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Alumnus builds budding independent film career

January 29, 2010
By Rebecca Howard

Brent Hoff, a Fort Collins native, graduated from Colorado State University in 1991. Now, he travels the world making independent films about "drunk bees, crying competitions, and illegal trans-border volleyball matches."

In "Wallyball," CSU alumnus Brent Hoff plays a game of volleyball over the wall that lines the U.S./Mexico border.

World’s most illegal volleyball game

Brent Hoff “played a lot of volleyball, made a lot of good friends” and got a bachelor of the arts degree in political science during his time at Colorado State University.

Years later, the Fort Collins native and CSU alumnus used the volleyball skills that he acquired in college to participate in what he refers to as an “illegal trans-border volleyball match,” a game that was later seen by millions on CNN.

In “Walleyball,” a short film directed by Hoff, he and his teammate play a game of volleyball with two Tijuanans using the San Diego/Tijuana border as a make-shift net. The video, originally filmed in 2006, was featured on “Christianne Ammanpour – The Power of the Interview” on Nov. 9, 2009 as part of the show’s commemoration of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“We were told we would likely be shot by insane anti-immigration vigilantes and/or be arrested for the felony crime of sending a volleyball across an international boundary without passing it through customs first,” Hoff said. “Luckily, with some smooth talking and surreptitious camera placement neither happened.”

From CSU graduate to filmmaker

For Hoff, the road to film making was a long, winding and seemingly random journey.

“After graduating, I did what everyone with a [political science degree] should do and moved to San Francisco to start a punk band,” Hoff said.

The band didn't last long, and from there, Hoff went through a series of jobs and projects that most would consider interesting, to say the least.

Hoff authored “Mapping Epidemics,” a book chronicling the history of disease epidemics, which was released in 2000. He worked as a producer and writer for The Daily Show from 1999 to 2000, in which he worked with actor and comedian Steve Carell. He also tried his hand at creating shows for networks VH1 and Nickelodeon. None of the shows took off, and Hoff was ready to move on to something different.

“I loved the people I was working with, but making fun of people isn’t very nice,” Hoff said regarding his time at The Daily Show.

Hoff, a CSU alumnus, is co-founder and editor of Wholphin DVD.

Wholphin DVD is born

In 2004, eager to get away from “mean TV” and into serious film making, Hoff co-founded Wholphin DVD with his friend, acclaimed author Dave Eggers.

Wholphin is a DVD quarterly anthology that releases short films and documentaries. Hoff currently serves as editor of Wholpin, and he also takes part in the creation of some of the original films it releases.

Wholphin may seem like an unusual name, but according to Hoff, that is the point. A wholphin is a rare animal that is a cross between a bottle-nosed dolphin and a false killer whale.

“[The animal] is real, amazing, slightly disturbing, and I think more people should know about it. The same could be said for the films on Wholphin,” Hoff said. “The word ‘wholphin’ is difficult to spell, hard to pronounce, and almost no one knows what it means. It is descriptively accurate for the types of films Wholphin strives to both make and release. We look for cinematic ‘wholphins.’”

This is especially true of some of the films Hoff is responsible for, including one that documents the scientific discovery of alcoholic bees and another that follows a crying competition, an event in which the first person to get a tear to hit the table wins.

Looking to the future

As for what’s next, Hoff recently sold two film scripts and continues to serve as the editor for Wholphin. He also recently attended the Sundance Film Festival in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he was a juror. For the most part, Hoff just plans to continue doing what he loves.

“I love traveling and meeting new human beings," Hoff said. "I love learning how seemingly different, yet how ultimately familiar it all is.”

And according to Hoff, anyone else can do the same.

“If you look at my career path on one hand, it is that of a bumbling, confused dilettante,” Hoff said. “On the other hand, it has been a hard-fought quest to do all kinds of incredibly fun things I am completely unqualified to do. I don’t know which is the more accurate description, but I do know it is not a fluke. If you want something bad enough and you put yourself in a position to at least have a shot at attaining it, and you’re nice, chances are you will get that shot.”