Helping build ILM's film base
January 18, 2013By Ken Little
Lou Buttino has been a dynamic figure for years in the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s film studies department.
Buttino, who is currently on medical leave from UNCW, served as department chairman from 2004 to 2010 and remains a professor there. He has taught on the college and university level for 35 years.
Buttino is bullish on the film industry in North Carolina. He is also an award-winning filmmaker and writer, whose lengthy list of credits includes 23 documentary film projects, three books, two produced plays and numerous academic honors.
He’s also a businessman and is president of two companies: Lou Buttino Films Inc. and Eastwind Films Inc. (501c3).
His most recent projects include The Wounded Come Home, the story of a combat-wounded Marine veteran of Afghanistan; and Going Home, the story of a former quarterback (Buttino himself), who goes home to upstate New York to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his team’s championship season.
The Greater Wilmington Business Journal recently asked Buttino about his work.
GWBJ: You’ve lived in Wilmington and taught at UNCW for a number of years. What keeps you here and at the college?
LB: Though I miss the dramatic change of seasons and old friends, Wilmington and North Carolina are treasured locations. It’s just the right size, and the environment with the river, ocean and diverse landscapes are enchanting. UNC Wilmington is a special place as well.
Though we have our differences, I believe we want to do best by our students and the community. Not only is UNCW one of the most beautiful campuses I’ve seen anywhere, my colleagues in the film studies department, other departments and in the administration are outstanding scholars, teachers and people.
GWBJ: Can you comment on the resurgence of the film industry in North Carolina and Wilmington in particular? Will it continue, in your opinion?
LB: EUE/Screen Gems took a big chance in building its latest studio, especially in the roughest of economic times. Dan Brawley has kept Cucalorus humming at a steady pace despite the enormous challenges faced by nonprofits. And Cape Fear Community College and UNCW are turning out more and more graduates with enormous abilities.
I think the word is finally out that filmmaking in Wilmington is a good bet, and that will not only continue but expand in the years to come.
More and more independent films are being made in Wilmington, and that will also continue, drawing attention to Screen Gems, Cucalorus and our large, excellent crew base. All will help all.
GWBJ: What do you tell young students considering a career in movies/film studies?
LB: That it is fiercely competitive, requires initiative and persistence and that talent and luck play a role. I tell them they had better have a passion for what they choose to do, no matter what field it is in, or they will come to regret their decision.
We spend the best hours of the day and the best years of our lives working. As such, it had better count for something not only to them, but to the people and world we inhabit.
GWBJ: How has the film studies program at UNCW changed in your years at the school?
LB: Film studies didn’t even exist when I first arrived at UNCW.
Then, thanks to Frank Capra Jr., Dean Joann Seiple and founding chair Todd Berliner, we became a minor, an interdisciplinary major and finally a stand-alone department slated for national prominence.
As chair for almost two terms, and with the hard work of our faculty and the visionary support of associate dean David Webster, CAS [College of Arts and Sciences] dean David Cordle and chancellor Rosemary DePaolo, we had our own space on campus, a smart room and King Auditorium were technically outfitted. We acquired a second dedicated classroom, a 20-computer MAC-based editing room and a black box for filming.
The university has backed our requests for more hardware, including cameras, and new software to keep our students current in the field. Our faculty is from some of the best film schools in America and is a dedicated and delightful group who are making a name for themselves, film studies and UNCW with their scholarship, films and excellence in teaching.
Dave Monahan, the current chair, is a leading textbook scholar on film – and an award-winning filmmaker.
Moreover, he has the temperament, cordiality and attention to detail that will move us to the next level.
GWBJ: What work have you been involved in recently? What are some of the projects you are proudest of?
LB: I hope to bring to fruition some projects I have postponed because of the film studies chairmanship and some serious health challenges.
I have an award-winning, true screenplay about a fighter and one of my heroes who put honor ahead of the drive for money and glory and ended up being champion in two weight divisions and one of the most beloved fighters in boxing history.
[Recently deceased] Carmen Basilio was a personal friend, a hero, and it felt like being around my father being with him. The screenplay won 10 competitions and is titled “The Final Round.”
A book I completed, titled “Lincoln, His Sons and America,”
is under review. It takes a unique look at Abraham Lincoln as a father and how it influenced his decisions – and thus us all. My research has turned up the startling possibility that – to take one example – Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address may have had more to do with his 12-year-old Willie’s death in the White House than all the political machinations associated with that speech.
Finally, I am in the post-production [editing] phase of one of the most wonderful experiences in my life.
I am doing a documentary about Canastota, my small hometown in Central New York. I returned and filmed a reunion of our championship football team, and with it the character of the town, friendships that have endured and the teachers, coaches, teammates and friends who changed my life. I was the team’s quarterback.
I think what I’m most proud of is not my projects, but being a father, teacher and friend.
That’s how you get rich.