2001: A Stupid Odyssey

By Jonathan Kopeliovich

It was the first day of my high school film class when we were asked the question:

What film inspired you to get behind the camera?”

Mr. Day, a kind-heart­ed hip­pie and com­pos­er of Indi­an music and clas­si­cal jazz, had gath­ered the 13 of us in a claus­tro­pho­bic brick room with one win­dow and Dell mon­i­tors rest­ing on two tables that boxed us in. 

2001: A Space Odyssey,” I answered. 

His eyes twin­kled. Lat­er, he rec­om­mend­ed “Koy­aanisqat­si” to me. IMDB described it as “a col­lec­tion of expert­ly pho­tographed phe­nom­e­na with no con­ven­tion­al plot.” God, not this. 

I had lied about my inter­est in this kind of stuff. “2001” wasn’t my favorite film. That was bull­shit. It was “Dumb and Dumb­er.” I told him I looked for­ward to watch­ing “Koy­aanisqat­si,” lying once again. He looked so proud.

The bel­ly laughs rang through the small two-bed­room apart­ment. My dad and I gasped for air on our fad­ed yel­low couch when from our small TV, a bowl-haired idiot sit­ting in a truck out­fit­ted with the fur of a Gold­en Retriev­er asked his irri­tat­ed road trip bud­dy, Joe, the ques­tion that inspired me to become an artist. 

Hey! You wan­na hear the most annoy­ing sound in the world?”

The don­key bray that came out of the idiot’s mouth sent me onto the floor. I rolled to and fro as my frizzy-haired mom stared at us, her face con­tort­ed into a scowl.


I was 12, and I was hooked on Jim Car­rey films after that. In “Ace Ven­tu­ra 2,” he has to crawl out of an ani­ma­tron­ic rhi­no’s anus due to the swel­ter­ing humid­i­ty in the jun­gle. Moments like these are my ori­gin sto­ry, and I couldn’t deny them. And for most of my life, I didn’t try to. 

It was ninth grade. I was sup­posed to present the sto­ry of Job. I hand drew every frame of the para­ble in a film, and depict­ed God as a big hap­py face in a cloud. 

In tenth grade, my friend and I remade a scene from the film “Apoc­a­lypse Now” for extra cred­it in our World His­to­ry class. To play the role of assas­sin Capt. Ben­jamin L. Willard, I donned green face paint, swung a knife around and at one point, licked the ground to track my tar­get. It was absurd and years lat­er, a view­er said they thought that I was Shrek. 

An ama­teur assas­sin roams around a back­yard, search­ing for trails of his ene­my. (Film by author, Jonathan Kopeliovich.)

That same year, “2001: A Space Odyssey” was show­ing at the Cin­era­ma Dome in Los Ange­les for its 50th anniver­sary. You walk in and the first thing you see is a three-pro­jec­tor screen that curves 142 degrees around you. The black alien mono­lith in the film accom­pa­nied by ethe­re­al chants boom­ing through my ears still haunts me to this day and the exis­ten­tial ter­ror that I felt lingered. 

The next year, I enrolled in a com­mu­ni­ty col­lege cin­e­matog­ra­phy class. I felt dwarfed the sec­ond I walked into the film stu­dio for the first day. Rol­lie chairs were arranged around a white­board oppo­site a green screen that stretched to the ceil­ing. I couldn’t hold back the squeals as I saw the sil­ver dol­ly out­fit­ted with a black cam­era and gimbal.

As the 6‑hour class start­ed and every­one went around intro­duc­ing them­selves, a feel­ing of dread replaced the excite­ment cours­ing through my veins. To the right of me was a music video direc­tor and chore­o­g­ra­ph­er. To my left was a stand-up come­di­an. I was the youngest per­son there. What did I have to show for my efforts? I’d made a hand­ful of ama­teur films and was an extra with a few lines in a com­mu­ni­ty the­ater play.

I tight­ened my black hood­ie, closed my legs and sunk into my chair. A knot of self-inse­cu­ri­ty formed in my stom­ach. That  feel­ing led to the cre­ation of my first film, Void, where the main character’s face is scratched out in every frame.

Then COVID hit. I did­n’t touch grass for months and took shel­ter in my small room, sink­ing hun­dreds of hours into video games. My next film, “Meta­mor­pho­sis,” was about cli­mate change and nuclear holocausts.

Then there were col­lege accep­tances. My fam­i­ly jumped for joy when I got accept­ed into UConn, but what kind of film edu­ca­tion await­ed me at Zoom University?

After three semes­ters at UConn of being too tired to put on clothes, or to crawl the three feet to my lap­top for online class­es, in-per­son class­es were back.

I walked into the col­lege’s film stu­dio for the first time with the rest of my class­mates, prepar­ing for the goose­bumps. But it was a quar­ter of the size of the com­mu­ni­ty col­lege stu­dio. I tight­ened my jack­et and sunk into my seat, shiv­er­ing from the AC. The cin­e­matog­ra­phy pro­fes­sor went through the syl­labus with us. 

Light Study.” “Visu­al Poem.” “Ten on 10s.” I rolled my eyes. Not one pro­fes­sor in our depart­ment had made a com­e­dy. There was no fun­ny media in the curriculum.

I hob­bled into the Werth dorm laun­dry room, turn­ing over bins and stop­ping dri­er cycles to look for the only jack­et I had to brave the sub­ze­ro tem­per­a­tures in November. 


Peo­ple turned and stared at me. I dashed up the stairs to ask reception.

No, sor­ry,” they said quietly.


I took to UCon­n’s sub­red­dit and my fin­gers flew across the keys. Right before I post­ed about the miss­ing jack­et, sev­er­al posts con­cern­ing stolen laun­dry flashed at the bot­tom of the page. 

I opened a blank page and imme­di­ate­ly start­ed list­ing ideas. Could I make this into a pos­i­tive? That man­i­fest­ed into my final project for that class, “Dirty Laundry.” 

It was an over­cast and windy Sat­ur­day. It was a chilly 45 degrees as my friend and I rushed to Horse­barn Hill after five hours of film­ing scenes for “Dirty Laun­dry.”  In it, a stu­dent detec­tive tries to track down his stolen laun­dry, which he finds dumped in Mir­ror Lake.

But this was the final show­down. Andre, the actor por­tray­ing the detec­tive, stum­bled drunk­en­ly into the shot. The cam­era framed Andre Cede­no-Melen­dez and Brook­lyn Green, the thief, like a West­ern against an over­cast sky. 

Brook­lyn Green and Andre Cede­no-Melen­dez pose for the cam­era on top of Horse­barn Hill in the author’s film. (Jonathan Kopeliovich/UConn Journalism)

And to play the drunk­en fool, I told him to “act like Jim Carrey.” 

When I showed it in class, my class­mates could not stop chuck­ling and snorting. 

I’d spent years wor­ried about whether my film inter­ests were seri­ous enough. With their laughs, I felt that inse­cu­ri­ty lift from my shoul­ders like a weight.