Alex Disenhof – From Salem to Sundance

February 7, 2014

by Laurie Jasper

“Storytellers broaden our minds: engage, provoke, inspire, and ultimately, connect us.”  This is a quote from actor-director-producer Robert Redford, the president and founder of The Sundance Institute.  For almost 30 years, the Institute has hosted the Sundance Film Festival for two weeks each January in and around Park City, Utah, where independent artists from around the world showcase their talents.  This year, Salem High School graduate Alex Disenhof attended the prestigious festival for the premiere of the movie Fishing Without Nets.  Alex worked as cinematographer on the film, his first collaboration with writer/director Cutter Hodierne.

Alex remembers that his late grandfather, Lester Disenhof, loved to take pictures.  “I think I got my interest from him, he was an avid photographer, he even had his own dark room,” recalled Alex.  “I got my first camera in middle school, when I was about 13 years old.  I started out doing little movies on my own, and with my cousins and my friends.  I always liked making images,” recalled Alex.  “In high school, I was in the TV Production Program with Mr. McCue, and he chose me to be a producer.  Mr. McCue told me my senior year that I was going to be a cinematographer, but I really didn’t know too much about that.  I wanted to direct,” Alex said.

Martin McCue recalled, “Alex was a very bright, serious, and committed student in my TV Production One and Two classes.  It was clear very early on that Alex was extremely creative, and had an ‘eye’ for shooting scenes for video projects.  For that reason, I appointed him co-producer of the 2005 video yearbook, The Devvy Awards.  Alex was an awesome producer, but was an even better videographer.  Last year, he visited my classes and shared his experiences and advice with them.  They were riveted to every word.  Alex is a special combination of talent and character, and I’m sure there will be many more films from him in the future the quality of Fishing Without Nets.”

Alex and his twin sister, Corinne, were both members of Salem High’s marching band.  Alex played trumpet, Corinne played flute and each were section leaders.

After graduating from Salem High School in 2005, Alex enrolled at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts.  “I realized in college that I was always interested in the image, camera images and lighting, and how people made things look a certain way in films.  Mr. McCue was right; I wanted to be a cinematographer.”

Alex graduated from Emerson College in 2009 with a Bachelor of Arts in Film, spending his senior year at the college’s film internship program in Los Angeles.  “I knew what I wanted to do, and knew I had to go out to California,” Alex said.  Alex has received recognition for his work on commercials, music videos and feature films.  “My first feature film, right out of college, Funeral Kings, premiered at the South By South West (SXSW) Film Festival in 2011.  We had a small budget,” recalled Alex.  That film may be seen on Netflix.

Soon after, Alex worked with Oscar winning director Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) to shoot The We and The I.

Alex was fortunate to attend the 2012 Cannes Film Festival in 2012, at which that movie was the Director’s Fortnight opening night film.

Alex’s most recent film, Fishing Without Nets, was filmed on location in Kenya.  In fact, much of the film takes place on an oil tanker in the Indian Ocean.  “It was tough but amazing, every day we would go on boats to reach the oil tanker.  We were in Africa for three and a half months and then back for another two and a half months,” Alex said.  “The film tells the story of Somali pirates from the pirate’s perspective.  Since the film is a Somali language film (with English subtitles), language was a unique challenge.  We had to trust our translators and use our instincts.  I had to improvise a lot in the filming, trying to identify through body language and anticipate where to go with my camera next.  Finding the action – learning how to do that, was a constant experience,” Alex continued.  Shooting 30 miles out on the rough seas also was a challenge, especially balancing a camera on his shoulder.

Cutter Hodierne’s Fishing Without Nets won Sundance’s 2014 U.S. Dramatic Directing Award.  Alex said, “We were very fortunate to be selected for Sundance.”  The film and Alex have garnered much positive recognition and reviews.  Variety stated, “All tech and design aspects here are first-rate … cinematography by Alex Disenhof … makes excellent use of the widescreen format, both on land (the pic was shot in Kenya) and at sea.”

Sundance Institute wrote,” (The film) … combines the epic cinematic vision of a glorious action thriller with the intimate, textured qualities of an art film.”  Studio System News (SSN) penned, “The Sundance Film Festival is known as a launchpad for up and coming talent.”  SSN went on to recognize ten talents who caught their attention this year, and Alex Disenhof is one of them.  Said SSN, “Hodierne’s film holds its own as a visceral, beautifully shot story made over 77 days off the coast of Kenya.”

Back in Salem, New Hampshire, Alex’s parents, Larry and Gigi Disenhof, are very proud of their son.  “The whole family is extremely proud of the hard work Alex has devoted to his career in order to get to this point.  Having Fishing Without Nets accepted into Sundance Film Festival is a dream come true for him.  We’re delighted to see such success in this job that he loves.  Making the film itself was a real adventure for the whole crew, since they spent a total of six months in Kenya working with Somali refugees and local Kenyans in their villages near Mombasa,” shared Gigi.

Alex is grateful to his family for all the support.  “I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing without my parents’ and my sister Corinne’s support.  They have always been so supportive of everything I’ve ever done, and encouraged me to be the best I can be.  I love knowing I have support back home.  I still consider ‘going home’ is to New Hampshire, even though I now live in L.A.,” said Alex.

Alex’s advice to young people, “Always follow the things you love to do.  The more you do, the more you’ll find out what your interests are; pursue them without fear.  A lot of people aren’t brave enough to follow their dreams.”

Currently, Alex is working on commercials and reviewing scripts in search of his next film.

Author’s note:  I am proud to be Alex Disenhof’s cousin.