When Zeke Hawkins was growing up in Darien, his parents would take him and his brothers to the movies two or three times a week. These days, instead of reclining in a bucket seat with a handful of popcorn, he's sitting in a director's chair.
It wasn't an easy transition, but it's panned out for the Darien native, who was recently nominated for a Student Academy Award in the narrative category for his film "Equestrian Sexual Response."
The 19-minute long film follows an 11-year-old girl, Alice, as she comes of age on a horse farm in California. Her closest friend and confidante in the movie is her horse, Red. In the beginning of the film, Red is in love with another horse on the farm, Molly. One day Alice returns home from school to find that her father has hired a stud for Molly.
"After that, Red kept to himself. He wouldn't go anywhere near Molly, or my dad," Alice narrates. Alice makes plans to runaway with Red as she grapples with the reality of her own maturing body at the same time that her romantic world view is shattered by Molly's pregnancy.
"I think the idea started as sort of struggling with adolescence, going to Middlesex Middle School and some of the stuff in the movie is directly from my life," Hawkins said.
"It takes place in California, but it's just more sort of what it's like to sit on a bus and have everyone talk about sexual things, and have no idea what anyone's talking about. Trying to navigate that, and not being entirely comfortable," he said.
"I was really intrigued by the idea of this kind of a story," Hawkins said. "I just sort of assumed that coming of age is difficult for everyone, but for women especially. Their entire bodies change, and I thought it would be an interesting way to pursue it, to get outside of myself and try to understand things from other people's perspective."
He worked with a female screenwriter on the project.
"Once I had a basic idea for a story, I handed it over to her and had her give it a female voice," he said.
He started talking about the concept for the film in the early spring of 2008, and premiered the movie in January 2010, when he graduated from the American Film Institute.
Before going to film school, Hawkins graduated from Brown University and worked as a director's assistant on the set of "Capote" for a couple of years.
"This is the biggest film that I have directed by far," he said. "It feels good. I try not to think about it too much. I just try to move on to the next thing and hopefully keep getting better and make a living out of it."
He has a sketch in his head for his next project, which he said would theoretically take place in Darien.
"It's very, very loosely based on some experience with my mom. That starts off with a woman who's lost a child and starts taking care of these raccoons in her back yard," he said. Throughout the movie, the woman becomes a raccoon. "It's sort of like a female superhero movie meets the French new wave."
When he was growing up in Darien, Hawkins' mother fed raccoons in her backyard, but they were killed when a neighbor put out poison.
"My mom was so mad, and she was telling me about it and I got mad. And it was frustrating because there was nothing we could do. My mind started going a little crazy with how one could fight back," he said.
The film isn't set in stone yet, and Hawkins plans to spend the near future working on honing his craft, continuing to work with his brother, Simon, who served as the second unit director for "Equestrian Sexual Response," and -- he hopes -- picking up an Oscar on June 12.