Forever young

A gentleman dressed in a stylish lounge suit and trousers awkwardly steps up to a phonograph and places a record — Music for Sleeping Spirits — onto the machine. As a Chopin prelude begins to softly flow from the brass bell, the man’s head opens and his soul is released. Now on a journey across the sky, the man and his soul float, dance, and sommersault through years of history before realizing they can no longer transcend time.

This is Portrait — one of the last animated films Josiah Miles Neundorf created. A San Antonio filmmaker, Josiah passed away in 2006 after a battle with Osteosarcoma, a cancer of the bone. He was only 20 years old.

Portrait is a film about the spirit that lives within,” Josiah’s father, Marcus, said. “It goes through the life of a man from birth to death.”

On July 12, which would have marked Josiah’s 22nd birthday, URBAN-15 will host a three-day festival in honor of their lost son and in appreciation of the many young filmmakers like Josiah who have dedicated part of their lives to media arts. Every filmmaker featured at the festival is under 20.

URBAN-15 had their work cut out for them over the past month, choosing from among 86 entries from across the U.S. Winners have been selected in a number of categories, including narrative, documentary, and experimental films. During the festival, examples of Josiah’s work will also be shown, including Portrait, which will commence each evening.

“This film is very powerful, especially if you knew what he knew at that time,” Marcus said. “He was a young man who had the knowledge of an old man. He understood mortality. He wanted to share that arc of life with everyone.”

The Neundorf family learned that Josiah had cancer three weeks before he graduated from the Northeast School of the Arts. Josiah had already been invited to the Sundance Film Festival for his film El Tentación de San Tomás (The Temptation of Saint Thomas), a morality play pitting a Mexican immigrant against the devil in a game of cards. Josiah had set the standard for his fellow student artists.

“Josiah was a very abstract and poetic filmmaker,” said George Cisneros, music and media director at URBAN-15. “His work is very mystical and highly experimental.”

After a year of chemotherapy, Josiah went into remission and was able to take partial advantage of a full scholarship he had received prior to his therapy. He attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston for a year before returning home and finding that his cancer had returned.

Following his death in March 2006, Josiah’s parents held a memorial film viewing session in lieu of a funeral for their son, so family and friends could remember and celebrate his talent.

“We didn’t want a funeral,” Marcus said. “A funeral for a 20-year-old didn’t seem right somehow.”

Just over a year after Josiah’s death, his parents have taken the next step by creating an encouraging environment where young filmmakers can learn from each other.

“I think it’s wonderful that kids who really have an interest in the film industry … are given the chances to learn the techniques needed to get their ideas across,” Josiah said of his invitation to Sundance in a 2002 interview with “I hope to continue in the field for as long as I can.” 

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