Service and art

Dwjuan Fox’s (IAA 87-89) journey from inner-city Detroit to the visual arts studios at Interlochen, then through film school, a six-year stint in the United States Army, and founding a film production company may seem improbable. But at each step along the way, Dwjuan has been guided by his commitment to two forces larger than himself: service and the arts.

As a child, Fox’s interest in visual arts enabled him to stay out of trouble. He grew up in Detroit at a time when, in his own words, “Drugs were coming into the city and gangs were starting to run rampant and I was prime to be recruited.” Then, one fateful day, he received two starkly divergent offers: first, a classmate invited Fox to work for him as a drug dealer, punctuating the offer by opening his trunk to reveal a silver case overflowing with money. Second, his parents handed him an Interlochen Arts Academy pamphlet. Fox reflects on this dichotomy, and how he without second thought chose to pursue his art and move from inner-city Detroit to the northern Michigan woods. “When I got to Interlochen, it was the merging of worlds. I’m this inner-city kid walking down the beautiful quiet nature-lined streets of Interlochen.” He found that at Interlochen, teachers and peers saw his potential for the first time: “It’s about having people give you the opportunity to show how intelligent you are, as opposed to assuming you don’t have the resources to be intelligent.”

After graduating from Interlochen, Fox decided to study film at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He viewed his transition from the visual arts to filmmaking as a natural progression. At Interlochen, he often made multi-pane woodcuts, and he viewed his paintings as societal statements. Moving to filmmaking provided him an opportunity, “To turn a single frame into multiple frames, and to tell a longer story with my art.”

After working for several years on film sets in nearly every possible production role, Fox made another dramatic transition, this one guided by a sense of service. In 1999, during the height of the Kosovo War, Fox enlisted in the United States Army. “I felt like there was a selfishness in me through all those years that an artist has to have,” he said. “But if your artwork is all about humanity and changing the world, I didn’t feel like I could sit by and leave the protection of these [victims of genocide] to people who are violent.”

Fox ultimately served his country for six years, from 1999 to 2005. After the Kosovo War, he served as a tank commander and platoon leader in the Republic of Korea, and near the end of his service, trained and tracked three brigades of soldiers deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom. He also taught Arabic language sensitivity to soldiers preparing to be deployed to Iraq, a strange experience for him since he barely spoke any Arabic. “I worked closely with a Kurdish woman whose family had been brought over to the U.S. in the early conflict, who was teaching Arabic in a college in Colorado,” he said. Together, they taught American soldiers the importance of cultural sensitivity when communicating with Iraqi civilians. The Army eventually incorporated Fox’s curriculum regionally.

When Fox made the difficult transition back to civilian life, he turned again to the arts as his anchor. “Among the people in the military there’s a brotherhood, there’s a caring, there’s a trust that didn’t exist outside the military,” said Fox. “The military rank stands so strong and tight together, and then you get into the civilian world and people don’t take care of each other, it’s every man for himself...They’re used to that brotherhood.” The adjustment to that lack of trust was one of the greatest challenges Fox himself faced. Luckily, the arts were there to help fill the void. “I came away from my time in the military more committed to my art,” Fox said. He quickly turned to producing, where he could guide a movie from concept to release.

Fox went on to offer advice for civilians on how to better assist and honor veterans as they navigate the difficult transition back to civilian life. “We should do more than just say thank you and honor [veterans],” he said. “We should find a way to truly help them, more than giving them a free meal....We should all look deeper and acknowledge all the issues, we should listen to all the voices, and find human solutions to the problems, not just financial, political or convenient solutions.”

Throughout his life, Fox has devoted himself to larger forces, particularly the arts and service to his country. His experience in the military changed his perspective on his art and the arts in general: both, he believes, are more important than ever. As for the arts more generally, Fox said, “In the current world, the arts are the only thing unifying people, with the ability to cross those political and racial boundaries and to communicate universal metaphors and language. We really need more artists.”

In fact, there is one additional force that looms large in Fox’s life, all these years later: Interlochen. “Interlochen was what let me know that the world was a beautiful place, that there are beautiful people in it, that humans can be driven by something deeper than financial gain,” he said. “You know, as artists, we can change the world, even one person at a time.”

Dwjuan is currently​ ​producing an action thriller called Radioflash in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. The film follows the journey of Reese (Brighton Sharbino), a precocious young teen used to the comforts of technology, who is forced to navigate lawless backroads with her father (Dominic Monaghan), in the hopes of finding safety with her grandfather, a former military spook-turned survivalist who has been preparing for a catastrophic event for years.