")
In addition to Flicker, Haverkamp has been the engine behind numerous other film screenings. He helped organize the inaugural Ms. Films Festival in Carrboro last year, this area's first major festival of films by women, and he's brought special screenings to the Triangle, like the cult classic, Heavy Metal Parking Lot.
Along the way, Haverkamp has taught film courses at the Durham Arts Council, served on the selection committee for the 2000 and 2001 DoubleTake Film Festivals and has taken a turn as an officer of Duke's Freewater Productions, a student filmmaking club.
While Haverkamp's organizing and teaching efforts have been an invaluable asset to the community, he has always been eager to write and direct films. What's most startling about his film shorts is the stark contrast they provide to his genial public persona. For Jim Haverkamp--that mild-mannered, self-effacing Midwesterner--has a haunted, film-noir imagination. Courtesy Call, from 1997, is a creepy portrait of a crank caller who picks people out of the phone book and calls them, urging his listeners to tend to their immortal souls. Shot in black and white, with frequent blackouts and a lot of disturbing, naturalistic sound effects, the film is an unsettling gem. He followed this up with the technically more sophisticated but equally disturbing Enemy, the story of an archetypal loner driving through the night, fleeing his unshakable yesterdays. Shot entirely within an automobile in industrial strength noir et blanc, Haverkamp's tale of a guilty conscience echoes the tortured soul of Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle. A year later, in a (somewhat) lighter vein, Haverkamp documented the tenacity of nicotine addiction in Last Pack.
After such dark, fevered work, Haverkamp's most recently completed project, Armor of God, represents something of a step into the light (and color film, as well). This film is a short documentary about a Christian performance artist. It's a topic of deep personal interest to the ex-Catholic Haverkamp. "Armor of God represents an interesting rendering of Christianity," he says. "I'm not a member of an organized religion, but I think about [spiritual issues] a lot."
Haverkamp recently passed his Flicker duties on to Jen Ashlock, a Chapel Hill filmmaker, in order to devote more time to his most ambitious undertaking yet, a feature-length documentary called Monster Road. Two years in the making, this project is a study of an underground animator named Bruce Bickford (best known for his work with Frank Zappa). Next month, Haverkamp plans to log serious time reviewing the dozens of hours of footage, before making a third trip to Bickford's home in Seattle, later in the summer.
Despite Haverkamp's insistence that he's putting his own work first these days, he seems incapable of avoiding the role of facilitator. Earlier this month, he curated a night of art cinema at Durham's Ringside, showing the films of two touring Chicago filmmakers, Bill Brown and Thomas Comerford. But Haverkamp's curatorial duties didn't stop when the second of two sold-out screenings ended long after midnight. Later, he rolled out the futons in his living room so that the itinerant filmmakers could crash for the night. And do their laundry.
"I've got a ton of dirty underwear. Jim had no problem with that," said Brown. Filmmaker Comerford, who knows Haverkamp from their days in Iowa City, said less facetiously that Haverkamp's film programming helped breach the town-gown divide of that community. "School was such a dominant force in Iowa City. It was nice to see someone working outside that realm," he said. "Jim was finding different ways to bring people together."