Fight club

Fight club

Recalling the exact moment when he was inspired to turn the hills and forests around Charlottesville into a blood-splattered battlefield, where armed horsemen, martial-arts madmen and men with laser guns hunt humans for sport, David Lee Stewart cracks a smile and chuckles, “I guess it started with a cave.”
    Rest easy, Buckingham County residents. All of the aforementioned characters are safely confined to the silver screen (Except maybe those martial-arts men. I’m pretty sure the trees around here are crawling with ninjas).
    Set to make its public debut at this year’s Blue Ridge-Southwest Virginia Vision Film Festival in Roanoke on April 20, Confinement is the latest feature length offering (following 2001’s Concealment) from Stewart, a UVA computer-support employee, amateur spelunker and budding independent filmmaker.
    “It was surreal and it was bizarre,” Stewart says of his first experience exploring the cave near the West Virginia border. “We’re crawling around with hard hats and flashlights way under the ground. [My friend] is walking around showing me all the cool things inside the cave and I’m secretly thinking, ‘How I could I use this in a movie?’”
    The location dovetailed perfectly with an idea that Stewart had been kicking around for years: a survival tale involving people being hunted in a battle arena (a la the ’30s horror classic The Most Dangerous Game). And so Confinement was born.
    Now—three years, one police encounter and countless gallons of costume blood later—Stewart finally has time to relax and reminisce, chuckling over the travails of amateur filmmaking. Shooting in his spare time, and with little or no budget, Stewart had to rely on family and friends in lieu of professional actors. This keep-it-in-the-family approach was not only cheap, but also allowed Stewart an opportunity for a little Freudian venting. “I even gave my mom a cameo,” he says with a devilish grin. “She got shot with an arrow in the head.”
    Despite budget restrictions, Stewart worked hard to achieve a high level of professionalism, meticulously choreographing the movie’s stunts and fight scenes (“We did full contact, except for face,” he says), and rendering the film’s polished special effects on his home computer. Of course, shooting on location without a permit—even in a cave—presents problems of its own. The production was interrupted several times—most memorably when local police and park rangers, sweeping the forest for weekend drunks, found Stewart and company toting realistic-looking prop rifles. The cops insisted that the “weapons” be put away, and the incident delayed shooting nearly three hours.
     But then, no one ever said that being the next Steven Spielberg (or even Roger Corman) would be easy. And Stewart certainly doesn’t plan to slow his march to splatter-film greatness any time soon: After Confinement finishes its festival rounds he’ll seek a distribution deal before moving on to his next project, Containment, which will also be shot in Charlottesville.

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