Nik Nerburn is a Featured Artist for the 2017 Altered Esthetics Film Festival.
You can catch Nik's work twice during the Film Fest: 13 Roads in Otter Tail County will screen June 1 at 7:30PM and Prairie Dreamers will screen June 3 at 7:30 PM. Nik will introduce the film with Springboard for the Arts Executive Director Laura Zabel.
We are excited to host two of your most recent films at Altered Esthetics’ 4th Film Festival. Can you tell us a bit more about them?
“13 Roads in Otter Tail County” is an experimental film that is just that - I filmed 13 different roads in one of my favorite counties in the state, all from the exact same perspective, and cut 10 second shots of each of them together. The result is a film that really just celebrates the road as an object of contemplation. Either driving, walking or biking, I’ve always found the rural road to be a great contemplative tool, maybe in the same way some people like to walk through a labyrinth in an english garden. It’s also about celebrating the deliciously boring cinematography of Peter Hutton, whose work exerts a powerful pull on me. He died the summer I was making this film, and there were some filmmakers who were shooting a roll of black and white 16mm in his honor, calling the project “A Roll For Peter”. I didn’t get my act together soon enough to participate, so this was my little contribution to his memorial in the artist-made film world.
“Prairie Dreamers” is pretty different, both subject-wise and stylistically. It’s an irreverent little film about an organization called Springboard for the Arts and what they’ve been doing in a town in west-central Minnesota called Fergus Falls. I lived in Fergus for a month, documenting a period of transition where they moved into their new office. Springboard is known for helping artists get their financial and legal houses in order, but their work in Fergus also revolves around something called creative placemaking. Creative placemaking can look like a lot of different things, but I’ve described it as ‘taking a place people don’t want to be and making it a place they do’. In Fergus, much of that revolves around an old state hospital building that looms on the edge of town. But their whole spectrum of rural life is also being reimagined. That’s what the film explores.
Prairie Dreamers documentary style experiments with a first-person approach. Why insert yourself into the film?
That’s interesting to hear you say that - I think of this film as more of a ‘conventional’ documentary! But maybe I can’t help taking a first person approach. I was taught in the artist-made film tradition; essay, diary, first-person, personal ethnography, performance, collage, etc. I feel empowered by the work of filmmakers who insert themselves into the frame. Ross McElwee, Agnes Varda, Chris Marker, Guy Maddin, Trin T Minh Ha - it’s artists like this that I hold close. I guess I see it as being more honest, somehow. It challenges the “voice of god” documentary approach, which has a negatively charged history, of course. Seeing the filmmaker’s process opens up a delightful psychic territory, one where digressions, stories, fuzzy memories and family archives can be “as important” as the authoritative maps, graphs and talking heads that most documentaries employ.
When did you first start making moving image and documentary work? What is it about this medium that attracts you most to it?
I was very lucky in that my parents strongly supported me. My dad is a writer and my mom taught journalism for 25 years, so I was exposed early-on to great stories and a passion for storytelling. My dad also let me play with the video camera on family trips, which I think gave me a lifelong interest in home movies. My mom showed me a few classic social justice documentaries as a very young boy, and those had a big impact on me, especially Roger and Me by Michael Moore.
I’m also a product of the Perpich Center for Arts Education, one of Minnesota’s most remarkable arts institutions. It’s an arts based public boarding school for 11th and 12th grades. I continue to mine the ideas and relationships that I was exposed to at that school. Rudy Perpich started it back in 1989, I believe. Every couple of years, some killjoy state legislators try to shut it down, but it never happens. And if Perpich alum have anything to do with it, it never will! Shout out to my media arts teacher Nancy Norwood, now Nancy Bundy.
But back to your question - what is it about the medium that attracts me? I just love the process. Living inside a story or subject for such a long time feels good. I get very interested in certain things, and I can use the filmmaking as an excuse to dig deep.
Do you have a certain process to your work?
The shooting process is my favorite. I’m a believer in play, constructed situations, and archives. Experimental isn’t exactly the right word, but it’s close. I often think about one of my favorite photographers, Alec Soth, and his process of visualization. Doze off on your couch and imagine your personal museum. You’re the only one with a key to it. Open the door and look around at the images on the walls, which are the most beautiful images you could ever hope to make. Then, get off the couch and go out and make them. In the waking world, of course, those images don’t exist and never will. But it’s a prompt for you to get out into the world and start the process. You’ll come home with better material than you could have hoped for. As far as the editing goes, it’s a much more workmanlike process of refinement. Kind of like whittling a stick. Just get it done.
I first heard of your work with your film In the Shadow of Paul Bunyan. I remember reading in an article at that time where you were referred to as a: “punk documentarian.” I immediately was intrigued, because personally, much of my own approach as an artist is influenced by my punk background. Can you tell us about that film and how a punk approach was explored in your filmmaking?
Yes! It’s what my mentor Craig Baldwin calls “cinema of poverty”, or what I call “available-ism”. It’s an approach that has less to do with gear, software or a professional polish. I guess it means working with whatever you have at your disposal. In The Shadow of Paul Bunyan, which is a film I finished back in 2014, traces the geography of Minnesota’s Paul Bunyan statues alongside the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. I made that film with expired 16mm film on a non-reflex Bolex, a hi8 camera and used 16mm film scraps from other films to collage together a story that I couldn’t film. My close friend Kyle Ollah made some music for it. My friends and family kicked in some cash on a kickstarter. I filmed it over the course of about a year and a half, putting together what I could when I had the money and time. It was hard! But whenever I would get demoralized, I would remind myself that I already had everything I needed. I just needed to look around me to find it! No matter how big your production, there’s always something you don’t quite have access to or some camera you couldn’t quite afford. But with an attitude adjustment, you can learn to embrace your small size!
I suppose it means not being dogmatic in your approach or technique. As Madam Winger says, you don’t need a lot of money to make a film! And it doesn’t need to be slick and flashy to be good!
History, memory, and place are recurring themes in your work? How do you approach these topics through your experimental documentaries?
I’m interested in small ‘h’ history. How people make place out of space, you could say. It’s the idea that lived and remembered experience of history is important. It’s about lifting up the supposedly marginal to the level of the supposedly authoritative. The geographer J.B. Jackson is a big intellectual influence for me regarding this. His writings are concerned with sidewalks, fences, highways, greyhound stations - what he called the “vernacular landscape”. He recognized that the small things that impact the lived experience of individuals in a place are as important as the planner’s eye view. I try to channel that concern with the small and personal into an historical approach - how do individuals make sense of their own place within the big, fraught and unresolved histories of our land?
Somehow, I’m very interested in contested histories, which memory and place usually intersect with. Maybe it’s because northern Minnesota is a land of contested histories, and I absorbed that narrative contradiction as a kid. It’s comfortable for me, rather than unsettling, as it is for some people. It’s part of the collapsing of the authoritative voice.
Do you have any new projects you are working on?
Too many! I’m finishing up another half-hour documentary about the changing landscape of East Macon, Georgia, called The Heart of East Macon. There used to be a cotton mill in a neighborhood of this medium-sized Georgia town, and all the houses were built by the mill for workers to live in. Now that the mill is gone, the neighborhood has changed from white to black and is over 50% vacant and abandoned buildings. A long list of organizations and nonprofits, led by a local arts organization, is working to rehabilitate a few houses and turn them into an ‘artist’s village’. There’s lots of worry about gentrification and displacement, but there’s also a real sense that the project is helping out the neighborhood too. The film is about how people who grew up in the heyday of the mill remember the neighborhood, the way people live there now, and the challenges of doing equitable real-estate development.
I’m editing a film called Sometimes You Move The Puppet And Sometimes The Puppet Moves You, which is a Les Blank-inspired dive into a puppet performance of the Finnish creation myth in New York Mills, Minnesota. There’s also a Red Green Show-style corn cooker that feeds the whole town for free. I lived there for a month last summer and shot a ton of footage I’m still trying to sort through.
I’m also working on a less-defined project with my friend Jais Gossman (another Perpich alum). He’s been embodying a Norwegian immigrant from 1850’s New London, Minnesota, named Ole Knutson. Ole was a real person and once walked 50 miles to St. Cloud to buy a grindstone, promptly turning around and walking home with it. Jais wears this funny jumpsuit and has been embodying Ole and walking across different places, sometimes driving or using a boat as well. He actually gave me a jumpsuit too, and sends me cryptic instructions about how to film myself (“Walk across a border,” for instance). I’ve been filming him for the past year and a half or so. He actually got some grindstones made by a monument company that he’s installing as public sculptures around New London. We were planning on carrying the grindstones on a dolly 50 miles to install them. But Jais just broke his leg last week trying to impress some kids playing basketball. So maybe I’ll have to put him on the dolly too.
Images courtesy of the artist. Interview by Jes Reyes.
M. Parker Stuart is a Featured Artist for the 2017 Altered Esthetics Film Festival.
You can catch M. Parker's work three times during the Film Fest: Small Sadnesses will screen June 3 at 4:00 PM. Liquid Histories will screen June 3 at 7:30 PM. An installation of Saturday Morning Cartoons will be presented in the 2nd Floor Lobby of The Southern Theater during the duration of the festival.
M. Parker Stuart, Liquid Histories, 2017
+ Liquid Histories is a bit more personal than your previous work (Sorting Out... series). What did you learn as a filmmaker about diving into a piece that was closer to home?
Liquid Histories came out of necessity. It started with my Grandpa dying. He was 97, so it wasn't completely out of the blue, but it's still so very sad. He was my dad's dad, and that side of the family is country down to its roots. Grandpa worked on a farm, and when dad went out on his own he insisted on a country setting too, and that's where I grew up. So this stuff is in my blood. When Grandpa died, the visitation and funeral were held in the town my dad grew up in, a town I had been visiting since before I was born, a tiny little place you can't get to by accident.
A lot has changed since I was young. The day before I left to drive out I had a conversation with my mother. She had been in a gas station there and had overheard some of the men from town talking about the bathroom issue, which was on talk radio. They had been speaking in an explicitly violent manner and I would need to change my plans.
Not long ago people who have power decided to use the existence of trans feminine people to portray urban populations as the evil other in opposition to rural populations and vice versa (as well as a number of other things which I'm sure everyone knows about). Part of the fallout of this campaign for me was losing my ability to go home.
I made it to Grandpa's funeral, having changed my plans so that I would drive in for only the funeral and leave immediately after. When I got home, this piece kind of just vomited out of me. My Grandpa's death brought up memories of my dad's death a few years ago, and it made real the feeling of a loss of home that I've been dealing with. Making work was really the only way I knew to put it all together. Tie it up in a box and float it down the river.
I think the one thing that I really learned from making this piece is that you don't always get a choice in the art that you make. Sometimes it's going to happen regardless of what you intend.
+ A lot of your work contains algorithms you’ve created and scripted to alter the videos from their original form. In your artist statement you talk about how rearranging these pixels allow the ability to create new spaces to be free without constraints. Can you talk about how this process applies to these two pieces you’re prepared for the Ae Film Fest?
When I talk about creating spaces, there are actually two distinct spaces that I'm referencing. The first is a space only accessible to me and the second is a space created aesthetically for the viewer. I'll use Liquid Histories to illustrate the first space and Saturday Morning Cartoons for the second. They both do their spaces well.
This all started for me some billion odd years from now when I was spending a lot of time thinking about Kosuth's ideas about conceptual art. When you take a piece like One and Three Chairs and break it down to its core components, what you have is a definition of what a chair is, and a set of instructions for how to display the piece (find a chair, photograph it, display the chair and the photograph with the definition). To me, there was no difference between what he was doing and software. When you write software, you supply a set of instructions, package it up with some data and send it out. It's the same thing.
I started digging into that with my genetic algorithms and quines but it just never felt right. It was more software than art. At the same time I had been playing with making glitch work. The two just sort of fell together and that's when things clicked into place for me.
By letting go of the definitions for data set by tradition or software and supplying my own, I can create these little digital spaces that only I have access to. Little pocket dimensions I can slip into and out of whenever I want. I can create a pocket dimension based on a concept, or an emotion, or a question, or even just define a space that's not here.
The aesthetic effect is the only evidence that it exists.
In Liquid Histories, I used the concept that each pixel is a living creature that starts it's life with the first frame. As the frames change, the creatures have to find a new position that matches it best, and move there in a set amount of time. At the end of the sequence, they all start dying and the world around the center pixel shrinks to nothing until it dies too.
Saturday Morning Cartoons is primarily an aesthetic work. There's no real concept in the pixels themselves, just a few tricks to make them look the way I want them to. Here I'm using color, layers, contrast and motion to create a feeling of familiarity that is distinctly unfamiliar. You can see this in my paintings and my digital still work as well. I'm using color and construction to cut out a little pocket dimension that you can join me in. Some of my other pieces where this effect is really stand out are The Walls, Rolling Water, and Sinking In.
Here, as an installation, the little pocket is created between the looping videos, creating the feeling of familiarity, but the rules, or the expectations we have for this situation, are turned out and cut away. The bright, jumpy colors of television opening and closing in on themselves are contrasted against a window showing an undulating, dark landscape that could almost be speaking to you. It almost feels safe, like home, but it doesn't, because this ain't your fuckin' home anymore faggot.
M. Parker Stuart, Small Sadnesses, 2016
+ In Liquid Histories, you take inspiration from the death of your grandfather and ponder the mortality of humanity as well as the life of the pixel within your video. In a previous series of yours, you describe pixels as “imaginary points of color stored as data” (Pixel). Can you talk further about this correlation between the pixel and the human, and your impression of the insignificance of the pixel vs. the importance of humanity?
I covered the specific concept I used in Liquid Histories earlier, but there's a really interesting thought that you're kind of touching on. Pixels, and all data for that matter, only exist because of the values we have imbued them with. The 24 switches that make up the data we consider a pixel only become color because we all agree that those 24 switches represent a color and how that occurs. We have to supply the meaning, as the switches themselves are inherently meaningless, and we have to supply a structure, so we all interpret them the same way. Likewise, the importance of humans vary depending on the meanings we imbue them with and the structures we function in.
I've been doing some teaching with trans young adults, and one of the things I talk about is the structure of the data. Not only do we have to agree that these 3 bytes represent a color, we have to agree on the structure of all of the data in a single blob of it. These 3 bytes represent a color, and these 8 bytes represent the number of colors in a row… This is true for all data from complicated databases to videos to simple text files. You have to agree that there is a structure there that you can't see, and just trust that whoever put the data together used the same structure.
So what happens if you start changing the meaning of the data? What can you do to leave the data intact and unharmed but change the structure so that you have something radically different? Can you take something ugly and make it beautiful by simply not agreeing to comply with the structure and meaning given to you?
M. Parker Stuart, Saturday Morning Cartoons, 2017
+ Do you mind talking about your storytelling process? Liquid Histories and Saturday Morning Cartoons provide two very different backstories and impressions. How did you approach creating these two pieces?
Storytelling and I have a contentious relationship. I am not a story person. I don't see my life as a story, and I don't impose stories on things that aren't definitively stories. I just let them be. For much of my career I have actively fought against story people. It really bothered me to see someone put a story to a thing that was just a thing. Story people are like that, yeah? I could design a piece that is purely random and they'd find a way to make a story for it. I spent a lot of time and energy trying to make that as difficult as possible and failed every time.
I eventually gave in and just accepted it. Some people understand the world through stories, and that's ok. I like listening to their stories. The ways they find to fit stories in where there are none are so creative it just amazes me.
At some point, I'll probably tell a story, but at this point in my artistic practice, I mostly just listen to them.
+ Would you like to talk about any upcoming projects?
I'm doing some workshops for trans people again this year as part of the Transfabulous program through Hennepin County Libraries. We have 6 different workshops, each led by someone from the Trans/GNC community, that you can watch for on the library website. If anyone is interested they can also send me an email at email@example.com and I will get them a schedule. I'll be teaching Experimental Video at the Golden Valley Library on July 15th and 16th, from 2-4pm.
Additionally, at the end of the year our participants will be putting on an exhibition in the Cargill Gallery in the Minneapolis Central Library. You can come see our work from December 4th through January 13th. You should, too. Last year we turned out a large collection of really amazing work.
Images courtesy of the artist. Interview by Chelsea Arden Parker.
Unravel / Reclaim
to cause to come apart; to resolve the intricacy, complexity, or obscurity of; to demand or obtain the return of; to regain possession of
2017 Altered Esthetics Film Festival
June 1-3, 2017
The Southern Theater
1420 Washington Ave South
Minneapolis, MN 55454
As part of ARTshare, the Altered Esthetics Film Festival presents its fourth season at The Southern Theater, June 1-3, 2017, with screenings, performances, and discussions. Each year a theme is selected based upon trends noticed in the selected submissions. This year's theme, Unravel/Reclaim, brings a wide variety of moving-image-based works together, screening local, national, and international artists. Continue to follow this site as we begin to post the festival schedule! We are proud to announce this year's selected artists!
2017 Film Festival Curators
Jes Reyes is a multidisciplinary artist, curator, and arts administrator living and working in the Twin Cities. Her photography and video art has exhibited with Artists in Storefronts, Altered Esthetics, Walker Art Center, and Made Here. Jes is the founder of the Ae Film Festival and coordinates programming for Spectrum ArtWorks, a multifaceted art studio for artists living with mental illness.www.jesreyes.com
Ari Newman has curated the Ae Film Festival for the past two years. She works as a videographer/photographer for Patrick's Cabaret and as a Barista at Peace Coffee. In her spare time, she enjoys drawing with Pilot V7 pens, going to the Trylon to get nutritional yeast on her popcorn, and overthinking every decision she makes. http://flowertalks.weebly.com
Chelsea Arden Parker is a video and new media artist living in Minneapolis. She is currently working as a freelance video editor and has previously taught media literacy in youth afterschool programs and studio instruction at local cable access stations. She is also currently the curator and co-organizer of Feminist Video Quarterly, a community and quarterly screening for non-binary and female-identified artists. https://www.behance.net/chelseaardenparker
Featured Artist Award
The purpose of the Featured Artist award is to honor and recognize promising artwork from 1-2 artists who are innovative with their approach to the moving image medium. Only Minnesota-based artists are considered for the Featured Artist recognition. Featured Artists receive an honorarium and various promotions.
Our 2017 Featured Artists are M. Parker Stuart and Nik Nerburn.
M. Parker Stuart
M. Parker Stuart, best known for her abstract 2d video work exploring the limits of pixel and data manipulation, was breathed into being by the 11th dimensional surrealists at the age of 407i*3 as a painter. She followed the influences of Leonora Carrington, Eileen Agar, and Helen Frankenthaler while investigating the possibilities of porting their thought to a pure digital medium. Her early work using software languages to encapsulate concepts allowed her to learn the tools she would use to begin producing glitch work, setting her up to use algorithms as her primary set of tools for constructing her own sense of digital surrealism.
Altered Esthetics Film Festival will feature three new works from M. Parker Stuart. Liquid Histories will screen June 3 at 7:30 PM. Small Sadnesses will screen June 3 at 4:00 PM. An installation of Saturday Morning Cartoons will be presented in the 2nd Floor Lobby of The Southern Theater during the duration of the festival.
Nik Nerburn is a research-based storyteller, experimental historian, filmmaker and photographer. He's interested in personal histories, folklore and regionalism, being equally informed by documentary journalism and avant-garde forms. His work often involves essayistic interventions in archival materials to explore regional histories, focusing on stories that stand at the intersection of power, memory, nostalgia race and place.
Altered Esthetics Film Festival will feature Nerburn’s 13 Roads in Otter Tail County on June 1, 2017, at 7:30 PM. His documentary Prairie Dreamers, a short film that celebrates 5 years of Springboard for the Arts in Fergus Falls, will screen June 3, 2017, at 7:30 PM.
Creative Vision Award
Festival curators nominate five to six artists exhibiting in the current season for the Creative Vision Award. Local jurors then vote to select one artist from the nominees whose work demonstrates a commitment to their personal voice and vision over conventional storytelling. The winner of the Creative Vision Award receives a token of recognition as well as various promotions. We will be making a formal announcement later this week on our blog.
2017 Creative Vision Award Jurors
D.A. Bullock is an award-winning filmmaker. His films have been a selection of The Toronto International Film Festival, the Chicago International Film Festival and the Urbanworld Film Festival 2003 Best Film winner. In 2011 Bullock founded Bully Creative Shop, a documentary, media art and story-based advocacy organization. Bullock was a 2015 Creative Citymaking artist in partnership with Intermedia Arts and The City of Minneapolis. Bullock was named a 2014 McKnight Foundation Media Arts Fellow. In 2015, Bullock was awarded a Forecast Art Jerome Planning Grant for emerging public artists and a Minnesota State Arts Board grant for media arts.
Andrea Shaker is a professor of art at the College of St. Benedict | St. John’s University. She earned her BA in Government and International Relations from Georgetown University and her Master of Fine Arts from the University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign. As an Arab American, her films draw from an exploration of the tension between a lived understanding of home and an imagined ancestral homeland. Her short film “home. not home.” screened at the 8th Twin Cities Arab Festival (2013) and the Walker Art Center (2014). It was a recipient of the Minnesota Television (MNTV) 2014 award, aired on Twin Cities Public Television, screened on the Best Buy Video Bay, Walker Art Center and is in the Ruben Bentson Moving Image collection at the Walker Art Center. Her short film “disgraced” premiered at the 10th Twin Cities Arab Film Festival (2015). Andrea participated as a Featured Artist last year during the 3rd Ae Film Festival where she performed a special presentation of on silence, an experimental piece that integrated film, spoken word, and live music.
Jordan Lee Thompson is an art worker and educator who works in a variety of mediums including video production, projection, performance, installation, drawing, animation and other new media to combine his passions of participatory art, critical theory, sociology and storytelling. Jordan serves as the Film Festival Coordinator for Mizna's Twin Cities Arab Film Festival, and spends his days running the Youth Media Department at CTV North Suburbs, helping teens write, produce and distribute their own short films. Most recently, Jordan co-produced The Beginning of Things + Fictions in a guest residency at the Southern Theater's ARTshare program as Creative Director of Dance & Other Behaviors. Jordan has also worked with organizations including the Minneapolis Television Network, James Sewell Ballet, and the Twin Cities Media Alliance. Jordan holds a BFA in Painting, a BA in Art History and Arts Management, and a certificate in Museum Studies from the University of Iowa.
2017 Creative Vision Award Nominees:
Xiaolu Wang - Xialou (Minnesota)
Sharlene Bamboat - The Wind Sleeps Standing Up (Canada)
Tanin Torabi - Invisible Point (Iran)
Kiera Faber - T is for Turnip (Minnesota)
Peter Nelson - Intruder Man (Minnesota)
Nishat Hossain - 45 minutes (Pennsylvania)
A special presentation of the nominees will screen Thursday, June 1 at 7:30 PM.
All Selected Artists to present June 1-3:
M. Parker Stuart (Minnesota) (Featured Artist)
Nik Nerburn (Minnesota) (Featured Artist)
Six Families (Minnesota)
Emily Fritze (Minnesota)
Simone LeClaire (Minnesota)
Elizabeth Davis (Missouri)
Sami Pfeffer (Minnesota)
Soyeeon Kim (California)
Madie Hamilton (Minnesota)
Emily M. Van Loan (New York)
Chamindika Wanduragala (Minnesota)
Dan Murphy (Minnesota)
Xiaolu Wang (Minnesota) (Creative Vision Award)
Peter Nelson (Minnesota) (Creative Vision Award)
Kiera Faber (Minnesota) (Creative Vision Award)
Sharlene Bamboat (Canada) (Creative Vision Award)
Nishat Hossain (Pennsylvania) (Creative Vision Award)
Tanin Torabi (Iran) (Creative Vision Award)
John Akre (Minnesota)
Micah Dahl (Minnesota)
Midwest Special Services (Minnesota)
Feminist Video Quarterly (Minnesota)
Eddie Estrin and Mike Croswell (Minnesota)
Jeremy Speed Schwartz (New York)
Sébastien Pins (Belgium)
Anne-Marie Bouchard (Canada)
Edward Ramsay-Morin (Texas)
Madsen Minax (Tennessee)
Chelsea Arden Parker (Minnesota)
Karolina Neiduza (United Kingdom)
Anders Nienstaedt (Minnesota)
Martin Gonzales (Minnesota)
Liberty Antonia Sadler (United Kingdom)
Marinah Janello (Massachusetts)
Alyssa Costopoulos (Minnesota)
Laura Iancu (Iowa)
More artists will be announced as festival finalizes screenings and performances.
1420 Washington Ave South
Minneapolis, MN 55454
Altered Esthetics is a volunteer-driven nonprofit art gallery and organization located at The Southern Theater on the West Bank in Minneapolis.
Essma Imady's Descent into Heaven and Kevin Pontuti's Onere nabbed audience awards at the 3rd season of the Ae Film Festival. We are super proud of these selections and congratulate both artists! Cheers!
SAARi still, Ella Mikkola
Interview by Jes Reyes
Altered Esthetics jurors selected your film to receive the Creative Vision Award because of its strength at expanding the documentary form. Can you tell me a bit more about what it means to you to blend documentary with experimental film?
I have realized that I can only make films that I will also like myself if I make them without any genre boundaries. Experimental approach is probably the approach I take naturally when it comes to expressing through filmmaking but I can’t just think that I’ll make an experimental film. The thought behind the film probably leans towards documentary or narrative genre already in the beginning and then I express it through an experimental treatment.
When creating SAARI, how did you approach this blending? What was your process?
After all, SAARI, is my debut film, so when creating it, I was just making a film in the way that felt most natural to me. I had filmed most of the footage already 10 years ago, and for some reason I always went back watching it time after time. At that point I was doing a lot of self-reflection after my move from Finland to Canada and I found this footage helpful. One day I put it to the timeline of my editing program and started to improvise. It was therapeutic. The first version of the narrative was also written that time. Filmmaker and my instructor Mike Rollo encouraged me to use this footage and re-photograph it. And slowly I started to see what I wanted to say and show with it.
Where does your inspiration come from when creating experimental film?
The reason why I want to carry the original thought through an experimental channel is just because it feels the most natural and honest for me. I want to show my subjective vision and make it visible because nothing is objective. Maybe this is why I want to have an experimental element in all of the work I do. Also I like to challenge myself and the way I think and experimental filmmaking is the best way to do this and push myself further in my thinking. It is definitely self-reflective and therapeutic element in my life.
Do you have any new projects you are working on?
I have many of them in my head and they all want to get out, but I have to be patience and let one or two out at a time. One of the projects I am working on at the moment is a experimentation with an interview footage I filmed two years ago in Jamaica. I am using an editing technique that will reform this footage that was made to work in a documentary form. Hopefully I will be able to create a different kind of visual and audial experience from this interview. It is a challenging but exciting project.
What do you want your relationship to be with your local and international arts community?
I have already gotten so much positive re-enforcement from my local arts community in Regina, Canada, and that makes me feel very fortunate. Through this re-enforcement I have learned to understand that the community is in a very important role when it comes to filmmaking. It is very important to me to feel that I belong to somewhere and especially when you are living in a country that is not your home country this becomes even more important. I would of course appreciate to be a part to even larger and international community in the future.
Your Finnish! What brought you to Canada?
Love. I met my partner in Tanzania two years ago and after a long year of distance relationship I moved to Canada. I am very happy that all of this happened.
Where can our audience find you online?
www.vimeo.com/ellamikkola and ellamikkola.tumblr.com
Would you like to share anything else with us?
I think you are going to have a great festival this year and I am more than proud to be in this company of great filmmakers. I hope to get there next year!
Ella would like to recognize Mike Rollo (University of Regina) for his support. Please view Ella's award winning film SAARI during the Impressions screening.
Screen still, Descent into Heaven, Essma Imady
Interview by Madie Hamilton
Ever since I first learned to read, I was captivated by words. I used to believe nothing could convey the complex thoughts and emotions of another human being so articulately as the written passage. I became fascinated with filmmaking, however, when I realized the transcendent power that can come from pairing images with sounds. I sat down to interview Ae Film Fest artist, Essma Imady, to discuss the sights, sounds, and ideas behind her film Descent Into Heaven.
Hi Essma! Thanks so much for allowing me to ask you a few questions about your moving film “Descent into Heaven,” in which an unnamed refugee mother attempts to cross the sea with her daughter to flee the violence that is plaguing her country. The voice in the narration, accompanied by images of stormy weather and water, is haunting. Is this woman a real person? If so, how did she come to participate in the project? If not, how did the narration come about?
The trip in the film was conceived of after I traveled to Istanbul to visit friends, two of which were at the time refugees and one whom was a journalist working with National Geographic on a piece on illegal immigration. Hearing about the sources she was talking to at the time who were planning on attempting the harrowing trip across the Mediterranean and those whom had already taken this journey, I was overwhelmed with a feeling I had no name for-- at one point my friend whom I had grown up with and who had a small newborn confessed to me that she was considering taking this journey herself. She never followed through, but as a new mother myself knowing that this had been a very serious consideration of hers made me understand what had been stirring in me; a deep and unwavering survivor’s guilt; and once I was back in the states I stared into my baby girl’s eyes and asked myself what it would take to bring me to such a choice, and how I would rationalize it to myself and to her. The woman in the narration is me. She is me without the privilege of an American passport and the good luck to have left before it was too late. The woman’s doubts about the ultimate fate of her drowned daughter are my doubts, her rationalizations are my own. But she is also my childhood friend and the thousands of desperate parents who make it and do not, everyday, across the world.
As an artist, are there any other media you like to work with beyond film? Why did you choose to tell this particular story through experimental film?
I am most interested in installation accompanying video to create an immersive experience to pull the viewer into a strange world where the gateway is the commonality of human suffering and the key is compassion. I choose experimental film in order to both push the viewer outside of the narrative and to pull them in; the jump cuts, the overlays, serve to point to the artificiality of the images depicted; that they are also in a manner a mythology like the one told by the mother to her daughter only symbols pointing to that which cannot be framed. I also employed experimental film in order to pull the viewer in, only the voice of the mother remains; what she wears how she looks her hair eyes skin color does not cannot matter it is the infliction in her voice and her loves and losses that matter. She could be you; you are not separate from her or her pain.
In the film’s description you note that you grew up in Damascus, Syria before leaving to study art in the United States in 2011. How have your upbringing and experiences in Syria affected the art you make?
Growing up in Syria meant I had both more and less exposure to art, I had no art classes throughout middle and high school; but I was consistently surrounded by art. Roman pillars, temples to Jupiter, and old damascene homes left me both hungry for art and sensually overwhelmed with it. Growing up with an American mother meant that I was always searching for what my “identity” was; living a dual identity, a theme that carries into my work, and my piece Descent into Heaven where the story that is told in Arabic is ever so slightly different than the one told in English, as her story is translated it also undergoes a certain transformation, the subtitles have a life of themselves almost separate from the audible story; at one point they even shift with the weight of the tragedy. Being surrounded by nonrepresentational art also meant that I was fascinated with the power that “Withholdment” could contain, that sometimes not showing the key characters in the piece was more powerful than revealing them.
What do you want your relationship to be with your local arts and film community?
One of the main reasons I love this state is its art community, the dialogue I enjoy with artists I meet is everything to me and my practice. I want my relationship to be that of deep dialogue and constructive critique; one where we expand each other’s horizons and work onwards engaging and participating in the communities that surround us.
Other than film, what else are you passionate about?
I am passionate about traditional craftsmanship and alternative versions of art history and theory.
Essma Image's film Descent into Heaven exhibits with the Ae Film Festival on Friday, July 29 during the Perceptions screening at The Southern Theater. Buy your tickets now! Nominated for the Creative Vision Ward, Imady's film is an experimental short film.
All images courtesy of the artist.
Interview by Ari Newman
Once in a while, I watch a film, and after it is over, I just slump down in my chair, let my camera fall to the floor and shatter, just like my dreams. My feelings of inadequacy usually build gradually over a two-hour period, like when Charlie Kaufman writes soliloquy after soliloquy that perfectly encapsulates the human experience. However, Viola Liu's film Self manages to do this in 7 minutes and 26 seconds. I interviewed Viola to discover where she finds her inspiration, how it feels to be a young, aspiring filmmaker, and whether she could save some awesomeness for the rest of us.
What is your filmmaking story?
So far I’ve made several short pieces. I’ve always loved films, or stories in general. Last year I finally got the courage to actually become a filmmaker. The first film I made was really bad and I remember when we were screening it in class, many of my classmates did not know what to say about it. I know that they were trying so hard to find something good to talk about. However, there was none. I totally understand them but I don’t know for what reason, I really did not care that much at that time. Because from the process of making that film, I realized how much I enjoy holding a camera in my hand, thinking about a story that might be interesting, planning out for each shot and editing the footages to make it something else. I love telling stories, be it a traditional narrative or an experimental piece, I love seeing the thoughts flowing in the frames. I love hearing the images on the screen singing to me.
What is a quote/piece of advice/work of art/person that inspires you and keeps you motivated to keep creating?
I think I’ve been influenced a lot by Freudian and Lacanian theories. I believe art is about the unconsciousness. I believe making art means finding new ways to stimulate and make human beings realize about their unconsciousness. Going from that, my current theme, which I think will also be a lifelong theme, is a discussion over the notion of “self”. What is the self? In Lacanian theory, it is the misrecognized image of the self that we took as the ego. But what does it mean in our life, in every single action that we take, and in every word we have in our symbolic system? That is what I’m most curious about.
I know you have been studying film at the U of M, and recently participated in HECUA: Making Media, Making Change. How has your education changed or impacted your art making?
Studying at the U make me really familiar and interested in Lacanian theories and that have been influencing most of my works. HECUA makes me more interested in what is actually going on in our world. Learning about the ways people think about things really inspires me.
Please describe your artistic process.
For me, making art is part of life. Riding on a train, walking on the road, cooking, sleeping, I’m always thinking about it, and making it in my head. If I have come up with one idea, I would spend months to just think about how I want to film it, days and nights, whenever I have a moment, I would always think about it and when I have something that I really like, I will write it down on my notebook. In the end, I collect all of my ideas and make them one. I love working alone but I’m also trying to learn how to work in a team and make everyone on the team feel happy working on this project.
Where do you see yourself going next?
I want to keep making films while feeding myself well.
What do you want your relationship to be with the local arts/film community?
I want to be as close as I can with the local arts/film community. On one hand, I’ve got so much from the community and I would love to dedicate what I can do back to the community. I’ve been helped by many of them, and I want to become one who can help others as well. On the other hand, that is also where many of my idea of works come from.
Other than film, what else are you passionate about?
I also love photography. I do film photography as well as digital very often. I am also a singer.
Check out Viola Liu's film Self, nominated for Ae's Creative Vision Award, on Friday, July 29. More info can be found here, including how to buy tickets to the screening.
Interview by Ari Newman
One year ago, I wrote a blog post for the Ae Film Festival titled On Eeva Siivonen and Strange Places. Siivonen created one of my favorite short films from last year, titled "Strange Places and How to Survive," so I was honored to interview her and learn more about her philosophies as a filmmaker. 12 months later, Eeva Siivonen is back in the festival with a 22 minute film titled "Atlas." As we, the curators, divvied up who would interview which artists, I insisted on speaking to Eeva again.
All images courtesy of the artist.
Why did you decide to submit to Ae Film Fest again? How do you see your films fitting into the festival’s mission?
In my filmmaking process I try to foster qualities like sensitivity and openness. I try to capture those qualities in both the form and content of my work. I´m interested in creating connections between things and try not to create limits for myself or for the form that a film can take. I see film being unique as a medium because of its ability to be inclusive, malleable and fluid in the way it can address observations, experiences and experiment with its own form. I think those goals are well in line with the festival`s mission and I wanted to submit work again to both support and participate in the festival that values this kind of approach to filmmaking.
What is a quote/piece of advice/work of art/person that inspires you and keeps you motivated to keep creating?
I tend to get overwhelmed and restless at times. Learning patience and trust in the process of making, and also confidence in my own vision, is something I have to teach myself. I love poet Rainer Maria Rilke´s advice: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
(from the book Letters to a Young Poet)
I really liked that how you described the “poetic” as “inherently political,” and that your work is “a form of resistance.” Could you expand on this idea and describe a time where you feel like your work made a difference, even if only in a small way?
This goes back to my first answer. I think sensitivity, openness and the attempt to be inclusive and fluid in the ways I observe and think about my environment - and our shared experiences as people - all can create space for more empathy, complexity and freedom. The presence of those qualities - or the lack of them - both have social and political consequences. I worry about the lack of those qualities in the society around me and I try to make work that functions as an opposite force to that.
What do you want your relationship to be with the local arts/film community?
I´ve been a bit of a nomad for the last few years and one of my aspirations for the future is to set my roots somewhere. I would like to support and be a part of a creative community of some kind. I´m in a transitional period in that way. The last few years have been more about seeking out different local communities/artists that have similar interests and where an interesting dialogue can happen and Ae film festival is something I´ve been lucky enough to find.
Other than film, what else are you passionate about?
I´m an avid reader, traveller and people watcher. I love to go for long runs (a slight rain is best) and I can´t resist the company of dogs and cats. I want to learn how to play an instrument and hope to own a sailboat someday.
Check out Eeva Siivonen's film Atlas during the opening night of the 3rd Ae Film festival on Wednesday, July 27. More info here.
We are less than a week away from the festival opening date. Here is a preview to get the countdown started!
Interview by Jes Reyes
In this interview, artist Dan Murphy answers some of my questions about One Nine Three Nine, his short ambient film nominated for Ae's Creative Vision Award. Make sure to check out the film on Thursday, July 28 during our Impressions screening.
Dan, this is the third year in a row that Ae has featured your moving image artwork. I know you also as an illustrator. When did you first start creating moving image and how do you describe the work you do?
I started about 8 years ago, editing video to some short music demos I had recorded. Having the visual component really activated the music for me, adding a new dimension of creativity to work with. I usually describe my work as ambient film & music collages, utilizing vernacular found film sources and original music compositions.
Moody, dreamy, surreal, and vintage are some words that come to mind when I think of your videos. There is also a sense of mystery to your works, too. Do you consider your work narrative?
I'd say so, it's almost an invitation to a narrative. The mystery in having the narrative slightly out of reach of the viewer, hopefully drawing them into the work to investigate further. They might not find the same narrative I created, and it may reveal as much about the viewer in what they end up finding, I’ve come to think art is at it’s best when it’s about instigating that journey within a work.
Much of the tone of your work comes from how you use image and sound. Which comes first for you: the music or the images?
It could be either, I just let myself be open to whatever gets the process started and go from there. For One Nine Three Nine I had the images first and started composing music on top of that, then arranging some of the film clips around in response to the music, and adding more music layers in response to that, and so on. So for a while both image and sound are pretty fluid elements reacting to each other.
Tell me more about One Nine Three Nine, the work we will be showing during the 3rd season of the Ae Film Festival. I know that you used found home movies from the 1939 World’s Fair…where did the images come from? Why did you select The World’s Fair for your imagery?
The home movies were shot by a home movie buff named Philip Medicus, who shot hours of footage of the fair, which I found on the Prelinger Archives website. I had some unrelated industrial film clips in an early cut, but realized they weren't necessary, there was enough to work with in the World's Fair footage, At first glance the Fair films had this colorful sheen, full of spectacle and promise of the future. But then thinking about the year 1939, I started seeing this foreshadowing in these relatively benign scenes, things spinning out of control, marching figures/still figures, machinery with unsettling automation, crowded spaces and then empty spaces, and flashing blasts of light. The constructed dreamland of the Fair was already contrasting with the real nightmare of world events and the impending outbreak of World War II. Through my piece I was bringing that a bit closer to the surface with some help of a melancholy soundtrack.
Do you have any new projects you are working on?
More film projects like this are in the works, maybe some longer form pieces. I've been painting a lot of portraits lately and would like to get something together with those. I'm working on the next book of a graphic novel series I write and draw called Elle Cirka.
What do you want your relationship to be with your local arts community?
I've had wonderful experiences being involved with gallery shows, and publishing my own art work/illustration and playing music around town. Being a part of the Ae Film Festivals has been another great way expand my connection to the arts community here. Creating art can be quite solitary, and being able to meet and build relationships with other artists and the art audience is important, as seeing the creative work of others drives me to improve during those long hours in front of the canvas/camera/guitar/computer/etc.
Where can we find you online?
The Lion, Dan Murphy, Music collage
Previous film fest posts from Altered Esthetics blog: