A Director with an Eye for Endings

By:
Alaina G. Levine

 

Media Arts Alumnus Chris Eyre ’91

It is no surprise that UA media arts alumnus Chris Eyre had his own career ending in sight even before he started his intensive training at the UA. When he was only a freshman, he was asked by a stranger about his profession. His answer was quick and to the point: “I’m a director,” he responded, although he hadn’t yet directed any films. 

“I’ll never forget that,” he recalls. “What you put out there you can make happen.”

Today, Eyre, 44, is an accomplished director, writer, and producer who has directed and/or produced seven major films as well as PBS specials based on mystery novels by Tony Hillerman, an episode of Law & Order: SVU, and other television projects. His break-out film, Smoke Signals, had its premiere at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Filmmakers Trophy and the Audience Award. It also took Best Film honors at the 1998 American Indian Film Festival. He continues to expand his repertoire and is currently directing a slapstick comedy called Up the River. “It’s Blazing Saddles meets Wedding Crashers,” he jokes.

He takes great pleasure in being a storyteller and in connecting with the viewer. He aims to tell stories that viewers can lose themselves in. “All of a sudden you’re in the story, in the place, being entertained, learning something and being inspired. When I watch the end of Smoke Signals I still lose myself in what’s going on.”

But he also says that filmmakers have a responsibility to their audience. “Storytelling is expansive and the joy of this craft … [but] it can’t be a story without reciprocation and respect with at least one other person to share it.” 

This sentiment was echoed by one of Eyre’s mentors during his graduate studies at NYU’s film school: Spike Lee. “I said to Spike Lee, ‘I’m going to make my movies and if people don’t like them that’s OK with me,’ and he just laughed,” recounts Eyre. “I didn’t know what he meant at the time.” 

Eyre now has the opportunity to teach a new generation of filmmakers as chair of the film department at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, a post he began in January 2012. He teaches his students about the power of filmmaking as an important societal storytelling medium. “Film is a reflection of society’s views,” he says. “The art is expansive, a reflection of who we are, and there’s nothing I want to do more than make movies.”