When it came time to make his debut feature, Dallas native Leo Nussenzveig created his own homecoming. Currently a master’s student at the University of Southern California, the filmmaker returned to his roots for The Doldrums, a drama loosely based on his own upbringing that will screen twice during the Dallas International Film Festival.
The low-budget film deals with familiar themes about masculinity, peer pressure, and arrested development as friends grow up and grow apart over the years, but with a distinctly Dallas flavor. The backdrops include local landmarks, particularly from the Lakewood neighborhood.
“There’s something about filming in a place I already knew so well,” Nussenzveig said. “It is a love letter to the city. Dallas is this inspirational place that I remember fondly. It always begs you to come back and reassess it. There’s a great vibe.”
With attitude to spare, Nussenzveig’s screenplay takes place over the course of a few years, revolving around a tight-knit trio of friends who gather to indulge in mischief and substances. But as they mature, one of them decides to break the cycle and risk the relationship.
“There’s some real tragic aspects to that kind of lifestyle,” he said. “A lot of times it’s a coping mechanism, where people can take out their anxiety and stress through drugs and alcohol. That follows them through the years.”
Nussenzveig’s original idea, when he was in film school, was to launch a web series about the party scene in Dallas. But that never materialized.
“My friends were more partiers than I was. I would interview them about different things that happened to them, and I collected these interviews over time,” he said. “As I grew older, I still had this idea in the back of my mind and didn’t know what to do with it.”
The Doldrums was filmed during the summer of 2019 and finished about a year later. It’s been shown online as part of a few festivals since then, but the DIFF screening will be the first in a theater.
“Authenticity was the main driving force. A lot of the locations is where stuff actually took place,” Nussenzveig said. “Having a memory or a story associated with those places, you can sort of retrace the steps from reality.”
Some of his former classmates might recognize versions of themselves on screen. However, Nussenzveig hopes the characters resonate across geographical boundaries.
“Everyone has their own speed. For some people, growing up takes time,” he said. “It’s important to start these new chapters in life. There’s always time for a rebirth in your life. They will figure it out.”
The Doldrums plays on Tuesday at 7 p.m. and Wednesday at 10:15 p.m. DIFF runs through May 5, with most of the screenings at the Violet Crown in West Village.