Growing up in Montgomery, N.J., Dara Israel was never able to see herself doing anything but making films, an ambition that proved unpopular in a high school that did not place an emphasis on the arts. After Israel submitted an essay describing her career aspiration, a teacher wrote back, "That's nice, but what's your backup plan?"
Israel recalls writing scripts as early as age 6 or 7. Before she ever had a camcorder, she wrote scripts and played the role of director as her friends acted out the parts. She took her first film-production class at 13; once she got her first camcorder at 15, she began to flourish as an artist.
She attended two five-week summer programs at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where she honed her skills and built a portfolio. Revealing shades of doubt about her ability, she says her heart sank when she learned that the film program here admits only 20 students per year. She further explains the shock she felt once she had been accepted: "I wondered why they chose me. I thought it was a fluke." Now she welcomes critique, positive or negative. "I'm almost insulted if I don't receive criticism. There's always something to improve. It helps you grow as an artist; it makes you so much better." Her freshman year built her confidence; she can see the possibilities. "I feel like it's something I could actually do."
Larry O'Neill, a lecturer in the film program, agrees. "One thing that sticks out for me is that Dara is a creative risk-taker. She's smart and driven, but what sets her apart is a willingness to stick her neck out, rather than going for the idea that she's sure she can pull off. This is something you really love to see in a freshman. Her willingness to push herself creatively, coupled with her work ethic and talent, definitely makes her one of the students to watch."
Tim McCann, visiting assistant professor of film, adds, "Dara Isreal has demonstrated a hardcore work ethic in completing her ambitious and disturbing films, which open us into an ironic, nightmarish surreality."
Inspired by the uncompromising and unique styles of Quentin Tarantino and Todd Solondz, Israel hopes to become an independent filmmaker on the festival circuit. With her talent, drive, and passion, a "backup plan" seems unnecessary.