I’m Attending Flaherty Seminar As A Philadelphia Fellow This Summer!

2013-Seminar-CoverI honored to share that I’ll be following in the footsteps of some amazing Philadelphia women I know and attending this year’s Flaherty Seminar as a Philadelphia Fellow, funded by the Philadelphia Foundation!

Flaherty Seminar is an annual gathering of over 160 filmmakers, academics and curators for a week long seminar watching and discussing films. Each year there is a different theme and curator. This year’s theme is “History, It’s What’s Happening” curated by Pablo De Ocampo. I’m excited for this theme as it’s directly connected to my exploration of a possible multi-media installation on the CIA coup of Mossadegh that has been brewing on my creative back burner for a while.

The only thing I miss about graduate school is getting to geek out on films in this focused kind of way –I’m looking forward to the opportunity to immerse myself like this for a bit.


Animation Inspiration

The Norman film is still in process. But like any creative process, it’s kind of excruciating. Luckily I have an amazing and ever growing team of people helping with collecting visuals and animating. I kind of feel like I’m conducting a visual animation orchestra. Dah dah dah. (That’s the sound of an instrument).

Voice on the Line by Kelly Sears

I’ve been looking for inspiration from other animators using unique and lo-tech techniques and recently discovered Kelly Sears. Several of her pieces incorporate archival footage that is altered to have a sort of extra lush saturated feel against these colorful and textured backgrounds.

Paper Mountain Man by Kelly Sears

Other pieces are hand done collage that are colorfully layered to create images that are visually engaging without being overwhelming or chaotic. She some how manages to create a depth of field through her use of scale and layering in a way that makes me more conscious of how flat the images I’ve been producing are.

I suspect that some of her work was done on an optical printer, which gives me that slight twinge of “things-I-should-have-taken-more-advantage-of-while-paying-a-million-dollars-to-be-in-film-school.” (It wasn’t really a million, but either way it’s more than I’ll probably be able to pay back in my life time.)

I love learning about new artists whose work triggers a flurry of ideas for me. If you’ve got other suggestions please share!

Hello? England?

This post is not about the World Cup. . . though I’ve been having a fun time watching games, catching up with friends, and having a legit reason to have a beer before 3pm.

And besides, I’m not really rooting for the UK anyway.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, I’ve been learning After Effects together with fellow artist bex, which by definition also means learning more Photoshop as well.

Yesterday we imported all our assets and did our first basic animation. I am so thrilled.

Here’s a very crude still from our sequence about Mossadegh’s attempt to nationalize Iran’s oil supply.

"Hallo? England? We're taking over the oil supply. . . .I mean, since it was ours to begin with anyway."

“I thought your film was about Norman Schwarzkopf though?” you ask.

“Indeed.” I say back.


“So, you’ll just have to wait and see. . . “

Housewives and collaborators and creative process

I haven’t done a Wednesday-Where’s-Your-Film update in a while.

When you just need some desperate housewives.
I went through one of those dark spells in the creative process where I lost my vision, almost gave up, all the while beating myself up for not meeting my self-imposed deadline to be done by June.

Then, last week I read through some old journals–a process which gives me the best insight on the crazy habit patterns of my mind–and read through this exact same moment in producing Cusps. Those of you who work on long-term creative projects know exactly what moment I’m talking about. Weeks of evenings where pledge to go exercise and work on your experimental film and instead stay at home in bed with a pint of ice cream and watch 5 episodes of Desperate Housewives.

But you have to trust that one day you’ll emerge. That rest is important. And every cliche that you can think of about needing to go through the dark to get to the light.

When you need some help.
In the spirit of my theme for 2010, asking for help, I did just that. And it all lined up kinda perfect. I’m now collaborating with bex*, who already in two sessions has come up with some brilliant animation ideas for the film and breathed new life into it. Stay tuned.

Rotoscope Test Sequence

I finally finished hand-painting the frame by frame animation sequence I’ve been working on for almost 8 months.

This is a very crude first run with just a few of the frames on repeat. I’ve been playing with the scan quality, image duration and transitions to try to get the look I’m going for, which is to have the colors sort of swim and swirl. This is still too jumpy and rugged compared to what I’m imagining.

The Grant Decline

Any artist who has mixed money with their craft has had this experience: the grant decline letter.

2009 has been good to me in terms of grant funding so far. So I thought I’d be more crushed when I recieved the decline letter yesterday from the Leeway Foundation for their Lifetime Transformation Award–their largest grant.

But I wasn’t crushed. I didn’t get insecure about whether my art was good enough, because I felt honored that I had even made it to the final round.

And of course, the people I do know on that list are AMAZING artists. (Like, this film by Heidi Saman–you should see it if it comes to your town.)

Mostly, I just paniced and realized I needed a plan. I hadn’t realized how many things in my brain I was pushing aside with the line “I’ll just wait until I get the chunk of money.”

My soundbites for how to carry on after a grant decline letter:

  • Always have a plan B. Do not sabatoge yourself into a mindset that your creative work is only possible with money, therefore no grant=no art. If you do, you are leaving it to the people who control the money in the art world to decide what gets made. And, well, we know where that will get us.
  • Think social capital, not just financial capital. What are other ways you can get access to the resources you need? Example: last night I posted that I needed a 16mm projector. A few hours later I had been offered two working projectors that were abandoned from someone’s old workplace.
  • Remember it’s about process, not product. A painter friend, B. Aufdenberg, said something to me years ago that stuck with me: “You don’t eat to shit. Your art is not about the product it produces.” Word.

Onward and backward

This week is all about archival research.

I’m preparing for a field trip in two weeks to the National Motion Picture Archives where I’m going to review old newsreels of Norman Schwartzkopf, Sr. in Iran in the 1950s as well as Jr. in the 1990s.

I’m also coordinating with the University of Florida library archives to get high resolution copies of news articles about my Schwarzkopf encounter on thier campus over ten years ago.

The RED Camera vs. Hermione Granger: or, How I’m Learning To Learn

Tomorrow I am volunteering on a friend’s film set as they test out the newish RED camera.

If you’re not familiar with the RED, it is part of a growing trend in the digital filmmaking world toward tapeless recording.

I haven’t been on a set in several years since I stopped taking classes for my MFA and focused on my own thesis–a personal documentary that I mostly shot alone on a Bolex 16mm camera.

As I get older, I’m trying to bring more of my habit patterns to a more balanced state. I think undoing habits completely is unrealistic. But reducing the extremeness of the spectrum is not.

My Filmic Extremes

I’m a little like Hermione Granger in Harry Potter. I admit.

I’m not proud of it. And I’m just learning to understand the nature of this habit pattern I’ve developed over the years–so it’s still lingering rather strongly in my character.

I tend to occupy two extremes: either, I have to feel like I have to feel like I have a leg up on everyone else I’m in a room with and already know the task/skill/content on hand or I completely shut down, tell myself I can’t do something and am inept and then don’t even try to learn and give up.

I’d like to learn to be okay with being 75% good at something. To be at the average skill level at something. And to not give it up.

Sadly, this habit results in me doing these I receive attention and praise for, rather than listening to an inner desire about what I’d secretly like to learn.

I got praise for personal documentary work, so I stayed there. Externally, that’s my niche. I just got a grant a few months ago from Chicken & Egg Pictures and Rooftop Films to continue with another personal documentary. Inside, I’d like to write and direct a fictional feature length film within the next 5 years.

To get there, I need to practice being okay with not knowing how to do things right away on my own. And more importantly, to be able to embrace other people as teachers to help teach me.

I need to break this mythology I have that I only learn to do things on my own.

So even though it’s a little terrifying and goes against my functioning for the last 30 something years, I’m going to spend my Sunday crewing on this shoot, rusty after years of not setting up lighting for narratives, and with a camera I know zero about with a bunch of brilliant Temple U MFA students.

And, I’m not going to shut down and tell myself I can’t do this, and instead be grateful that I have the opportunity to learn from so many great teachers.

I am going to try to post about the RED on my twitter feed tomorrow–so you can follow along with my adventure there.

Elizabeth Gilbert on Creativity and “Genius”

I have some issue with Elizabeth Glibert/general western romanticization of India and the general trope of white people/westerners having to travel eastward to have a “spiritual” awakening.

(I mean really, if you want to see poverty and have a revelation about materialism and overconsumption and what’s meaningful you can go down the street and save the money on that ticket to India. What is it about economic inequality in the US that doesn’t allow that romanticized awakening for these kind of people?)

That aside, I found this talk by her interesting as a critique of the notion of “genius” and an interesting take on the creative process and how important it is to do your part to “show up” and then let go.


Another Arguement Against Film School?

This week I went to a screening of Slingshot HipHop at the International House that was part of this great new series called Planet Rock .

Now available on dvd!

Now available on dvd!

The film is very strong in its production quality, use of animation and graphics as transitions, and its narrative focus on a few different artists and following their stories as we become familiar with their music.

It does what my favorite type of documentaries do well–focus on personal stories as a reflection of a larger system of policies and opinions. It humanizes a situation in which people are so often faceless and dehumanized–which in my perspective on social change is the key to shifting power imbalances and oppression.

If you are looking for a primer on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the history of that region, or context for the Intifada(s), however, this is not going to provide you too much of that. Which is totally fine. Its strength is that it pulls people in through their interest in hiphop and then pushes them to want to learn more about the situation and people there.

The filmmaker, Jackie Reem Salloum, was at the screening. From her comments after the screening and the brief exchange I had with her, I couldn’t help but revisit a conclusion I’d been tossing around in my head the past year or so: is film school actually the best route for becoming a documentary filmmaker?

Jackie is the third documentary filmmaker I’ve met in the past few years with no formal academic film training who said something along the lines of “If I had known it would take me 4-7years and $200,000 to make this film, I might have never done it.”

The potential problem with film school is that you learn about every aspect of producing a feature length documentary film beforehand.

And it’s daunting.

It’s hard to wrap your mind around how you’re going to spend the next 4-7 years (average length to make a feature length doc) fitting this project into your life.

And figuring out the money and resources is enough to make you give up completely.

Abeer, from Lyd (still from Slingshot HipHop)

Abeer, from Lyd (still from Slingshot HipHop)

I admire people like Jackie who had no idea what was ahead of them and as she said just thought, I’m going to Palestine to visit my family, I should bring a camera with me and make a little film.

And she made it work.

I remember a year or so ago when she found out that she got into Sundance and there was a mass grassroots fundraising effort from friends and supporters to raise money to finish the editing and sound mix in time and lay down a master cut. It was amazing to witness.

So if you asked me if you should go to filmschool, my answer would still be I’m not sure.