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A Vision Workshop: The Exchanges of Stan Brakhage and Sally Dixon, Part 2

Friends, colleagues, and champions of each other’s respective careers, artist Stan Brakhage and curator Sally Dixon had a life-long relationship. Their history of swapping letters and sharing neighborhoods, as well as the gifting of works and other ephemera, clearly demonstrated that there was many routes through which Crystal Clips — the Walker’s as-yet unidentified 16mm film believed to […]

Stan Brakhage editing in Rollinsville, Colorado 1978.  Photograph by Sally Dixon.

Stan Brakhage editing in Rollinsville, Colorado, 1978. Photo: Sally Dixon

Friends, colleagues, and champions of each other’s respective careers, artist Stan Brakhage and curator Sally Dixon had a life-long relationship. Their history of swapping letters and sharing neighborhoods, as well as the gifting of works and other ephemera, clearly demonstrated that there was many routes through which Crystal Clips — the Walker’s as-yet unidentified 16mm film believed to be a Brakhage “work in progress” — could have passed between Brakhage and Dixon’s possessions.

As I mentioned before, Crystal Clips had been found among Dixon’s gift to the Walker of Brakhage 16mm and 8mm film cans. The original film can bore a typed-up sticky label with the title, a largely anonymous piece of information without any handwritten marks, although the wear and discoloration on the tape matched that of the neighboring Brakhage containers. The 16mm film, meanwhile, had been transferred to an archive-safe can and stored in the Walker’s archive freezer so as to minimize the inevitable degradation to which all objects (celluloid or otherwise) are subject.

After Crystal Clips was pulled from the archive freezer and spent three days thawing out, I went down to the Film/Video archive, a temperature-controlled room in the Walker’s basement, to meet Caylin Smith, the Bentson archivist. While Caylin unpacked the film, she pointed out a handwritten note she’d found accompanying the film. The paper was clearly the same type Sally Dixon often used in her own notes, and the writing — a list of films, which presumably was meant to correspond to the contents of the reel — likewise matched Dixon’s hand. Also included was a yellow Post-It written in the hand of Walker Archivist Jill Vuchetich, which most likely recorded a comment made by Sally Dixon at the time of the gift’s acquisition.

Unidentified note accompanying Crystal Clips. Photo: Isla Leaver-Yap

Caylin booked a screening slot with Joe Beres, the Walker’s Film/Video projectionist, so we could see the film in the cinema. We’d have to wait for a quiet gap between the Walker’s regular print checks (when projectionists inspect the quality of the film or video material as it comes in from a distributor and prepare it for the public screening program) and the regular public screening schedule.

Caylin suggested we look at the Crystal Clips reel by hand. She carefully unspooled the film on a light-box. It clocked in at approximately 50 feet long, so it was clearly a short film, likely no longer than three minutes. Entirely black and white, and without a sound-strip to signify accompanying audio of any kind, Crystal Clips resembled the kind of compilation reel that keen cinema enthusiasts could order from public distributors such as Blackhawk Films. The contents of the films varied slightly from the accompanying blue note, and I recorded it thus from its interspersed title cards:

Dr E.J. Marey, Studied in Animal Motion, c. 1887, France

Charles Urban, The Electrolysis of Metals, 1910, Great Britain

Georges Melies, The Dreyfus Case (Clearing the court-toom), c. 1900, France

Victor Turin, Turksib, 1929, USSR

Clearly a personalized edit of a longer reel, I wondered whether it had in fact been a teaching aid of some kind, rather than artistic material put aside for a “work in progress.” This educational use seemed possible, given that Brakhage’s first engagement with Dixon was via her invitation to lecture in Pittsburgh.

Looking at Crystal Clips. Photo: Isla Leaver-Yap

Looking at Crystal Clips. Photo: Isla Leaver-Yap

I took a few reference photographs on my cell phone before the film was spooled up to pass on to the cinema and returned to the Walker’s main archive room to look through Dixon’s correspondence folders and consult publications of Brakhage’s writings and lectures held in the Walker’s library next door.

As is generally known, not to mention heavily evidenced through their correspondence, Brakhage and Dixon both regularly taught the history of cinema. Dixon taught during her role as Carnegie’s film curator, while Brakhage lectured at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and later as the distinguished professor of film studies at CU Boulder, retiring from his post only a few months before his death in 2003. (Brakhage also taught a master class when he was at Film in the Cities, while Dixon was director.)

Whether from Dixon’s curatorial position or Brakhage’s artistic one, they both contextualized their own work in the field of artists’ film within a highly individual canon: they would discuss their work and the work of Kenneth Anger, James Broughton, and Jonas Mekas, as part of a historical trajectory of artists’ film that began with the Lumière Brothers, Hans Richter, and Georges Méliès. But the significance Brakhage and Dixon both attached to teaching artists’ film came not only of a desire to share their work in context, but also to fill what they saw as a vacuum of understanding around the arts, and how the artists’ film was a key part of that under-served discussion. As Brakhage lamented in a conversation with Mekas much later in 2000,

All the arts, what we traditionally call the arts, have suffered from this breakdown of terminology, this lack of serious critique. Here is a discipline far older than any other we know of human beings, but when it’s taught in public schools, in fact in colleges, it’s taught as a playground for finger painting and for expressing yourself.

Brakhage was a skilled historian and teacher. His courses were wide ranging, and included Painting and Film, Biographical Film, Avant-Garde Cinema, Documentary Film, and Transcendental Film. He lectured extensively on early cinema, with idiosyncratic style and underscored by romantic lyricism and unabashed bias. (His presentation on D.W. Griffith, for example, begins: “They named him David: and he was to grow up to become a giant and slay himself.”) In Dixon’s personal papers, I found a copy of writer and poet Guy Davenport’s introduction to a public Brakhage lecture which beautifully describes the discursive nature of the latter’s lecturing style:

He is going to climb this mountain by wrapping it with his footprints; he will come down again when he is halfway up, climb another mountain by way of digression, and then go back up the first one. He shows us that to be interested in anything we must be interested in everything. This kind of mind is not an American tradition. We are raised to respect conviction rather than analysis, persuasion rather than interpretation. Brakhage uses up the average man’s portion of speculative thought every day.

Analysis and interpretation was arguably key to both Brakhage’s and Dixon’s teaching styles, as they sifted through, ordered, and presented what was then a nascent history of artists’ moving image and established a context for their own practices.

In the library, I read a first edition of The Brakhage Lectures (since reissued as a free pdf by Ubu Editions). Brakhage delivered these lectures at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the Fall/Winter semester of 1970–1971. As Ian Robertson’s afterword to the publication records, Brakhage screened 43 films, and it is this list of film works that were a key source in cross-referencing the films listed in the Crystal Clips reel and its accompanying note.

Dixon, meanwhile, included some of the titles of Crystal Clips at the workshops she presented at Pittsburgh Filmmakers, where she was an instructor. In “Personal Film,” a 1976 course that she evocatively described as “a vision workshop,” Dixon walked her students through her own interpretation of artists’ film, where the surrealist shorts of Salvador Dalí and Francis Picabia were followed by screenings of work by her contemporaries: Bruce Connor, Marie Menken, Jonas Mekas and, of course, Brakhage. Dixon always sought to succinctly define the operational and practical characteristics of artists’ intentions: the Lumière Brothers “specialised in actualities, views”; Edison “specialized in theatrical and staged scenes”; while Méliès was concerned with “fantasy, fiction, illusion.”

But all three, Dixon explained to her students, depicted how,

the materialist mind of the nineteenth century had their [sic] eyes open onto the world. Any interesting visual phenomenon, commonplace or exotic, was material for the early short films. They were “gathering in” a world newly opened by improved transporation, intentions and communications. They were seeing both “out” and “in.”

Dixon’s notion of “gathering in” images and knowledge via travel and communication seems to me an apt description of Brakhage’s and Dixon’s own roles as primary disseminators of a new history of artists’ moving image work. And within this scenario, Crystal Clips had significant practical uses to both the artist and the curator. Both Brakhage and Dixon referenced these particular works frequently in their lectures and personal notes.

The assigning of provenance to work is fraught with obstacles both practical and legal. While it’s not necessarily my place or responsibility to verify provenance, I can make some reasonable estimations based on the following: Dixon believed Crystal Clips to be from Brakhage when she gifted it on to the Walker; the discoloration of the can and the reel was similar to the degradation of her other Brakhage works; and Brakhage frequently donated works, books, and other ephemera that he though would be useful to her. The material on Crystal Clips itself, meanwhile, looked to be an extracted copy of a larger and more general reel that presented the history of early film. While examining the back catalogue of the Huntley Archives, another film distributor of early cinema, I found a reel with a similar composition of films. Crucially, the intertitles from Crystal Clips matched the typography of the Huntley reel, the latter of which was in general circulation for educational and reference purposes.

Emily Davis, a former Walker researcher who is now Senior Research Associate for the Time-Based Media Collection at the Carnegie Museum of Art, was in touch with Dixon following the acquisition of Dixon’s gift and archive, of which Crystal Clips was a part. Keen to get her opinion, I sent Davis some of the snapshots I’d taken of the filmstrip, and she generously fed into my research. Speculating that the film was a reversal print, she shrewdly noticed that the filmstrip showed evidence of a “printed-in” splice:

In other words, evidence that the source material has a splice. If that’s true, this would lead me to think that this is a contact print of a “working print.” Stan could have complied the “working print” or he could have simply printed this copy for Sally, another aspect to think about.

Once Joe the projectionist had found us a cinema slot, the Walker Film/Video department — Caylin, Sheryl Mousley, Dean Otto and Kate Rogers — assembled in the cinema to view Crystal Clips. Joe pointed out the traces of optical printing, while Dean noted how “dupey” the print looked — possible evidence of a small-scale reprinting, rather than something more industrial. In the cinema, it was clear that Crystal Clips was not a Stan Brakhage “work in progress” but most likely a custom-printed educational reel, shared between two friends who were also teachers.

Despite the fact that the image is now heavily deteriorated, Crystal Clips races through the invention of cinema as a new visual culture in three compelling minutes. It specifically foregrounds the intersection dramatic narrative and technology — from the breakthroughs of E.J. Marey’s sequenced photographs of animal locomotion, to the construction landscapes of the Turkestan–Siberia Railway captured in Viktor Turin’s Turksib.

As a film, Crystal Clips provides an illustrative role. Its historical contents rely on a guide, on supporting notes delivered by another voice that might unpack and describe the dense excerpts of cinematic innovation.

But as an artifact within the Bentson Collection, Crystal Clips reveals something else. The work and expertise that goes into something as simple as following up a small note like “may have been compiled by Stan Brakhage / work in progress” not only shows the collaborative endeavor of archival research, but also exposes the informal networks through which artists’ moving image circulates both then and now: through the casual passing of hands, out of a common syllabus or a mutual interest, and a desire to share and exhibit an experience beyond one’s own intimate circle of enthusiasts and specialists.

The films included on the Crystal Clips reel were critical tools that Brakhage and Dixon deployed in order to carve out the basis for what we now consider to be the development of artists’ moving image in the western world. Despite the fact that both had initially shown relentless boldness to compare their work and the work of the contemporaries with the great technologists of early cinema, their narrative is nonetheless sustained, amended, and expanded today. And, regardless of provenance or authenticity, the circulation of artists’ moving image has always relied on acts of generosity. As Brakhage himself noted:

I like to share films with people. I think I’ve behaved in the same way that a person would if they saw some precious thing drifting out to sea. You try to rescue it.

Oscar-nominated Timbuktu screens at the Walker

“Passionate and visually beautiful … Timbuktu is a cry from the heart—with all the more moral authority for being expressed with such grace and such care.” —The Guardian (UK) Abderrahmane Sissako’s Oscar-nominated Timbuktu screens over two weekends (February 20-March 1, 2015) here in the Walker Cinema. Inspired by a real-life stoning of an unmarried Malian couple in 2012, […]

Still from Timbuktu.

“Passionate and visually beautiful … Timbuktu is a cry from the heart—with all the more moral authority for being expressed with such grace and such care.” —The Guardian (UK)

Abderrahmane Sissako’s Oscar-nominated Timbuktu screens over two weekends (February 20-March 1, 2015) here in the Walker Cinema. Inspired by a real-life stoning of an unmarried Malian couple in 2012, the film offers a harrowing portrayal of the Tuareg raid on Timbuktu. This Islamist group forcefully imposed Sharia law as part of their separatist agenda in the ongoing Malian civil war. Sissako’s film denies the obvious binary of good and evil, instead portraying the subtleties of the clash of the Arabic, French, and English speaking populations. Though his film centers around the story of a man condemned to death for accidentally killing a neighboring fisherman, Sissako offers a choral structure that gives voice to all different types of civilians living in Timbuktu. The film unfolds slowly and beautifully, treating each scene and character with empathy and hope.

In a special series of post-screening discussions, professors, local clergy, and prominent leaders from the Twin Cities African community will discuss the intersections of Sissako’s filmmaking and the conflict in Mali. For a complete list of screening dates and times, please click here.

Sissako will also travel to Minneapolis in early April for a retrospective of his earlier films, including Waiting for Happiness (Heremakono), Timbuktu, Life on Earth (La Vie Sur Terre) and Bamako. A post-screening discussion with the director will follow each screening.

Hi8: Eight Questions with Chris Mason Johnson and Chris Martin, Writer/Director/Producer of Test

Hi8 is a new series of short interviews that serve as a quick hello to film figures we’re following. Inspired by the Walker’s 8-Ball Q&As, the series launches with a look at writers, producers, directors, and actors nominated for an Film Independent Spirit Award. In a self-navigated format, each artist picks questions from a list, answering those eight […]

Still from  Test . Photo courtesy of Serious Productions.

Still from Test. Photo courtesy of Serious Productions

Hi8 is a new series of short interviews that serve as a quick hello to film figures we’re following. Inspired by the Walker’s 8-Ball Q&As, the series launches with a look at writers, producers, directors, and actors nominated for an Film Independent Spirit Award. In a self-navigated format, each artist picks questions from a list, answering those eight that best expose their current musings and fascinations. No two interviews are the same.

Nominated for the John Cassavetes award at the Film Independent Spirit Awards, Test documents the life of a modern dancer living in San Francisco in 1985 as he struggles to navigate his sexuality, masculinity, and career. The film’s writer, director, and producer Chris Mason Johnson, was a dancer himself as part of Frankfurt Ballet and White Oak Dance Project before pursuing a career in film. Test is the director’s second film and won two Grand Jury Awards at Out Festival in Los Angeles. Fellow producer Chris Martin is based in San Francisco where he has spent the last decade working in film, television, and journalism. He currently has two other films in the works. Both Chris’s took a moment to answer a few questions about novels, artistic influences, and recharging creatively. Test screened at the Walker at the end of January.

Chris Mason Johnson, Writer/Director/Producer

1. What was your worst (college/post-college/make-ends-meet) job?

An admin assistant to a choreographer. I’d been a professional dancer and suddenly I was this office boy faxing things while the dancers danced without me.

2. What is one of the most unexpected influences on your art?

My own past. I thought I was going to bury it but I put it on display.

3. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Physical thing: my jaw. It’s weak. Psychological thing: chronic procrastination.

4. How do you recharge creatively?

Pose questions to myself before I fall asleep and see if I have the answer when I wake up, or at least a feeling for them. Also: walking without technology.

5. Whom would you like to spend three hours in an elevator with?

A very talented and generous masseur.

6. What’s your most vivid Minneapolis memory?

Buying a folk art wooden pig with wheels and surprising my boyfriend on his birthday at our hotel while on tour with the Frankfurt Ballet. He’d seen it earlier in a store and loved it. I snuck back and bought it for him.

7. What global issue most excites or angers you?

Excites: the spread of basic human rights to all corners of the globe. Angers: the treatment of women where those rights have yet to spread.

8. What is your advice for young people today?

  1. Your 20s matter. Be careful what you work at because it might stick.
  2. Money matters but not in the way you think it does.
  3. Learn how to listen. It’s not easy. 

Chris Martin, Producer

1. What have you been obsessing about lately?

Living in sunny and dry California, I’ve been obsessing about winter wonderlands lately, even watching cross-country ski tournaments in the Alps on ESPN just for the scenery.

2. What is something you have never done before?

I’ve never gone sailing on a craft of my own and I’ve never gone spelunking. I would love to do both.

3. What global issue most excites or angers you?

Building tract houses on the earth’s richest farmland.

4. How do you recharge creatively?

I read short stories or take my camera out to shoot landscapes that only I think are beautiful.

5. What’s your most vivid Minneapolis memory?

Going swimming in the downtown YMCA with its big windows that overlook buildings.

6. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Abstinence.

7. What’s your favorite mode of transport?

Trains and bicycles – they work great together.

8. What have you been reading lately?

Billy Lynn’s Long Half-Time Walk and Station 11.

The Film Independent Spirit Award nominees screen annually at the Walker Art Center as part of a collaboration with IFP. Screenings are free for all IFP and Walker members. Click here for the complete list of screenings.

 

Hi8: Eight Questions with Ira Sachs, Director/Writer, Love Is Strange

Hi8 is a new series of short interviews that serve as a quick hello to film figures we’re following. Inspired by the Walker’s 8-Ball Q&As, the series launches with a look at writers, producers, directors, and actors nominated for an Film Independent Spirit Award. In a self-navigated format, each artist picks questions from a list, answering those eight […]

Hi8 is a new series of short interviews that serve as a quick hello to film figures we’re following. Inspired by the Walker’s 8-Ball Q&As, the series launches with a look at writers, producers, directors, and actors nominated for an Film Independent Spirit Award. In a self-navigated format, each artist picks questions from a list, answering those eight that best expose their current musings and fascinations. No two interviews are the same.

Jeffery Perkey, filmmaker Ira Sachs, and Dean Otto, program manager, Walker Film/Video

Jeffery Perkey, filmmaker Ira Sachs, and Dean Otto, program manager, Walker Film/Video

 Love is Strange, the second installment in an unofficial New York Trilogy, is nominated for four Independent Spirit Awards (Best Feature, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor). Director Ira Sachs and writer Mauricio Zacharias team up again to tell the story of two men—Ben and George—who finally get married in New York City after 39 years of partnership. Because of their recent marriage, George is fired from his teaching position at a Catholic school and the couple is forced to live separately while they figure out their finances. Sachs traveled to Minneapolis in January to introduce his film at Walker Art Center and participate in a post-screening discussion. His previous films have screened at Sundance, including Forty Shades of Blue that won the Grand Jury Prize. He is currently working on a new film with Zacharias called Thank You For Being Honest.

1. If you could throw a dinner party for anyone in the world, who would you invite?

My kids, Viva and Felix, and my husband Boris.  In fact, I’m going to invite them for that dinner tonight.

2. What is your hometown like?

Memphis is a city that if you happen to be born there poor you have as little opportunity for good education or good housing as if you were born poor in Calcutta. The American dream is not alive and well in Memphis, TN.

3. What’s your favorite place to people-watch?

The Great Hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  They have nice benches and in the winter, when it’s cold outside, there are few places better to while away the hours watching the world go by.

4. What is your greatest extravagance?

I would say going out to dinner more often than I might.  I don’t like fast cars, or fancy watches, but I do like sitting in a round, leather-seated booth at the Knickerbocker Bar & Grill on 9th St in NYC, and having a good meal and conversation.

5. What was your favorite birthday like?

I turned 40 on the tail of the hardest few years of my life so far, and I feel that I came alive again at a party hosted by friends for me on the top floor of the Pompidou Museum in Paris. That night, the past and the future didn’t look so bad.

6. What’s your favorite comfort food?

I eat gazpacho for lunch 4 or 5 days a week, six months a year (the warm months), so I guess that’s comfort.

7. What has been your favorite age so far? Why?

This moment now, without question. As I get older I find that I appreciate what I have more than what I want to have.

8. What recent album, film, or book did you consume recently that you wish you had created?

I have a bit of filmmakers envy for the work of the Chilean director Sebastián Silva (Crystal Fairy, Nasty Baby).  There’s an ease to his directing that I covet.

 

The Film Independent Spirit Award nominees screen annually at the Walker Art Center as part of a collaboration with IFP. Screenings are free for all IFP and Walker members. Click here for the complete list of screenings.

Hi8: Eight Questions with Justin Begnaud, Producer, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

Hi8 is a new series of short interviews that serve as a quick hello to film figures we’re following. Inspired by the Walker’s 8-Ball Q&As, the series launches with a look at writers, producers, directors, and actors nominated for an Film Independent Spirit Award. In a self-navigated format, each artist picks questions from a list, answering those eight […]

Hi8 is a new series of short interviews that serve as a quick hello to film figures we’re following. Inspired by the Walker’s 8-Ball Q&As, the series launches with a look at writers, producers, directors, and actors nominated for an Film Independent Spirit Award. In a self-navigated format, each artist picks questions from a list, answering those eight that best expose their current musings and fascinations. No two interviews are the same.

Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. Photo courtesy Kino Lorber 2014

Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. Photo courtesy Kino Lorber 2014

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night effortlessly blends genres. One part spaghetti Western, one part noir, and one part graphic novel, the film follows a skateboarding vampire as she strategically chooses her victims and falls in love. Director Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut is nominated for Best First Feature, Best Cinematography, and the Kiehl’s Someone to Watch award. The film’s producer, Justin Begnaud, took a moment to talk about Viking funerals and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off via email. Begnaud is the Chief Operating Officer at Crimson Forest Entertainment and has been producing film, television, and digital media for the past 15 years.

1.  What’s one of your guilty pleasures?

Oatmeal cookies with chocolate chips….hold on…I’m eating one right now.

2. What is your advice for young people today?

Get off your damn mobile device and live!

3. What’s your favorite place to people-watch?

Airplanes. Everyone looks miserable, and they all wear comfort clothes….which ain’t pretty either.

4. What’s your most vivid Minneapolis memory?

My dad was born in St. Paul and my uncle bought a 60 year-old cannery on the outskirts of town… used it as his house… and he had 7 couches inside… one to sleep on for each night of the week!

5. What was your favorite birthday like?

My friends surprised me by re-creating the entire day from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (rented a Ferrari, took me to a museum, a major league baseball game, and a fancy steak lunch… took me a while to figure it out, but once I caught on it was “so choice!”)

6. What’s your favorite comfort food?

Greasy Pizza! (From NYC of course).

7. What is your favorite place in the world?

South Island, New Zealand.

8. What do you wish to have done with your mortal remains?

I want a Viking funeral. Ya know, when they put you on a pile of logs, along with other flammable objects and get shoved out into the ocean abyss…then someone with a flaming arrow fires a shot toward my body. That’s honorable.

 

The Film Independent Spirit Award nominees screen annually at the Walker Art Center as part of a collaboration with IFP. Screenings are free for all IFP and Walker members. Click here for the complete list of screenings.

Hi8: Eight Questions with Lena Waithe, Producer, Dear White People

Hi8 is a new series of short interviews that serve as a quick hello to film figures we’re following. Inspired by the Walker’s 8-Ball Q&As, the series launches with a look at writers, producers, directors, and actors nominated for a Film Independent Spirit Award. In a self-navigated format, each artist picks questions from a list, answering those eight […]

Screen shot 2015-02-18 at 11.33.00 AM
Hi8 is a new series of short interviews that serve as a quick hello to film figures we’re following. Inspired by the Walker’s 8-Ball Q&As, the series launches with a look at writers, producers, directors, and actors nominated for a Film Independent Spirit Award. In a self-navigated format, each artist picks questions from a list, answering those eight that best expose their current musings and fascinations. No two interviews are the same.

Dear White People seamlessly blends cultural critique and humor in its examination of racial politics in higher education. The film has a special relationship with Minnesota: it was shot on the University of Minnesota campus, screened to a sold out audience at the Walker in May of 2014 as part of the Next Look series, and was presented as a case study at IFP Minnesota’s 15th Annual Midwest Filmmaker’s Conference. Dear White People received two Film Independent Spirit Award nominations for Best First Feature and Best First Screenplay. Director Justin Simien and producers Lena Waithe, Angel Lopez, and Ann Le raised over $41,000 through Indiegogo, a crowd funding site. Producer Effie Brown later joined the mix after the promotional video went viral. Lena Waithe took a few moments to talk about self-care, what she’s listening to, and her favorite pair of pants. Waithe first gained internet fame for writing the YouTube series “Shit Black Girls Say.” She is currently writing a pilot for a show called Twenties, about a handful of twenty-somethings trying to navigate their post-college years, that will air on BET, and developing another show called Bros Before Hos—a comedy about three black brothers—for HBO.

1. What’s your favorite place to people-watch?

Gay clubs and holiday office parties.

 2. How do you recharge creatively?

Walking around my neighborhood listening to whatever my favorite song is at the time.

3. What is your favorite article of clothing?

A pair of corduroy harem pants I found at a thrift store. They’re way too big for me so I often wear them with suspenders.

 4. What is your favorite film scene?

It’s a scene from Eve’s Bayou. It’s when Eve’s aunt relives a memory when her lover shoots her husband in front of her. It’s shot beautifully and it’s done in such a sad yet eloquent way.

 5. What have you been listening to lately?

I’ve been listening to Siya’s latest mixtape “Better Late Than Never.” Oh and Jazmine Sullivan’s new album, “Reality Show”.

 6. What is your favorite inanimate object?

My remote control.

 7. What has been your favorite age so far? Why?

The one I am now (30) because I’ve learned the true meaning of self-care. It’s not a concept one can fully comprehend in your twenties. You’re still too eager to please everyone.

8. What recent album, film, or book did you consume recently that you wish you had created?

The Comeback—because it’s so smart and dark and a reflection of us as a society.

The Film Independent Spirit Award nominees screen annually at the Walker Art Center as part of a collaboration with IFP. Screenings are free for all IFP and Walker members. Click here for the complete list of screenings.

Hi8: Eight Questions with the Directors and Producers of Land Ho!

Hi8 is a new series of short interviews that serve as a quick hello to film figures we’re following. Inspired by the Walker’s 8-Ball Q&As, the series launches with a look at writers, producers, directors, and actors nominated for an Film Independent Spirit Award. In a self-navigated format, each artist picks questions from a list, […]

Hi8 is a new series of short interviews that serve as a quick hello to film figures we’re following. Inspired by the Walker’s 8-Ball Q&As, the series launches with a look at writers, producers, directors, and actors nominated for an Film Independent Spirit Award. In a self-navigated format, each artist picks questions from a list, answering those eight that best expose their current musings and fascinations. No two interviews are the same.

landho

Land Ho! tells the story of two older men who, bored by retirement, decide to adventure through Iceland. The film received a nomination for a Film Independent Spirit Award in the John Cassavetes category for movies filmed with a budget of less than $500,000. Co-director Aaron Katz played an important role as a pioneer of “mumblecore”: an independent film genre that typically features a small budget, amateur actors, and emphasis on character rather than plot. His artistic partner, Martha Stephens, debuted as a director at the SXSW film festival in 2010 with Passenger Pigeons, a subtle film portraying life in her home of rural Appalachia. Katz and Stephens have been friends for over a decade and decided to shoot Land Ho! together while working on their own long-term projects. The film is produced by three women including Mynette Louie, president of Gamechanger Films, an equity fund that finances films directed by women. Louie won the Piaget Producer’s Award at last year’s Spirit Awards. Christina Jennings also helped produce the film and fell so in love with Iceland that she decided to move there post-shoot. Jennings first connected with director Stephens in Austin while attending school at the University of Texas. These four directors and producers took a moment to answer a few questions about dance hits, dinner parties, Ariana Grande, and the Australian Open. Land Ho! screens at the Walker at 6 pm on Wednesday, February 11, 2015.

 

Aaron Katz, Director

1. What have you been obsessing about lately?

El Dorado rum. On its own or in a rum Manhattan.

2. What’s your most vivid Minneapolis memory?

A long time ago some friends took me to a house party and someone put on “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It.” I hadn’t thought of this song as enjoyable or good until that moment. I was at the peak of my just out of college music snobbery and I was reminded then that music can be enjoyed in lots of different ways.

 3. What is your least favorite sound? 

I’ve been watching the Australian Open and there’s this commercial that has run hundreds of times for Melbourne as a tourist destination. I remember to mute it most of the time now, but I’ll be hearing it in my nightmares for years to come.

 4. What global issue most excites or angers you?

I’m angered by the lack of seriousness regarding environmental issues in mainstream political dialogue.

 5. What have you been listening to lately? 

Dance hits by CeCe Peniston and Crystal Waters. Also, Korean hip hop geniuses Dynamic Duo.

 6. What recent album, film, or book did you consume recently that you wish you had created?

Nightcrawler. I caught the end credits of the movie recently while I was walking into a screening of a movie playing right after it and I was reminded, even just watching two minutes of credits, how great it is.

 7. What is your favorite article of clothing?

The Fair Isle sweater I bought while in the Shetland Islands with my wife.

 8. What have you been reading lately?

John Dickson Carr. He wrote “locked room mysteries” and I’m having a hard time reading anything else right now.


Martha Stephens, Director

 1. What is your hometown like?

I grew up in the Appalachian foothills right outside of Ashland, Kentucky. People call this area Cancer Valley. We have several coal processing plants, oil refineries, steel plants, etc. It’s a gritty, depressed hybrid of the rust belt and coal country.

2. What’s one of your guilty pleasures?

Mystic Pizza. But I feel no guilt for loving it. Julia Roberts in that pool hustling scene is GOLD.

3. What’s your favorite mode of transport?

Inclined planes and chairlifts.

4. What artist turned your world upside-down as a teenager?

Bruce Springsteen. At thirteen I heard Born To Run and was never the same.

5. Whom would you like to spend three hours in an elevator with?

See above. I’m getting flustered just thinking about it.

6. What have you been listening to lately? 

Suzi Quatro. She inspired the spirit of my latest script.

 7. What’s your favorite comfort food? 

Biscuits and gravy, the food of my people.

 8. What artists would you like to collaborate with?

I’d love to work with Billy Bob Thornton one day.  I think of him as a kindred spirit.


Mynette Louie, Producer

1. What’s one of your guilty pleasures?

ABC’s Scandal.

2. Who is your favorite villain of fiction?

Mrs. Danvers from Rebecca.

3. What is your advice for young people today?

This is advice for everyone, including myself: Don’t let the Internet rewire your brain more than it already has. Don’t fall prey to digital mob mentality or allow persecution by social media without asking rigorous questions. Cherish and nourish nuance and critical thinking. Learn grammar.

4. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Good manners and optimism (at the expense of truth and honesty).

5. What’s your favorite comfort food?

Mashed potatoes and soup dumplings (but not together).

6. Who’s your favorite cartoon character?

Lucy from Peanuts.

7. What is one of the most unexpected influences on your art?

Riding the NYC subway. It’s rife with humanity and ripe for existential musings.

8. Describe a recent dream in 15 words or less.

Hollywood agent disappears from office without a trace. Co-workers discover he went on a walkabout.


Christina Jennings, Producer

1. What’s one of your guilty pleasures?

Nada. I own my love of Ariana Grande.

2. If you could throw a dinner party for anyone in the world, who would you invite?

Rashida Jones, Cara Delevingne, the Broad City gals (Ilana Glazer & Abbi Jacobson), Emma Watson, Amanda Seyfried, Addie Bryant, Cobie Smulders, Anna Wintour, Tavi Gevinson, Drake and Paul Rudd.

3. What is your advice for young people today?

Don’t do something just because you think you’re supposed to do it. There are no “rules” in life.

4. Who’s your favorite superhero?

Joan Rivers.

5. If you own a pet, what kind and what characteristics do you share with it?

My cat Finn and I are both sweet-natured and gentle but we bite if we have no other choice.

6. What have you been reading lately?

Yes Please by Amy Poehler & Under the Glacier by Halldór Laxness

 7. Name something you would love to possess, but never will.

A neck tattoo. My mom made me vow I would never get one. I love her so I will obey.

 8. What do you wish to have done with your mortal remains?

I’m working towards my immortality so hopefully this need not worry me.

The Film Independent Spirit Award nominees screen annually at the Walker Art Center as part of a collaboration with IFP. Screenings are free for all IFP and Walker members. Click here for the complete list of screenings.

 

 

Hi8: Eight Questions with Kiara C. Jones, Producer, She’s Lost Control

Hi8 is a new series of short interviews that serve as a quick hello to film figures we’re following. Inspired by the Walker’s 8-Ball Q&As, the series launches with a look at writers, producers, directors, and actors nominated for a Film Independent Spirit Award. In a self-navigated format, each artist picks questions from a list, answering […]

P1010091_2Hi8 is a new series of short interviews that serve as a quick hello to film figures we’re following. Inspired by the Walker’s 8-Ball Q&As, the series launches with a look at writers, producers, directors, and actors nominated for a Film Independent Spirit Award. In a self-navigated format, each artist picks questions from a list, answering those eight that best expose their current musings and fascinations. No two interviews are the same.

Director Anja Marquardt’s debut film, She’s Lost Control, starkly explores the life of a sexual surrogate in New York who becomes a bit too close with one of her patients. The film was nominated for Best First Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards. The “worst blizzard of the century” provided an opportunity for the film’s producer, Kiara C. Jones, to take a moment away from her busy life to talk to me about the subway, Malcom X, and breaking up with technology. Jones started her creative career as a poet and hip hop artist before moving to New York City to pursue a career in filmmaking. She’s Lost Control screened at the Walker earlier in January 2015.

1. What do you wish to have done with your mortal remains? 

I’d like for the people I love to skip the funeral and see the world. Cremate me and scatter my ashes in warm, beautiful, clear blue, water around the globe.

2. What artist turned your world upside-down as a teenager?

When I was 17 my friend Dent gave me a shoe box filled with cassette tapes. It was recordings of Malcolm X speeches from the 1960s. Some would categorize him as an activist, but he was definitely an artist. He was a brilliant orator, clever and concise in his choice of content and presentation of thoughts. I used to listen to the tapes on my Walkman and would rewind the poignant and often inflammatory thoughts. I moved through the tapes in order. Then, one day, his voice, his pace, his message had changed. I was shook. In reality the distance between those speeches was years, but in my world I had gone to bed with pre-Mecca Malcolm and woke up with post-Mecca Malcolm. If you don’t know what that means, it’s worth a little research. For 17-year-old me, it was life-changing. I would go back and forth between the tapes, looking for similarities, differences, wondering what he would say if he were alive today. It taught me that people truly can change, like butterfly change. Yesterday crawling, today flying. It freed me to understand that being true to myself didn’t mean staying the same. I have the right to explore, discover, interpret, reinterpret and change. Thank you, Malcolm and Dent.

3. Describe a recent dream in 15 words or less.

Glitter dances, bubbles of snow, humble spotlight, applause and laughter, wordless speech, baby sister, proud.

4. What is your hometown like?

Like most of America, beautiful on paper with a torrid past and a volatile future.

5. What is your advice for young people today?

Get offline.

6. What have you been reading lately?

Scripts… lots and lots of scripts. The more I read, the more I discover about filmmaking. There are lots of bad scripts out there. Not bad because they’re bad, but bad because the writer didn’t find the most interesting “good” to put on the page. There will often be one character or a line of dialogue and I’ll think—there, that’s what this script should be about. They say directing is about knowing where to put the camera, writing is about knowing where to put your thoughts.

7. Fill in the blank. What the world needs now is_____________.

A 30-day power outage.

8. What’s your favorite place to people-watch?

New York City trains. I love to imagine where people are coming from. Where they’re going. What’s on their minds. What’s making them joyful or sad. You can see the entire world on the subway, every class, race, creed, color, orientation. It is a microcosm of the human experience. That’s the best thing about living in New York, if you need inspiration, just walk out your door.

The Film Independent Spirit Award nominees screen annually at the Walker Art Center as part of a collaboration with IFP. Screenings are free for all IFP and Walker members. Click here for the complete schedule.

 

Hi8: Eight Questions with David Zellner and Chris Ohlson, Director/Producer, Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter

Hi8 is a new series of short interviews that serve as a quick hello to film figures we’re following. Inspired by the Walker’s 8-Ball Q&As, the series launches with a look at writers, producers, directors, and actors nominated for a Film Independent Spirit Award. In a self-navigated format, each artist picks questions from a list, answering […]

The Zellner Bros. and Chris Ohlson during their visit to the Walker in 2014.

The Zellner Bros. and Chris Ohlson during their visit to the Walker in 2014.

Hi8 is a new series of short interviews that serve as a quick hello to film figures we’re following. Inspired by the Walker’s 8-Ball Q&As, the series launches with a look at writers, producers, directors, and actors nominated for a Film Independent Spirit Award. In a self-navigated format, each artist picks questions from a list, answering those eight that best expose their current musings and fascinations. No two interviews are the same.

The Austin, Texas–based Zellner Bros., have been collaboratively making films for over a decade. For their latest—Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter—Nathan wrote, produced, and acted while David directed. After obsessively watching Fargo, their protagonist is convinced the film contains a map to buried treasure and travels to Minnesota to find it. The Zellner Bros. shot many of the scenes on site, in and around the Twin Cities. Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter played to a sold out audience at the Walker in September 2014. Along with producer Chris Ohlson, the Zellner Bros. joined Variety chief film critic Scott Foundas for a Q&A afterwards. Their feature was nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards: Best Director and Best Female Lead (Rinko Kikuchi).

On a warm Austin day in January, David Zellner writes to me about fond memories of yesteryear and the forces that motivated him.

1. Which creative talent would you most like to have?

The voice of an angel.

2. What is your favorite film scene?

It changes day to day, but the end of Aguirre, The Wrath of God is always a safe bet.

3. What was your most character-building experience?

Years of rejection.

4. What artist turned your world upside-down as a teenager?

Tie between Morrissey and Kris Kristofferson.

5. Name an image from past visits to the Twin Cities that you can’t get out of your mind.

The amazing interior of Nye’s, a national treasure.

6. What was your worst (college/post-college/make-ends-meet) job?

A phone survey job in the late ’90s. You had to hit a daily quota of cold-calls covering everything from political/current events to favorite types of condiments.

7. What recent album, film, or book did you consume recently that you wish you had created?

Ida. It’s a pretty perfect film.

8. When did you realize you wanted to be an artist?

It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, never have had a choice.

Still from Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (2014)

Still from Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (2014)

Chris Ohlson lives and works as a filmmaker in Austin, Texas. He recently produced the Zellner Bros. Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter which world premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and will be released theatrically in March 2015. He is the recipient of the 2015 Piaget Producers Award and previously was a Sundance Creative Producing Fellow.

1. What have you been obsessing about lately?

TIME.  I’m constantly struggling with TIME and how to be best friends with it. Please help me.

2. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

SLEEPING.  I’d like to eliminate sleeping from my daily life and ritual.

3. What is your greatest extravagance?

Completely unnecessary and completely extravagant… A 2nd CUP OF COFFEE in a single day.

4. What artist turned your world upside-down as a teenager?

In 1992, I was 17 years old, and technically still a teenager, yes. I was sitting in the back of my crappy blue Mazda pickup truck and I heard, for the very first time, RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE… Zack de la Rocha, Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk… and Everything Was Turned Upside-Down.

5. What’s your favorite comfort food?

CHIPS AND SALSA.  Sometimes, it’s dinner.  Sometimes it’s dessert… and every once in a while, it’s breakfast. But always, always, always, chips and salsa.

6. Whom would you like to spend three hours in an elevator with?

I don’t know that we’d even talk—but I think silently staring at mirrored elevator walls with WERNER HERZOG for three hours, would be completely revelatory and altogether life-changing.

7. What is your favorite place in the world?

It’s less a specific place, but more of a specific SETTING. I absolutely love SWIMMING AT NIGHT.  Finding a moonlit body of warm water and diving in, that’s the good stuff.

8. What recent album, film, or book did you consume recently that you wish you had created?

I wish I had created HERE IT IS MY BEAUTIFUL FUCKING HEART (a wonderful chapbook of poetic comics by Jon-Michael Frank, buy it here).

The Film Independent Spirit Award nominees screen annually at the Walker Art Center as part of a collaboration with IFP. Screenings are free for all IFP and Walker members. Click here for the complete list of screenings.

 

Hi8: Eight Questions with Mauricio Zacharias, Writer, Love is Strange

Hi8 is a new series of short interviews that serve as a quick hello to film figures we’re following. Inspired by the Walker’s 8-Ball Q&As, the series launches with  a look at writers, producers, directors, and actors nominated for a Film Independent Spirit Award. In a self-navigated format, each artist picks questions from a list, answering […]

Still from Love is Strange (2014)

Still from Love is Strange (2014)

Hi8 is a new series of short interviews that serve as a quick hello to film figures we’re following. Inspired by the Walker’s 8-Ball Q&As, the series launches with  a look at writers, producers, directors, and actors nominated for a Film Independent Spirit Award. In a self-navigated format, each artist picks questions from a list, answering those eight that best expose their current musings and fascinations. No two interviews are the same.

Love is Strange, the second collaboration between director Ira Sachs and writer Mauricio Zacharias, is nominated for four Independent Spirit Awards: Best Feature, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor. The film tells the tender love story of two men—Ben and George—who finally get married in New York City after 39 years of partnership. Because of their recent marriage, George is fired from his teaching position at a Catholic school and the couple is forced to live separately while they figure out their finances. The Walker screened Love is Strange earlier this month with Sachs in attendance for a post-screening discussion.

The writing duo has a promising future ahead. Sachs and Zacharias are currently working on their third film, the final installment in their unofficial New York love trilogy. Fresh from the beach, Zacharias took a moment away from visiting family in Rio de Janeiro to answer a few questions about what inspires, angers, and comforts him in 2015.

1. What have you been obsessing about lately?

The Amazon series Transparent. I love the way it uses humor to portray a very complicated family situation.

2. What is something you have never done before?

Parachuting! To jump out of plane and free fall for a while sounds amazing (but landing safely on a sandy beach sounds even better).

3. When did you realize you wanted to be an artist?

I watched Psycho as a kid. It made me want to make movies. I studied and worked hard to make it happen, but I’m always amazed to see that I’ve become what I’ve always dreamed of being.

4. What global issue most excites or angers you?

Global warming. It is the most pressing issue of our times, and when I hear governments denying to take action, I go: what are those people thinking??

5. They say dogs and their owners tend to look alike. What kind of dog would you own?  If you own a pet, what kind and what characteristics do you share with it?

Miles, a shiba-inu, is the first pet I’ve ever owned (I share custody with my ex). He likes to be alone as much as I do.

6. What is your least favorite sound? 

The ambulance/firetruck sirens in NYC. Can they turn it down, please?

7. What is your favorite place in the world?

My bed.

8. Whom would you like to spend three hours in an elevator with?

Absolutely no one. If this ever happens to me, I wish to be alone.

The Film Independent Spirit Award nominees screen annually at the Walker Art Center as part of a collaboration with IFP. Screenings are free for all IFP and Walker members. Click here for the complete list of screenings.

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