From high school to high art

Many 18-year-olds coming out of high school find themselves faced with the difficult decision of what to do next. Many choose to go to school, some choose to travel and others choose to start working. Kurtis David Harder chose to take a slightly different route: he wrote and directed a movie.

Now 20, the Calgarian has found that this choice has paid off. Harder’s first feature-length film, Cody Fitz, was featured in the Calgary International Film Festival, where he was nominated for the Discovery Award for best upcoming director. The film tells the story of a young man named Cody Fitz, whose suicidal depression causes him to drift away from the people he cares about, blinding himself to his friends’ problems and cries for help. Cody Fitz deals with topics that hit close to home for many people — Harder included.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the idea that you don’t really know the people around you,” says Harder. “I had a friend take his own life. I thought I knew who he was, though I guess I really didn’t.”

While he was already planning to make a film at the time of his friend’s death, Harder says that the experience is what caused him to take Cody Fitz in the direction he did.

“After it happened, I knew that I had to make a film about it,” explains Harder. “I kind of knew what the film was going to be before [the suicide], but that really defined it.” 

While making a film directly out of high school was certainly an admirable goal, Harder says that his age initially made it difficult to gather support. However, his dedication to the project quickly convinced his colleagues that he is a force to be reckoned with.

“When you’re fresh out of high school and people just know you as this camera guy who helps out on sets, it’s hard to get people to trust you,” says Harder. “But once we got into our first fews days of shooting and people saw we weren’t messing around, people began to say ‘Hey, maybe they know what they’re doing.’ ”

Harder also explains that many of the actors who were initially wary about Cody Fitz were assured of the film’s merit after they read the script, which was written entirely by Harder.

“People were nervous when I approached them at first, but they read the script and that is what sold them on it,” says Harder. “Because I had never shot anything at that scale before, it was hard to immediately get people involved. It really helped that we were trying to say something with this movie.”

Despite making the film at such a young age, Harder didn’t suffer from a lack of experience — he had worked on music videos, shot short films and had helped out as a camera assistant on other sets in Calgary. 

“Coming from a camera assistant and editing background helped me a lot, just because I knew about the technical side of things — and watching a lot of movies also really helped,” says Harder. “I did a lot of research as well, since I spent middle school and high school pretty much knowing I was going to do a feature straight out of high school.”

Cody Fitz is currently being shown at festivals across Canada and the United States and has helped rocket Harder towards a promising career in film. He is already working on his next feature, which he says will be a much-needed departure from the serious tone of his directorial debut.

“It was originally the feature I wanted to shoot first, but it has really evolved since then,” says Harder. “It’s still coalescing and it’s not quite there yet, but it will be a fun film. I don’t really want to be known as this indie, depressed director.”


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