Kyrene del Norte alum hits ‘cloud nine’ with Best Short Film award at festival

Jacob Orta (left) and Juan Cota-Ysaguirre in “Nice Shirt,” a short film by Johnny Ysaguirre, a Kyrene del Norte alum.


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“Nice shirt.” So says a passerby to a guy in a park.

It’s just a passing compliment to a stranger, but it sets off a strong reaction in its recipient. The guy in the purportedly nice shirt is having a bad day, and the shirt somehow represents the frustrations in his life. He angrily pours his heart out to the passerby.

This is the plot of the aptly titled “Nice Shirt,” a short film made in Tempe that premiered recently at this year’s Nov. 12-22 pandemic-delayed edition of Phoenix Film Festival, which was slated for March.

“It’s a micro short,” said Johnny Ysaguirre, the Kyrene del Norte alum and writer-director of the 2-minute opus.

As the film is still on the festival circuit and not available to view, this synopsis is based on the 34-year-old filmmaker’s description.

Jacob Orta in “Nice Shirt.”

“It was one of seven selections in the Native American Directed Shorts. We shot it in June of 2019,” said Ysaguirre, who is of Yaqui heritage. “We shot it at Kyrene del Norte, at Redden Park. There was a bench there that’s perfect. Then we edited through the summer, and it was accepted by Phoenix Film Festival.”

Ysaguirre grew up watching Spike Lee films. Lee’s deliberately provocative style was an influence.

“So having a character ask challenging questions, and another character not get it, that’s the bar I wanted to set,” Ysaguirre said. “Films should entertain and make you think. I wanted this one to make you think first, and entertain second.”

This approach apparently worked for the Phoenix Film Festival crowd. Despite the masks and social distancing at the festival, the film was well received.

“I still haven’t come down from cloud nine,” Ysaguirre said.

An even bigger thrill awaited the filmmaker at the end of the festival. “Nice Shirt” won the Donor’s Choice Award for Best Short Film, alongside “Planet George,” which won for Showcase Feature, and “Max Winslow and the House of Secrets,” which won in competition feature.

“That was another cloud nine,” Ysaguirre said.

Ysaguirre also counts music among his creative pursuits.

He makes music on his phone, and uploads it to his computer for post-production.

“I financed the movie on the proceeds from my music,” he said.

Ysaguirre credits a Kyrene del Norte teacher Richard Moffet among his sources of creative spirit.

“Mr. Moffet, that’s my guy. I love Mr. Moffet,” Ysaguirre said, fondly. “He was my teacher in third, fourth and fifth grade.”

How’s that again?

“He was our teacher in third grade, then he moved up to fourth grade with us. Then he wrote a letter saying, ‘I love these kids, I think if we had one more year together we could really do some great things.’”

Among these great things, according to Ysaguirre, was venturing out into the world together.

“We went to ASU on the public bus. We went to Gammage,” Ysaguirre said.

These free-spirited excursions were formative to Ysaguirre, who has written a feature film script, as yet unproduced.

“Mr. Moffet is a cornerstone for what I do.”



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