But when conversation turns technical, his eyes light up behind his thick-framed glasses. Because even as he was working on Lost Division, a film that explores the psychological toll of war, he got to play with some pretty sweet toys. Hood River's Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum lent Davee jeeps, armored cars and even Piper L-4 Grasshoppers, surveillance planes he took into the sky for aerial shots, captured for authenticity on old-school combat cameras.
"I got to go three times and just stick my head out the window," says Davee, 42. "I wrote it into the screenplay, so the fact that I was able to film it blew my mind. It was kind of the highlight of my year."
Now in post-production, Lost Division centers on three men—a chaplain, a wounded soldier and a traumatized cameraman—pushed to the breaking point. Davee says he felt inspired to write the film after coming across WWII diaries by chaplains and learning that, along with providing spiritual guidance, they were responsible for disposing of the dead.
"The chaplain was expected to be a counselor, to process trauma and listen to the deepest confessions," Davee says. "At the same time, a big part of their job was to bury corpses. Over and over again. So then I became interested in the idea of a chaplain going AWOL."
Like Davee's debut, the fact-based, Oregon-set cult creeper How the Fire Fell, Lost Division relies on dark imagery, old-school cinematography and natural landscapes while keeping dialogue to a minimum. In Lost Division, the cameraman records the men's journey on a hand-held, 1940s Bell & Howell Filmo 70 combat camera. That documentary-style footage provides a hyperrealistic contrast to the artfully washed-out Super 16 footage that makes up the rest of the film. But it's not just about stylistic nuance: The first-person footage also places the audience in the jackboots of the character.
"I was interested in the idea of this cameraman obsessing over his duties, so there's kind of a film-within-the-film thing," says Davee, whose love of cinema was birthed as a teen working at a Corvallis video store and watching old Buster Keaton and Akira Kurosawa films. "One of the best compliments I got is that it looks like long-lost war footage."
Amid racing toward a Sundance submission deadline, Davee also found time to co-found a film collective, Great Notion, with fellow filmmakers Dicky Dahl, Brian Padian and Scott Ballard. The goal? Getting their films seen.
"It's a place where we can combine our resources and hopefully, down the road, become a resource center, and start a seasonal nonprofit series of film classes," Davee says. "It made sense to pull together and cross-promote and create a common brand."
Davee says the collective is instrumental in an increasingly cutthroat filmmaking world.
"There's a lot more competition now," he says. "The dream of getting a $1 million check at Sundance is dead. The unofficial motto of the collective is 'always forward, never back.' We toast each other to that, to encourage each other to take it to the next level."