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Danville Native's Obsession with the Undead Comes to Life

Filmmaker Brandon Hunt makes his directorial debut with zombie flick, "The Duty of Living."

It can't be often Danville cops have to respond to calls of soldiers running through town armed with M-16s.

But that's exactly what happened twice in one day last September.

The man responsible? Twenty-seven-year-old Danville native Brandon Hunt, a filmmaker with an admitted obsession with zombies, comics and campy horror flicks. The army guys invading the quiet streets off Diablo Road near Ackerman Drive were actors in his debut living-dead movie, "The Duty of Living."

Lesson learned, he said: "Next time I'll warn police ahead of time."

Hunt—whose right arm is inked up with comic-book-style zombie silhouettes— has dabbled in cinema since he first laid hands on his parents' Panasonic camcorder as a 14-year-old. What his folks used to memorialize family vacations, Hunt put to work shooting action shorts starring friends and siblings, and spent a good part of his time behind the lens or dreaming up plots. After graduating from San Ramon Valley High School, he went to film school at San Francisco State University.

Since graduating six years ago, he kept his passion more of a hobby, taking up various day jobs to pay the bills. Sick of the grind, he quit his job at a chain bookstore last spring, and decided to commit to making a movie. A zombie movie. But not a cheesy "Night of the Living Dead" remake, he said.

"I wanted this one to be more serious," said Hunt, who authored the screenplay and enlisted a mix of family, friends and volunteer cast and crew to translate it to film. "I wanted it to have a little more depth."

The result is a warmly lit, moody sketch about a soldier—Darren Stark—forced to make a couple of heart-wrenching decisions after corpses up and walk the earth in what amounts to a zombie apocalypse, gorging on the flesh of the living, including that of the protagonist's family.

"I love the story," said Edward Hightower, one of the soldier actors, about the 20-minute film. "The fact that there's actual human relationships at stake in a zombie movie is, frankly, unusual."

The actors featured in the film were hardly the only ones who enjoyed the piece. "The Duty of Living" premiered locally at the Bay Area showcase of the California Independent Film Festival in April to an enthusiastic reception, Hunt said.

"Well, there were friends and family there, but still, even people who didn't know us loved it," he said.

The next step is to garner more of an audience for the film. Hunt submitted the movie—his directorial debut—to several horror film festivals, including the Action on Film International Film Festival in Los Angeles and the Sacramento, Chicago, Ohio and Eerie horror film festivals. Most of them take place later this year, so he's waiting to hear about whether they'll show his film.

Whether or not it's accepted, Hunt said he feels accomplished. What he created was a synthesis of the art and genre he loves most. He worked with childhood pals and forged new friendships. He even managed to recruit a big-screen talent with credits in "The Day the Earth Stood Still" and "Alien vs. Predator" to play the film's lead role—Canadian actor Juan Riedinger—for the price of a plane ticket and the promise of free room and board.

"He never seemed to have an ego about things," Riedinger said about Hunt in an e-mail. "(He) was always open to the suggestions and ideas of others, while maintaining his own vision for the project."

And his infatuation with things undead?

"His passion for zombies is also something I had never seen up to that point," Riedinger added.

Though his next film will probably include blood, gore and plenty of action, it's not slated to be another zombie film, Hunt said. He plans to pen a script for a feature-length sci-fi horror movie, now that he has "Duty" under his belt.

But first, he owes a sort of apology to the local authorities.

"I plan to go down to the police station and give them some copies of the DVD," he joked.

And with it, a friendly note: "Thanks for not arresting me."

At a glance
Check out the trailer for "The Duty of Living" at www.thedutyofliving.com.

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