Old school camcorder footage of Demitrious Matus, BFA ’24, as a kid flashes across the screen. He is peering into the camera inquisitively, running through what he’s going to shoot next. “It all started with me wanting attention. I’ve been obsessed with documentation and recording my whole life,” Matus narrates in his short film, Manifesto.
“The visual medium is a language I feel I’m better at speaking in than literally talking,” he admits as the camera follows him enacting private daily rituals in an apartment, writing a script, and shooting friends.
While other parents limited screen time, growing up in Mesa, Arizona Matus’ dad took his three boys to the now extinct Blockbuster Video, let them pick out what they wanted, and then binge watch it as a family late into the night. “That was all we did,” he said simply.
It wasn’t long before Matus wanted to make his own movies too. A product of the YouTube vlog era he started all his videos from 2013 onwards with the predictable opening, “What’s up guys…”
That’s still how he opens many of his films, albeit now ironically and with the alter ego of Meech, the name and persona under which Matus directs and often appears in the vlog-based fake documentaries that have become his genre.
While Matus is restrained and cautious, Meech is crass, freewheeling, and a player. “He’s his own person. He’s a lot of things I fear being. I push that character to behave in extremes,” Matus admits, leaning back in his chair in an SMFA conference room, toying with the silver rings on his fingers. Meech confronts racial stereotypes of LatinX males in America as “the highly fertile invaders,” a notion that Matus studied in depth in Sarah Luna’s “Intro to Latinx Cultures course,” and which is probed in an uncomfortably powerful way through Meech’s performance in Meech from 8th. He’ll be working even more on this piece soon as a 2023 Tufts Summer Scholar.
Meech is seemingly real, blundering along in a documentary style vlog, building up narrative to the point that the viewer can’t ever fully discern whether they have viewed a performance or a reality tv episode. That’s Matus’ power as a filmmaker—and he has stepped into it at SMFA, as an undergraduate in the Bachelor of Fine Arts program.
Matus says, “I always knew that I wanted to leave Arizona.” As a rising junior in high school, he spent the summer at Princeton attending the Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America program which gives low-income, high-achieving students the resources and strategies to gain admission to top colleges. A college advisor there told Matus about SMFA and the school quickly moved into the #1 place on his college list.
He explains, “Other schools I toured focused on writing, but filmmaking had to happen outside of the curriculum. SMFA was different. I saw how it would allow me to take the skill set I’d built and cultivated and actually be able to use it and practice.”
At SMFA he’s been given the space to continue to work on documentary-style pieces but to also learn the methodology to make his first short films with fictional narratives. “What’s nice about this school is that the classes in filmmaking are mostly about production,” Matus said. His favorite part of SMFA is the way that students hand select faculty to sit on their review boards and offer detailed constructive criticism, support, and questions.
After spending the summer working long shifts at a Brazilian steakhouse so he could have the resources needed to make a film, Matus invited professor of the practice and Director of Graduate Studies Laurel Nakadate to participate on his review board. When the film finished rolling, Nakadate told him, “You're going to make this film, and then you're going to submit it to these festivals, and you're going to talk to these people’ and she just laid it out for me. I remember she told me, ‘You already have it. Just keep going with it.’”
That advice has really pushed Matus forward in his practice this academic year and given him the confidence to put himself out there now. He’s deep in the process of making a film in the genre he refers to as “a love movie,” and has titled Sueño Contigo, shooting photographic stills, laying out story boards, and scratching out stacks of 4x3 index cards for each scene. The project is anchored in professor of the practice Rachelle Mozman Solano’s “Dreams” class and Luis Arnias’ 16mm Black and White class. Matus shoots raw footage, then shuts in the SMFA editing suite for hours, splicing film rolls, then stitching them back together by hand.
All of the characters are played by other SMFA students, who heard about Matus pitching and asked to be part of the project. “We’re in a community of artists and everyone is excited about supporting each other,” he says, closing his laptop and heading back to the editing suite to keep working on his film.
Lead image by Alonso Nichols/Tufts University.