Students Look Beyond the Mask

Julius Carallo, 62, recently separated from his wife of 25 years. A few years prior, his son Paul was murdered while attending school in California by Neo-Nazis. Clown Chips, however, seeks to get a laugh out of anyone he encounters, all with a smile painted permanently across his face.

Three SUNY New Paltz students worked to show how these two people are in fact one in the same in their award winning film, “Patchwork.”

Kim Plummer, Julie Florio and Tevita Toutaiolepo were recently awarded the Broadcast Education Association (BEA) Best of Festival King Foundation Award for their documentary that examined Carallo’s career as a clown and the influence his past had on this life choice.

According to Florio, the students met Carallo at an August 2009 convention in Seaside Heights, N.J. during an attempt to follow the subculture of clowning in America. Though they originally thought this would be compelling subject matter for their Seminar in Production class project, Plummer said they slightly shifted gears after Clown Chips went out of his way to speak with the group.

“I remember filming him, and we asked him, ‘Why did you become a clown?’” Plummer said. “He broke into this story about his son and how he embraced his son Paul’s energy after his death and wanted to share positivity instead of bitterness. It was a stark contrast from all the other answers about loving to be around children.”

“Patchwork” is comprised of interviews and footage of Carallo and the lives he has touched: clients, fellow clowns, families and children. It also features stop-motion animation with puzzle pieces, which form to show the face of Clown Chips, in addition to shots of Carallo putting on and taking off his face makeup.

According to Florio, the significance of his painted face and smile is a big part of the film’s central theme.

“Often, when a clown has his or her makeup on it becomes a veil, a ‘death mask,’” Florio said. “People see clowns and perceive that they are happy, but after the makeup comes off, it is revealed that clowns are people and they have lives and struggles, too. We really wanted to expose that and I think it is really touching to see.”

After arranging schedules, commutes back to New Jersey and hours of editing to ensure production values like storyline, music and visual aesthetic were tight as Florio described, “Patchwork” was complete and Professor Gregg Bray liked what he saw. He suggested the students enter the documentary in the BEA Festival of Media Arts. In February 2010, the filmmakers said they were pleasantly surprised to find out that “their baby” was one of 10 chosen from 600 entries to receive the top honor.

“It’s almost surreal that we won, especially having competed against schools that are described as film schools,” Plummer said. “This kind of storytelling is something I think the three of us really have a passion for, and it felt really rewarding that it was recognized.”

The student directors and producers will set off for the Las Vegas Convention Center from April 15-17 where an awards ceremony will be held in honor of the top-ranked films. They will also receive a $1,000 cash prize.

According to Plummer, the trio will now be looking into creating a shorter documentary this semester with subject ideas including marine wildlife rehabilitators and local bee keepers, among others.

Though each said they cannot be sure what their future in filmmaking holds, Toutaiolepo said “Patchwork” presents viewers with a different perspective about story telling

“I hope viewers recognize the spaces between the cracks that form the narratives of our life stories,” he said. “‘Patchwork’ shows these cracks and doesn’t judge or try to mend them. Big stories are great, but it’s the smaller ones that we are able to absorb.”


“Patchwork,” created by Kim Plummer, Tevita T. and Julie Florio
Winner of the King of Festival BEA Award (the best in show award)

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Julie Mansmann

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