Making art where others see junk

"People would walk into my booth and they'd say, 'You call this art? This is just junk,'" James Koch says in "Sculptor of the Found Object."

The short documentary film based on artistic process of Koch, a regular at the Sawdust Art Festival, is showing during the Newport Beach Film Festival.

However, to director Carole Zavala, his art — made from reclaimed items — was anything but junk. As Koch's neighbor in Laguna Beach, Zavala would hear about his process while drinking coffee on his front porch.

In the film, Koch travels to junkyards in his hometown of Newald, Wis., and concocts fascinating pieces from items people never intended to use again.

In Koch's eye, a pitchfork is a rooster tail and a recliner frame would be perfect for a horse.

"A lot of my creative process happens right at the scrap yard," he says in the film. "Part of being a found object artist is having the eye to spot the art from scrap."

Zavala, 72, who has a background in education, had never made a film before. But she promised herself she'd take on the project after her 70th birthday.

"I grew up in Hollywood and always loved the movies," she said. "I said to [Koch], 'How would you feel if we did a short movie about you?' I said, 'I think this is it.'"

Zavala started making the film in 2009, grabbing her niece's camcorder and hitting the road with Koch. However, she needed a hand with editing.

Maryanne Kuzara, another Laguna local, heard about the project through a friend. Initially she was going to show Zavala how to use editing programs, but then they asked her if she would come on board.

"Once I met James, I just fell in love with him. I was so smitten with his talent and personality," Kuzara said. "His art is spectacular."

No stranger to the screen, Kuzara is Emmy-nominated for her work as a video editor for ABC, CBS and KCAL.

Although a short documentary might not add a lot to her résumé, it was a special project.

"After all the work I've done, I've never seen any of my work on the big screen," she said.

Since the film wrapped in the summer of 2009, she had the chance to see it in Laguna Beach at the Sawdust Art Festival and then again in 2010 during Laguna Art Museum's OsCene.

During the latter they met Dennis Baker, who is in charge of documentary shorts for the Newport Beach Film Festival. He urged Zavala to enter the film in the festival.

On Monday their film will show at Triangle Square in Costa Mesa.

"This is kind of like the crowning moment, being in the Newport Beach Film Festival," she said.

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If You Go

What: "James Koch: Sculptor of the Found Object"

Where: Starlight Triangle Square Cinemas, 1870 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa

When: 8:30 p.m. Monday

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