Iowa Filmmaker Nicolaas Bertelsen on working with James Franco and Yosemite

Iowa Filmmaker Nicolaas Bertelsen on working with James Franco and Yosemite

When Ames native and former Des Moines-based filmmaker Nicolaas Bertelsen presents Yosemite, a film he produced, Thursday night at Fleur Cinema, it will bring him full circle on a journey that began eight years ago when he left Iowa to further his filmmaking career in Los Angeles.

“I didn’t just go off to California to chase a dream and go broke,” he said. “I mean, I did all those things, but I did this too.”

Bertelsen – who calls himself a “set junkie” – earned an MFA in Film and TV Production from USC. One of his instructors, Veteran Producer John Watson, became a mentor to him while he was there. Soon after graduation, Watson began teaching a class with James Franco, which aimed to put students and recent grads to work on actual feature film projects. They tapped Bertelsen to produce.

The first such project was an anthology film called The Labyrinth, which Bertelsen likens to The Twilight Zone. Working on The Labyrinth also allowed Bertelsen to forge a relationship with Franco, who sought to produce a series of ambitious, ultra-low-budget features.

“James likes to take something that is almost impossible and then do it,” Bertelsen said.

One of those projects is Yosemite, which follows the overlapping stories of three young boys growing up in Palo Alto, CA., based in-part on short stories written by Franco. Some have likened the film to Stand By Me, but Bertelsen says it is a bit darker than that.

“There’s this sort of underlying sense of dread, like something is going to happen to one or all of them,” Bertelsen said. “Each is in danger that they don’t realize or only come to realize later. By the end of the story, they’ve started to figure out who their real friends are.”

The film screens one night only, 7:30pm Thursday, Feb. 4 at Fleur Cinema. Bertelsen will be there to introduce the film and answer questions afterward. Based on the success of the screening, Bertelsen – who has produced four films in the last five years – is optimistic that he will be able to bring more small, indie films to Des Moines.