As has been previously reported, Here's to the Future! and Hit 2 Pass, new feature films from Notebook contributors Gina Telaroli and Kurt Walker, is starting its roll out this month. Following an open call for screenings the films will be playing at New York's Spectacle Theater (starting this Thursday November 5th), Toronto's MDFF (November 4th), Philadelphia's public access channel (starting November 13th), and more. The open call for screenings is in conjunction with an online release being done independently by the filmmakers themselves on their own website starting November 9th:
The release, online and in real life, is a follow-up to Telaroli's grassroots release of her 2011 feature film Traveling Light (done in conjunction with the Spanish film journal Lumière). The following is an email interview the two filmmakers have been conducting over the past few weeks.
(click on the photos to see them larger)
GINA TELAROLI: What I love about Hit 2 Pass and other small, truly independent movies is when they aren't afraid to be messy or make mistakes or commit to ideas. Basically, to try things even if they don't always pan out. Coming off making my third feature in this vein, I find it frustrating that that same attitude hasn't seemed to find its way to the exhibition and distribution world and that despite all the technology we appear to be moving farther and farther away from experimentation. This is of course why we’re releasing our movies this way, and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit on your end about your experience with H2P and why this kind of release made sense for you?
KURT WALKER: Well, this movie started on the internet in the form of Tumblr posts before its crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo; and while it was certainly nice and very much unexpected that it ended up being embraced by a few film festivals, the goal was always to make its home the internet. Shortly before I began editing I also saw what you were doing with the release of your film Traveling Light and it seemed like a clever experiment—at the very least worth trying.
It's something I've never really understood about this kind of cinema we're making (see: “Small Cinema,” the type of movies that have little to no chance of distribution), more often than not these films get a significant premiere at a festival and then where do they go after that? Their Vimeo passwords are unlikely to get lifted—and now I'm starting to see why this may be: there's simply no infrastructure (or at least one that people use) in place for artists to recuperate and so they're likely better off keeping the work private for exhibition purposes. But then where are we getting? I think we all need to collaborate and experiment until we find an answer, because what we're currently doing is hardly a solution and is in effect depriving cinema of more movies, and not to mention audiences of movies which already exist. Let me throw the question back to you—with Here's to the Future! being your third feature film, and this being your second experiment with self-distribution, why are you releasing your work in this form again? Do you think it is a feasible release strategy for small cinema?
TELAROLI: It's definitely feasible. At this point (with your help!) I've worked out some fairly streamlined systems but I don't know whether it's sustainable in terms of making money given the seismic shifts we've been experiencing in production and distribution over the past few years. Among other things, I think this will depend on whether or not people are willing to monetarily support the work they watch and the filmmakers making it. It's a bizarre problem—that people are willing to pay fairly large sums of money to movies that aren't yet made via sites like Kickstarter but they aren't willing to pay for the experience of watching the actual movies. I don't really understand or know what to do about this. It seems weird to me that people expect to be paid for making movies (or doing anything with movies) but aren't willing to pay to see them themselves. I'd be curious to hear from filmmakers how successful Vimeo on Demand is, which seems like a not horrible solution, although I dislike how inflexible it appears to be. For me, the main thing is that the current traditional systems—a festival run (if I’m lucky) and maybe (if there's a miracle) some kind of small scale distribution or grants—don't seem to work with my non-traditional films and more importantly aren't going to pay my rent and in turn aren't really worth the large amount of time those undertakings require, especially since I can’t afford to aimlessly travel the world for a year. I’d rather spend my free time working on new projects, watching movies, seeing friends, going to the gym, dancing, reading, going to the Met, and traveling for fun, while screening my films where I can easily send them or when someone asks.
Beyond the general cost benefit analysis of the festival world is how depressingly closed those systems still are to women, despite the politically correct stance many people publicly take on the issue, often in 140 character or less. Currently for domestic and international fests the average amount of films accepted by women is around 15%. Those numbers don’t exactly make me want to dive headfirst into that world. Given that I have to support myself, it seems more important to focus on finding sustainable ways to continue to making work, whether that be films or my independent critical projects. Making work and finding ways for people to have access to it, while working on the now tumultuous task of how to archive it all, are my priority. I’d love it if part of that could happen in nice movie theaters or galleries across the world, and if anybody wants to help make that a reality for me I’m here with open arms, but in the meantime I'm going to keep getting my work out there however I can.
One thing I touch on a bit in that answer is how we support films and filmmakers both in and outside of our communities. Money and time are both important but I think the key really lies in having mentors and advocates and how much space we make for new voices. Hit 2 Pass is a film about community in so many ways and even off screen you seem to have a very strong group of people surrounding the film. I'm curious, as an independent filmmaker, how you see community, whether in the production or exhibition side of things, fitting into your work and/or process?
WALKER: Between crowdfunding, the infinite conversation that is social media, and the potential of online exhibition: I think small movies like this one that make their home the internet are communities in and of themselves. As filmmakers, I think it's important to listen to this and let it also exist in the work itself, as it's really the defining feat of the small movie.
With Hit 2 Pass, above all, I simply wanted to make a movie with my friends and perhaps make some new ones along the way. From this impetus it snowballed as we began to experience Prince George, and while the movie's contents ended up being mostly decided by me, I tried to let the shape of it be determined by friendship, community, and the feeling of experiencing a new place with your friends. Hence why we brought plenty of cameras along, so that everyone—not only Tyson (Storozinski) or Neil (Bahadur), but also locals, had the chance to leave an imprint on the movie. Many people native to Prince George have wanted a Hit to Pass movie to happen for a long while, which is no small part why our Indiegogo campaign succeeded, and so we at the very least owed this community a decent picture of their awesome working class spectacle that is Hit to Pass. That all said, I'd like to take a few steps back and forgo landscape for apartment interiors in the form of even smaller films from here on out; with the next one being set in Vancouver and being strictly about what is most immediate to me and my friends.
This is something I appreciate in your work—the films don't reach beyond communally lived experience. With Here's to the Future! you also trace a community of friends, of filmmaking, and of women. Speaking on the gender struggle you brought up earlier, why was it important for you that this crew be led by women? And why this scene from Michael Curtiz's The Cabin in the Cotton?
TELAROLI: The Here's to the Future! that exists now wasn’t the original plan of the movie, or of any movie, I should say. The scene that is being shot was for a short film I was making for an omnibus project that never came to be (more in my first answer here). I chose Cabin the Cotton more or less because I liked the movie and needed something that was a simple narrative movie scene and I had been watching a lot of pre-Code films and was really embedded in that energy and mode of filmmaking.
In that sense, that it wasn’t planned and that nobody was thinking about the process of shooting that day in a documentary context, Here's to the Future! is very much a genuine document of that process and those relationships on that day, of a community, of a time, and, somewhat miraculously, of a pure moment. I realized after the fact, after I had taken the footage and turned into what it is now, that I had unconsciously made a very political movie. The United States exports moving images more than any other product or resource, they are actually the number one thing we are putting out into the world, and of course those images have historically been and continue to be controlled by men. To have a film that actually shows a woman in charge of that process, that shows a woman taking creative control of moving images, is really quite radical and unfortunately very rare. I’m really happy to have captured this, even if it is somewhat horrible to have to watch one's self go through that process. It’s also important to me that this political act takes place in movie that is very accessible and open but also one that is unique and plays with convention through its form and structure. I think part of this is because the organizing principle, the reason for the movie’s existence, is a process and a group of people, instead of a concept or idea.
So many experimental films these days are rooted in a concept or idea and in turn come pre-packaged with long textual explanations or philosophical verbiage that are necessary for you to enter the movie. Here's to the Future! is no less rigorous or rooted in structure, form, philosophy, and history etc., but it has a universal entry point and I think the movie’s accessibility, it’s generosity and focus on people working together and having fun, makes it even more political.
On that end, it’s interesting then for me to hear you talk about wanting to make movies that are immediate to your friends, to your small community. You and I have talked about this but I think my main issue with Hit 2 Pass, the one thing that makes me uncomfortable about it, is how it reflects a very specific young male cinephile lifestyle, which, in direct contrast to other aspects of the movie, feels very limited and also very closed off from me. I wonder about that contradiction? On one hand, I feel, like you feel, that this is an age of personal movies and communities, but on the other I think it is imperative that cinema opens itself up to all the communities it has been closed off from and that we as filmmakers challenge ourselves to work outside our comfort zones and to grow. I’d love to hear you talk about this, about this contradiction, especially as it might relate to making work in the future.
WALKER: I think similar to the way you retroactively realized what you had accomplished with Future!, the inverse unfortunately occurred with Hit 2 Pass, and consequently, it's probably a more exclusive movie than I, or we, intended. That said, my life is different now from when I first started this movie, and I think all that I can do is listen to this flaw and work hard to ensure future productions and movies don't resemble it. I like what you said about the movie at in your introduction at our Spectacle Theater screening wherein you likened the film to Ryan Atwood from The O.C.: he's a confused kid who we, and the Cohen's—the family that adopts him—can't help but accept. To continue this likening (and because television is a direct influence on my next movie!), I'm working hard so that the next one be more akin to the person Ryan is at the end of Season 4, who's still flawed, sure, but far more accepting and inclusive.
The other struggle now is how exactly do I make the next production an actuality—given the large remove the kind of small cinema we’re making has from grants, traditional funding or even crowdfunding. How exactly you find your way to your next work? Also, the focus of the majority of your film criticism concerns pre-Code Hollywood, and Here's to the Future! is itself propelled by an attempt to recreate a Curtiz scene, I'm curious if this is a tradition you'd like to directly work in one day in the form of a narrative movie?
TELAROLI: I’ve almost always found my way to new films or projects circumstantially and a big part of those circumstances tends to be the people I'm spending time with and what we're watching, how those two things connect. On some level, that’s what my most recent found footage piece, Silk Tatters, is directly about, albeit very specifically. I think this is likely how my films, which tend to be process oriented in content and unconventional in their structure, end up feeling so personal, because the real organizing principle is not an idea but actual human beings and who is in a certain space and why and what happens as a result. I’ve always been drawn to and inspired by people’s energies and personalities. I've never thought of myself as a sensitive person in the traditional sense, I tend to thrive off of criticism and challenges, but I am deeply affected by the people around me and that tends to find its way into my work.
In that sense, I’m in a real transition period at the moment (a hard thing for my Taurus self) as a very specific period in my creative process recently came to an end and I’m starting to embark on new work for the first time in almost 5 years. Here's to the Future! was shot in 2011 and edited on and off until it premiered last December and Silk Tatters was in process for almost 4 years. I'm very excited about some new projects in the works with some new people. In fact, I just learned last week that a grant was approved that will allow me travel to Colorado to make a new short film with a filmmaker friend this winter!
To address the second half of your question, included in my upcoming projects is something that is definitely more narrative. I am very interested in making those kinds of films and have a few specific ideas rolling around in my head for features, they just require resources (money, people, time, support) and at this exact moment I don’t have those things in the amounts required to do the kind of work I would want to do.
So then, I'm curious what you think about more traditional narrative film these days, whether they be larger or smaller projects, both as a maker and as a viewer?
WALKER : It was unexpected but I think that Hit 2 Pass, by its end, turned out to be ambivalent towards narrative, or rather the practice of telling stories on this land. Yet, as a filmmaker right now all I want to do is take a stab at working with actors and try and tell a story, albeit hopefully staying true to what Hit 2 Pass was and puncture a few holes in classical form along the way.
Leading up to and during the making of H2P I was playing a lot of video games, and obviously that ended up finding its way into the movie in various ways (I think that as much as the movie draws influence from Raya Martin or Lumière, it also is just as much inspired by Dragon Quest!), and now I find myself watching more TV than movies—I'm particularly taken by TV's relationship with character and location, and just spending greater time with characters and the spaces they inhabit. It's also nice to see a mix of on location work and sets, and the resulting conscious artifice that comes with this—this is a practice that I have found has all but nearly left most movies and yet quietly exists in a some TV in a way I find endearing.
Basically, I love stories but I think mainly because I'm interested in character and expressions of place. This is what I appreciate most about the TV shows I watch—which are all primarily about love—that even through their weaker seasons that are literally 10-15 hours long, I still find myself doubtlessly persevering through if only for my bond with character. Obviously I can't make a movie or TV series, or whatever you want to call it, of this length, but the plan is to celebrate this tradition with the next movie. So, as a roundabout way to answer your question simply, I think what I'm viewing and what video games I’m playing will always influence the movies I end up making, and although I figure myself to be an experimental filmmaker it's really mostly narrative movies I end up cutting my teeth on.
The other night at our screening at The Rio Theater here in Vancouver you cited the TV show Columbo as an inspiration of sorts. Could you speak on this and how it relates to the work, and more generally: what else you are watching these days? Do the movies you watch predict or directly influence your next work(s)?
TELAROLI: I brought up my beloved Columbo for a few reasons. The first being that it is uniquely a show solely about process, people, and the simple pleasures associated with watching that process played out by different people. Each episode begins with the crime, you see how it happens and who commits it, and then is followed up with Peter Falk's Columbo bumbling onto the scene and asking questions until he solves the crime. He always solves the crime. Similarly, HTTF! is about process and about the people going through a fairly well-known process. The joy, I hope, like with Columbo, is in watching them go through it.
The second reason, the more personal one, is that the character of Columbo is down to earth, unpretentious, curious, generous, hardworking, and also fiercely intelligent. I look for those qualities in movies, in people, and in how people talk about movies. The third reason is a that in an indirect way Columbo is a show about mutual aid and community. It's thanks to Peter Falk's success as Columbo that we have post-1971 Cassavetes's films like A Woman Under the Influence and of course each new episode was an opportunity to give a friend or admired colleague a paying gig.
These days (when I'm not watching Columbo of course) I've been watching a lot of British cinema, with a focus on British horror. Some recent favorites include Frankenstein Created Woman, The Tomb of Ligeia, The Mind Benders, The Long Memory, Circus of Horrors, The Halfway House, and BBC Ghost Stories like Whistle and I'll Come to You and A Warning to the Curious. The landscapes and use of interior space are consistently surprising and I'm really into the contradictions I'm finding in the films. There's a decadence, often in the color or the psychology, but there's also an inherent sense of minimalism or coldness, a remove, whether it be physical or emotional.
In terms of what I watch (and why I watch it), 1/3 of what I watch comes from what is randomly programmed at NYC rep houses. Last winter I saw a ton of Walerian Borowczyk films, which I loved, thanks to the Film Society of Lincoln Center. I don't think I would have sought those out had they not screened on 35mm publicly. 1/3 of what I watch has to do with my job and titles that come across my desk and recommendations I get. The final 1/3 are films that I seek out based on research and projects that I am working on.
That all said, my real discoveries of the last year or so, and my current cinematic inspirations, have been books and authors: Sylvia Townsend Warner, Anna Kavan, Margaret Fuller, Elizabeth Taylor, Willa Cather, Eileen Chang, Christine de Pizan, Muriel Spark, Daphne du Maurier, especially her short stories, and Rosa Luxemburg's letters.
Otherwise, I watch Fleetwood Mac's 1997 performance of "Silver Springs" on The Dance special at least a few times a week. Stevie Nicks in the last minute and a half of that video is more inspiring than any movie I've ever watched. As a friend wrote to me recently, "she is like a witch." (sidenote: fans of Fleetwood Mac tend to like Here's to the Future!)
To wind things down, and as a follow-up to that Fleetwood Mac video, I want to go back to something you mentioned in your last answer, that the television shows you've been watching "are all primarily about love." I'm very curious about this, both what you mean about the shows you watch and why that interests you specifically?
WALKER: I think that a lot of TV melodramas are primarily about love in a very pure and focused way, and yet oddly most audiences—myself included—are prone to ignore speaking on this and opt for the minor details instead. And yet we're all comfortable identifying some music as "love songs," so it's strange to me why can't we treat movies similarly? A good example might be Clint Eastwood's recent output, which for me has been entirely about this—love as a force—yet it's odd when we only speak about something like J. Edgar as a historical picture, when it's just as much about love as say, The Bridges of Madison County. But to go back to TV, I think the thing I appreciate most of all is that unlike most movies these days, is that with TV and its vast duration, it retains the ability to track love in greater detail so that we can see all of its work and reward.
I saw (or heard?) ten hours of Masha Tupitsyn's Love Sounds here back in May, and for similar reasons as the TV influence, it distilled for me what I want to do in my own work moving forward, and that is to try and articulate and show love. We need more movies nakedly and earnestly about love, so as to share experience, because I think ultimately love in the movies has a more significant influence our lives than we actively admit.
Perhaps it gets boring to read all this talk about a movie which doesn't exist yet, but I figure that it's just as important for us to talk about movies that are yet to be—as a working class filmmaker making small movies, it really comes down to communities (i.e. readers, i.e. you!) to help realize these movies.
Okay, last question, Gina—why do you make movies?
TELAROLI: I've asked myself that question a lot, especially over the past two years, or rather I've asked myself a variation on that question: why should I continue to make movies? At the end of the day, what I'm left with, is that I somewhat inexplicably keep doing it, even when it seems to make no sense and I'm super unhappy. I keep working, I keep making, and I wake up each day and almost without thinking keep on doing it. It isn't that I don't want other things, I do. I very much would like to be able to afford an apartment or to have a partner but those things would both require a large commitment of my time to acquire and maintain and what it comes down to, I guess, is that I don't know what those things would mean if I wasn't making my work, too.
So, we'll see?