Kool Kat of the Week: Bill Daniel, Renegade DIY Experimental Filmmaker Unearths the Past and Gets Subversive with His “SFVHS: California Artists’ Video 1988-1999” Event at Eyedrum Art & Music Gallery

Posted on: Jun 16th, 2016 By:

by Melanie Crew6.18SetList
Managing Editor

Self-proclaimed “roving artist and makeshift film scholar” Bill Daniel is far from his various stomping grounds (Houston; San Fransisco; New York; Portland, etc.) and continues his nomadic journey touring the south and releasing upon Atlanta his SFVHS: California Artists’ Video 1988-1999 event at Eyedrum Art & Music Gallery this Saturday, June 18 at 7:30pm. Daniel plans to screen a cornucopia of rare and “nearly forgotten” VHS video works he filmed in the ‘80s and ‘90s during the height of San Francisco’s highly politicized environmental and anti-warmongering protest era, followed by discussions about DIY artistic strategies, his time spent teaching at the revitalized Black Mountain School and the state of art education today. “SFVHS: California Artists’ Video 1988-1999” is curated by Daniel and hosted by Andy Ditzler [March 2011; see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Andy, here] of Film Love Atlanta. You won’t want to miss out on this exciting and rare opportunity to delve into the work of legendary experimental filmmaker, Bill Daniel.

Daniel, jack-of-all-creative-trades dove head first into everything from experimental documentary filmmaking to installation art to zine publishing and much more. He’s lived the dream of every DIY artist, being awarded grants from the Film Arts Foundation and Creative Capital to being granted residencies at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Headlands Center for the Arts and the Center for Land Use Interpretation. His films have also screened at film festivals across the world, including Viennale (Vienna International Film Festival) and The Portland Art Museum’s Northwest Film & Video Festival, where he took home the award for Best Documentary for his documentary short, SELECTIVE SERVICE SYSTEM STORY (1998). Daniel’s 2005 full-length “train-hopping graffiti doc” WHO IS BOZO TEXINO?, described by the Sacramento News & Review as, “a hypnotic, rail-rattling tone poem of subversive wayfarer wisdom,” submerged him into the land of “hobo jungles” and has made him the cream of the crop amongst today’s DIY visual artists and renegade nomadic filmmakers.

ATLRetro caught up with Bill Daniel for a quick interview about his VHS years; punk rock being the gateway to the subversive arts; his time spent with Artists’ Television Access (ATA); and more!

"Endless Endless Summer" (1988) - Bill Daniel

“Endless Endless Summer” (1988) – Bill Daniel

ATLRetro:  As a filmmaker in the field, we’re sure you’re quite aware that despite the technological boom that’s engulfed this generation, VHS has begun its own interesting resurgence (the viewing more-so than the filming), even if just among film addicts and history buffs. What do you think it is that draws people to the nostalgia that is VHS?

Bill Daniel: VHS is a glowy soft and fuzzy picture machine in a world of hard and sharp picture machines. Half-inch magnetic tape, passing across a spinning video head that reads an analog electronic pulse and then shoots tiny bursts of light onto a vacuum tube in the shape of a viewing screen—it’s a time machine that lets us look into the past with 20th century eyes. We are like bugs drawn to this weird enchanted light blob that functions as part of our memory.

Can you tell our readers a little about San Francisco’s Mission District Collective Artist’s Television Access, where your VHS tapes originally screened?

ATA was started in the mid-80s by a small group of friends as a low-cost video editing spot and a performance and media gallery. A weekly cable access show of artists’ work was produced and broadcast on the local cable channel, which was pretty wild—some really kooky and radical stuff that was kinda snuck into the list of program channels. I imagined how weird it must have been when unsuspecting channel surfers stumbled onto the ATA show!

Over the years ATA evolved, and amazingly endured. We survived multiple real estate booms and busts. The funky old storefront at the corner of Valencia St. and 21st is now a little island of weirdos in a roiling sea of hyper gentrification. There’s still a core community of people left in SF who are participants at ATA, so it’s like a safe house meeting place for survivors in a tech-money culture war.

In the early ‘80s, you photographed Texas punk shows and the punk scene in general. What drew you to that landscape and what you were trying to garner from that period of your life?

"Redwood Report" (1990) Greta Snider and Bill Daniel

“Redwood Report” (1990) Greta Snider and Bill Daniel

Going to punk shows in Austin was my first exposure to any sort of subversive art and community. You know the story: punk rock as the gateway drug to the world of art and ideas. It’s a corny thing to say, but it’s true! I know that for a ton of people, all over the country and for decades now, punk shows were a first encounter with radical possibilities.

Who would you say are your biggest artistic influences? And why?

Well, especially in the context of this show of San Francisco video, one of my greatest influences and mentors is filmmaker Craig Baldwin, who has been at the core of ATA Gallery for 30 years. Craig lives in the space, has a crazy archive/editing zone in the basement, and has been programming film shows on Saturday nights there for three decades. His film series there, called “Other Cinema, was pretty much my film education. Most of the videos I’ll be showing at the Eyedrum show screened in Craig’s weekly shows.

Can you tell our readers a little about the Black Mountain School Program and why these kinds of programs are important in the community?

Oh wow, too much to tell! Yeah, I’m just coming back from a month-long immersive experiment in art education and community. This was the first year of this project which aimed to start an alternative to teaching and learning art at the site of the original Black Mountain College. I’ll definitely be talking about this at the Eyedrum screening, and I’ll talk about the two classes I taught (a lecture about DIY touring strategies for media artists, and a workshop on no-budget b/w photography called Junk Camera). I hope people at the Eyedrum show will be down to have a discussion about what’s going on in arts education these days. You know, the whole cost/debt/administratively screwed up state of the art school deal. Everyone knows it’s time to start building new forms and structures and possibilities for change in how we share art-making skills and dialog.

As you tour the south with your SFVHS: California Artists’ Video 1988-1999 event, what kind of feedback are you getting from your audience? How does the current feedback differ from the feedback you received when the tapes first aired?

"Thought Crimes in the Satiation Pool" - Barney Haynes and Barry Schwartz

“Thought Crimes in the Satiation Pool” – Barney Haynes and Barry Schwartz

Well it’s pretty shocking to realize how long ago 1990 was. Haha! People have been digging this program, being able to see videos that are impossible to find now. The “EARTH FIRST!” tape is a real relic— hippies going wild wrecking logging machinery and bringing crucial issues of ecological and economic sustainability to light— but it also harkens to the Occupy movement, so I think there’s some lessons in these things.

Are there any filmmakers today (experimental and/or narrative) that you find intriguing?

There’s a new burst of life in experimental filmmaking these days. Actually, maybe two bursts. One is coming out of the academic side, since there’s been a big growth of experimental film teaching in the universities and so by now there’s a new crop of radical filmmakers who are professors and who are making progressive work and inspiring another generation. On the other side there are some thriving new non-institutional situations that are making and showing experimental work. There’s Mono No Aware in New York that does regular screenings and is running a lab to do experimental film processing; seems like there is a whole community building up around their facility and shows. In Oakland there’s Black Hole Cinema which is about as punk as a film scene there is. I dearly love that venue and the filmmaker who runs it, Tooth, who has been making brilliant and raw films, very much in the wild energy of the ‘60s/’70s days of 16mm.

Can you offer any advice to our readers about film, personal expression, and creativity?

I can relay something that was affirmed at a lecture I attended here at Black Mountain. Tim Kerr who is a painter and rad musician (was a member of the legendary Texas punk bands The Big Boys and the Lord High Fixers and a bunch of others) came up to the school to talk about his experiences through decades of DIY art and music culture and how the community of touring punk bands evolved. So one thing Tim has always said, painted, conveyed is “all self-expression is valid.” It’s such a simple statement, but it’s an idea to never lose sight of. Thanks Tim Kerr!

"Clarion Alley Mural Project"

“Clarion Alley Mural Project”

What’s next for Bill Daniel?

I’m feeling incredibly regenerated and reaffirmed coming out of this month at Black Mountain School. I see that teaching is becoming a bigger part of my work as an artist. I’m not going to go back to school to get an MFA so I can become a professor, but I’m looking at ways that teaching can fit into my own practice. So these two classes I taught up here— touring strategies and black and white photography— I’m just going to smash these two things together and start touring with a photography workshop: Vagabond Photography College in a van.

Photos courtesy of Bill Daniel and used with permission.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Get Jet Lagged and International with DJ Yoon Nam as She Spins Us into the Trippy, Psychedelic Vintage Air-Waves of WRAS Album 88.5

Posted on: Nov 12th, 2014 By:

by Gretchen Jacobsen
Contributing Writer
Yoon Nam on the deck

Yoon Nam, Korean-American DJ and queen of vinyl, gets retro and internationally bizarre, supplying our hungry ears since 2006, with all things ’60s and ’70s international psych, prog and outsider folk rock, spinning us into the trippy, psychedelic vintage air-waves of Georgia State University’s WRAS Album 88.5’s Jet Lag! Tune in and catch a unique show filled to the brim with vinyl recordings of the weird, obscure and enticingly strange, on air every Sunday night from 8 to 10 pm! She also delivers an all-classic jazz show, The Blue Note, exclusively using vinyl recordings, every Sunday afternoon from noon till 2 pm!

There is a ritual most Sunday nights at my house. I sit on the floor in a corner of my kitchen and chat with my husband while he makes dinner. We also listen to the radio, always WRAS Album 88.5.  It took us a while to wrap our minds around the trippy, jazzy international sounds that comprise the vast Jet Lag” sonic-sphere, but once we finally “got it,” we were hooked. I wanted to learn more about Yoon, her tastes and her vinyl, so I thought I would just go ahead and ask her!

ATLRetro agreed that she’d make a perfect Kool Kat of the Week, so I caught up with Yoon Nam for a quick interview about her love of ‘60s and ‘70s psychedelic tunes and her adoration of the vintage-ly weird!

ATLRetro: What is “Jet Lag”?

Yoon Nam: The show features psychedelic music from around the world, focusing on the ‘60s and ‘70s and almost always played from vinyl. I especially enjoy featuring music that isn’t very common or heard on the radio much. When I started doing the show, I was taking over an earlier jetlag_01international music show on WRAS. I knew that I wanted to play a lot of prog, psych, strange folk and other music like that, so I eventually settled on the name Jet Lag. It is the name of an album from one of my favorite bands, PMF (Premiata Forneria Marconi). The name, of course, has to do with tripping, and the topos of travel since the show features music from all over the globe.

How did you become interested in this type of music?

I grew up in South Korea, and over there a lot of ‘70s prog and psych bands were actually famous. I was surprised when I came to the U.S. and found out that the general public often didn’t know about bands like PFM or Banco (Banco del Mutuo Soccorso). Italian prog is widely admired in Korea. Also, as I try to let people know through the show, there were a lot of amazing Korean psych and folk artists in the ‘70s, and they were still popular in the ‘80s when I was growing up.

There was a little record store called Wooden Horse Records near where I grew up in Seoul that I liked to hang out in, even when I was quite young. I heard a lot of European and American jazz and other stuff there. That’s where I spent my first allowance money from my parents. There were also clubs called “Dah Bang,” where DJs would play records while they served tea and coffee. They were just quiet tea and coffee rooms, but they had DJs playing records. While the DJs would play some of their own records, these “Dah Bang” would always have a large built-in collection of records, and so the customers could also pick and request the music from the library. The big collections of vinyl always impressed me a great deal. I would sneak in with my father sometimes and listen. My father was friends with a DJ, and he inherited a lot of records from that DJ when one of the clubs closed down. The whole retro-vintage culture movement in Seoul has brought “Dah Bang” back—all vinyl records, even—which is awesome.Yoon Vinyl

Why does the Jet Lag sound appeal to you?

Although the show started in 2006 with me playing both CDs and records, three or four years ago I started playing almost all records. It’s about texture and sound. I love listening to records! I don’t play much, if any, newer stuff because it just doesn’t sound right or mix in well. There’s just something about the way they started recording music in the ‘80s. I’m also not particularly into information or sharing information; it’s mostly about sound – not necessarily about the rarity, though I do play a lot of obscure records on the show. When a person walks into the room and hears the music and wonders, “Where am I?” That’s what I like. Jet Lag is about travel and trips, both in terms of distance and culture.

How do you discover new sounds for Jet Lag?

Luckily, I did grow up with a lot of the music I play on the show. Sometimes it is simply a matter of something I’m really into showing up to be BANCOadded to my collection (since I never, ever play computer files on the show). In truth, a lot of the records I buy these days come from overseas, but I often find cool stuff in Atlanta’s awesome used record stores, too. I also like a lot of ‘60s and ‘70s international movies. When I hear things I like, I track them down. Whenever my husband and I visit Korea, we always go to the underground arcades and record stores in Seoul and find fantastic records. I listen to stuff all the time, and I’m always on the lookout for records that I haven’t heard before or that might contain awesome music. The Internet is a really crazy resource, but it goes without saying that if I don’t like something enough to track down a real copy of it—a vinyl copy, that is—I don’t share it on the show. The show is personal. I have to really like something to play it on the air.

Are you a musician?

No, unfortunately. But I can hum and I love Karaoke!

Where do you go to see live music in Atlanta?

Atlanta is a great city for live music. I love 529, The Earl, Eyedrum and a lot more places. I try to catch jazz and classical music at Cobb Energy, Symphony Hall and Spivey Hall down at Clayton State, too.

What are you currently listening to that you’re not playing on the radio?PMF

I’m really enjoying pre-1975 Vietnamese pop 7-inch records. It’s so wonderful; a collision of jazz and pop and traditional Vietnamese music. I listen to jazz constantly, but mostly stuff from the ‘70s and before. Again, something about the recordings sounds better to my ears.

How is the WRAS takeover affecting you and the staff at Album 88?

What happened was really unfortunate because it robbed Atlanta of something fantastic. It’s more than just losing music during the daytime hours on the radio to a duplicate of what already existed. It’s a symbolic loss. I still do The Blue Note—all classic jazz and vocals played exclusively from vinyl—every Sunday from noon till 2 pm on WRAS, but Jet Lag is no longer broadcast on FM after the takeover. We are still working hard at the station and really, really appreciate the outpouring of local support for us!

What are your plans after GSU?

Wow, plans? I’m writing my Ph.D. dissertation now (16th and 17th Century British Literature). I want to keep sharing music and making art after I graduate. Exactly how? Let me think about that after I am done with my dissertation!

Is there anything else we should know about Yoon?

I don’t actually know what to say about myself. I am a product of two different cultures—Korean and American—and music is something that 10264514_10152420993828658_1715209705951625765_nconnects them both for me. Even though I love music, I try not to be that person who shows up at a party and starts talking about nothing but music. Some people seem to be so competitive about what they know. I do DJ around Atlanta occasionally. Also, I enjoy making art about my female calico cat, Reginald.

*Due to the “daytime” takeover of WRAS airwaves, Album 88 programming, Jet Lag is still on air but The Blue Note can now only be heard via the WRAS HD2 stream or online through places like Tunein (Search for WRAS-HD2). There is also a free WRAS streaming app for Apple users that was created by a loyal WRAS listener.

*The fight for the return of 24 hour student run radio to WRAS is not over. Visit the Save WRAS page on Facebook for updates or to lend your support.

All photos courtesy of Yoon Nam and used with permission.

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Retro Review: Revisiting THE VISITOR, The Most Insane Non-Indie Horror Movie Ever Filmed in Atlanta

Posted on: Jul 12th, 2014 By:

Contraband Cinema presents THE VISITOR (1979); Dir. Michael J. Paradise; Starring John Huston, Paige Conner, Glenn Ford, Shelley Winters, Lance Henriksen; One Night Only, July 12 @7:00pm, Eyedrum; Tickets $7.00 at the door and actress Paige Conner will be attendance.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

Early in THE VISITOR, an 8-year-old girl opens a wrapped present at her birthday party. Because we’ve been watching the movie, we know that the present contains a tacky statue of a bird, but now the girl inexplicably finds a gun. She grins, points it at partygoers, but then casually tosses it onto a table, which causes it to fire a slug into the back of another character, who then waits the length of a dramatic pause before collapsing to the ground. The entire incident goes from gift-giving to gunfire tragedy in less than 10 seconds.

The reaction among my friends watching the film in my living room was loud. “Wait, what?” “What the hell just happened?!” After a few moments and a few laughs, they calmed, awaiting the explanation that was sure to come.

But, of course, this is THE VISITOR we’re talking about. Explanations aren’t on its agenda, not when every second of screen time is another opportunity to smash a morsel of blazing, brain-melting insanity directly into the film. This is a movie in which legendary Hollywood director John Huston plays an “intergalactic warrior” matching wits with his greatest nemesis, a pre-tween telekinetic and her pet falcon. This is a movie in which director Sam Peckinpah plays an abortion doctor and Lance Henriksen an evil basketball team owner. This is a movie in which skating rinks and street food shops are the sites of supernatural murders. This is a movie in which the fate of the universe is decided in late-1970s Atlanta. But, above all, this is a movie that exists.

THE VISITOR fits loosely into the subgenre of supernatural child movies that bloomed in the wake of William Friedkin’s THE EXORCIST (1973). Instead of a demon, little Katy Collins (Paige Conner) is under the sway of an evil intergalactic force named, of all things, Sateen, whose fractured soul is being reborn into children on Earth. I think. Honestly, the film is a tough to puzzle out, as if its heady ideas were being translated through some unfamiliar language which, in a literal sense, they were. The film was an Italian-American coproduction, written and directed by Italians and then translated into English for the sometimes-baffled American cast. But the film also routinely garbles cinematic language, connecting scenes and images that don’t make logical sense, dropping plot threads as soon as they’re introduced, and failing to explain, well, anything. In THE VISITOR, a guardian can tell a character that nothing bad will ever happen to her again about five nanoseconds before someone runs that character into a glass aquarium, and it’s not just OK, it’s expected. Anything less insane would belong to another movie.

THE VISITOR is the fevered brainchild of Italian schlock producer Ovidio Assonitis. He was The Asylum of his day, grabbing any idea that had traction in the public and churning out his own low-cost replica. From THE EXORCIST he invented BEYOND THE DOOR (1974). From JAWS (1975) he developed TENTACLES (1977) (also starring Huston!). From PIRANHA (1978) came, well, PIRANHA II: THE SPAWNING (1981). Right away, however, something felt a bit different about THE VISITOR. The production had a whiff of class about it as Huston’s name and cachet attracted more big names to the cast, including the likes of Mel Ferrer, Shelley Winters and Glenn Ford. Assonitis even shot scenes in Rome, Italy, before moving the production to the tax-friendly vistas of downtown Atlanta.

Paige Conner in THE VISITOR (1979). Drafthouse Films.

For locals the film not only exists as a virtual tour through a past version of the city—including looks at Underground Atlanta, The Omni and other retro locales—but as a dubious legacy for some of the Atlanta’s most famous figures. The credits reserve a special thanks for Mayor Maynard Jackson, who worked hard to bring the production to town, and the film owes memorable scenes and locations to the cavalier whims of Ted Turner. According to legend, Assonitis wagered the fate of the production on a Hawks game with Turner. If the Hawks won, the production would get access to Turner’s home as a shooting location free of charge. The Hawks did indeed win, and the production not only gained access to Turner’s home, but the Omni as well for a key scene in which the possessed little girl explodes a basketball with her mind. (Supposedly, eagle-eyed fans can spot Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the scene as well as radio personalities Neal Boortz and Steve Somers. So there’s that.)

It’s unclear whether the city or Turner were grateful for the chance to contribute. THE VISITOR flopped miserably (and predictably) at the box office, perhaps because the world just wasn’t ready to see Franco Nero (DJANGO [1966]) as Jesus Christ or to see Lance Henriksen attacked by a ceramic switchblade bird. The film made a paltry amount of money at the box office, and that’s just counting the money they got to keep. In an interview on the film’s DVD, Henriksen talks about the film’s legendary badness and his embarrassment at a screening in New York when he heard audience members demanding their hard-earned money back. Henriksen’s opinion of the film represents the consensus at the time of its premiere, but time has a way of changing the story, and THE VISITOR’s story has changed.

The film’s first supporter was supposedly Huston himself, who immediately recognized something special hiding among the frames of the film and kept an elusive VHS of the movie near his deathbed. It took longer for audiences to catch on, but a few did, and a passionate cult helped the film become a regular at midnight screening and trendy repertory houses. Audiences came for the irony and stayed for the film’s unrivaled uniqueness. THE VISITOR doesn’t make a lot of sense, but compensates with mood. THE VISITOR has a dreamlike tone, cultivating something like madness out of its odd juxtapositions of tone and images, or of the powerful performances in service of a story that can’t be unraveled. The film appears assured and confident in the story it’s telling, leaving audiences wondering if the answers are in there after all, just waiting for a keystone piece of information to unlock them. Does it make sense that Henriksen’s evil, but certainly human, tycoon character needs to marry his girlfriend in order to create another wicked psychic child? Probably not, but Henriksen seems to believe it, so why shouldn’t we?

The big coup for THE VISITOR in its reassessment came earlier this year, when Drafthouse Films, the distribution arm of the trendsetting Alamo Drafthouse theater chain in Austin, Texas, released a wonderful new Blu-Ray edition of the film, made with the kind of loving care and attention usually reserved for a Criterion Collection release of a prestige classic. It’s safe to say that more eyes have been on the film in the past year than in the past few decades, and the movie seems to be well on its way to a complete rehabilitation.

By this point in the article, you probably have an idea if THE VISITOR is for you. If it is, then I highly recommend seeing it as soon as possible, and Eyedrum, along with Contraband Cinema, are giving you the chance. Saturday night, July 12, the art gallery is hosting a screening of the film with actress Paige Conner in attendance. Alongside the film will be an art exhibit featuring “new and original pieces based on this unique film by a variety of local artists.” This is a special opportunity to experience a forgotten piece of Atlanta cinema history in the midst of its revival and rediscovery.

THE VISITOR, at long last, has arrived.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

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Kool Kat of the Week: The Beating Heart of Art: Garrett DeHart and His Poe-Inspired Short Film IF I AM YOUR MIRROR

Posted on: Feb 22nd, 2013 By:

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Atlanta native filmmaker and photographer Garrett DeHart is the mastermind behind one of the most inventive short films ATLRetro has seen in recent years: IF I AM YOUR MIRROR. An adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the film takes Poe’s lean exercise in mounting paranoia and expands it into a fractured document of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the years following the Civil War. Beyond the narrative twists taken with Poe’s themes, the film dramatically stylizes the world its characters inhabit – presenting it as a living Victorian-era oil painting imbued with the blood, spit, dirt and murk both of the time and of its main character’s mind. The portrayal of that lead character by the late actor Larry Holden in one of his last roles, is a triumph: in turns fierce and fragile, proud and pitiable. Currently available for viewing online, this immersive 18-minute epic is well worth your time.

In honor of this horrific accomplishment, ATLRetro goes Really Retro with this week’s Kool Kat.  We spoke with Mr. DeHart about his experiences making the film, the techniques behind creating the images, his influences, his local ties and much more.

ATLRetro: IF I AM YOUR MIRROR has a remarkable visual style, resembling an oil painting come to life. Were there any particular artists that inspired the look of your film? Filmmaking-wise, who influenced you on this particular project?

Garrett DeHart: I’ve always loved Poe, and  I had been playing around with a process to make live action film look like an animated oil painting. I thought the color and composition of Romantic painting, the predominant painting style of Poe’s time, was very well-equipped to tell a story inspired by Poe’s voice. I added a bit more dirt, grim and blood, and I think, with that, it’s a style that lends itself well to my voice as well. I did research on Romantic painting as a whole, but was really drawn to the paintings of Eugène Delacroix, J. M. W. Turner and Thomas Wilmer Dewing.

As far as filmmakers, the process was, of course, inspired by Richard Linklater‘s WAKING LIFE.  I loved what he did, turning live action into animation, to create a world of dreams, and really loved the look of his Rotoshop films. But I really wanted something that had a bit more texture and grim to it, and also wanted something that I could do myself.  After I saw WAKING LIFE, I started working on the process and used it in my film THE PROBLEM WITH HAPPINESS (2004) a 70-minute film that was projected on three discrete screens and had an accompanying seven-piece live band playing the score. We had 300 people at Eyedrum for the premiere and then later played The Earl before the band broke up. It was a sci-fi film in which the protagonist’s world slowly turns into a moving oil painting. I was never really happy with the effect that I was able to produce for that film and so I kept playing around with the process. The narrative was inspired by the films of Terrence Malick and Lars von Trier.

Could you describe how you came to create MIRROR’s striking look? How long did it take to bring such a heavily-stylized project to fruition?

The actors were shot on green screen at a small studio at Georgia State University. Aside from a few chairs, luggage and miscellaneous props, everything else was added in post. I developed a process through Photoshop to stylize the actors’ frames and ran each frame of each element in a scene through Photoshop to add the effect. Many of the shots have multiple layers on each actor, and the layers were then rotoscoped in to create lighting effects, shadows and a greater depth of field with the paint effects. The backgrounds were developed from stills, paintings and created graphics. Those backgrounds were then layered and animated in After Effects. Some of the shots have hundreds of layers in them. The final shot of the film took over 30 hours to render. I pushed the capabilities of After Effects in working in a 2D for 3D world. I did all of the post for the film on my MacBook Pro. The computer was running full speed around the clock for over two years. I’m typing this now on the same machine. The whole process took a bit over two years.

You also directed DOGME #55: A PICNIC AND A STROLL. You’re obviously not frightened by taking on a wide variety of styles, as MIRROR is about as far away from the Dogme 95 philosophy as possible! Which turns out to be more difficult (or, alternately, more fulfilling) for you as a filmmaker: following the self-imposed restrictions of the Dogme 95 movement, or the technical demands of an effects-heavy film like MIRROR?

I was really inspired by the Dogme 95 manifesto. I really like the idea of using real people, instead of actors, when possible, and breaking down the spectacle of lighting and score, and using a handheld, cinéma vérité camera style to get to some truth. I think my tendency would be to lean more towards a Dogme esthetic, at least in the way in which I direct actors. Now that I think about it, It might be compelling to try and develop one of Poe’s stories as a Dogme style film.  But I don’t think even Von Trier or Vinterberg ever made a truly pure Dogme 95 film, and while I think there are some very important ideas in the Dogme 95 movement, I’m really most inspired by very stylized expression in films. I also love the graphics and effects and the spectacle of fantasy and horror films.

I did MIRROR for my graduate thesis and I really wanted to experiment with this effect that I had developed. They have a great studio at DAEL (Digital Arts Entertainment Laboratory), and I wanted to utilize the GSU facilities while I had the chance to access all of their equipment for free. We shot almost everything in the DAEL blue-screen studio at GSU and got to utilize all of the studio equipment.

I’m not sure which style is harder as a means of telling a story well. I know which takes longer.

How did you come to work with the late Larry Holden, and how was your experience working with him on MIRROR?

I met Larry on the set of another film a few years prior to my film. My friend had written him a letter, told him he was trying to make his first feature and asked if he’d be willing to be in the film. Larry drove across the country for that film, so when it came time to make my film, I thought he would be perfect for the role [and] I wrote him and asked if he would star in the film.

Larry was an amazing cast member to have on set. The experience and vitality he brought to the set really energized everyone working on the project. For most of us on set he was the biggest name we had worked with, but he was incredibly humble and was really dedicated to working with and teaching everyone on set. He had been in Christopher Nolan’s films and a lot of TV, but he was making his own films whenever he could, and when he had time he would travel across the country, for little more than expenses, to help and teach those who were trying to learn the craft. He stayed with some friends of mine up the street from my house during the shoot.

He was not only incredibly influential to all of the crew that he worked with for less than a week, but many folks in the neighborhood became very close with him in that time as well. My neighbors traveled across the country to go to his funeral. I was not able to make the trip at that time. It’s an incredible loss. He was an amazing artist and an amazing person, and we all feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend some time with him.

Poe’s stories are known for how streamlined they are, which makes adapting them almost impossible without necessarily expanding on the source material, or deviating from it in some way. MIRROR provides a particularly novel take on Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” How did you decide on your approach to the source material?

Initially I had planned to shoot a straight version of “The Tell-Tale Heart” told through the lens of Romantic painting, with voiceover. I had all the pre-production done and was ready to shoot and make that film. As I got Larry Holden interested in and then brought him onto the project, he convinced me that “The Tell-Tale Heart” films had been done enough and that it might be more interesting to take Poe’s story and its themes and let those inspire a new story. After some research, I realized that while a modern “Tell-Tale” done well could be really compelling, he was right and that I needed to develop something new: something that would express my voice. So I dug in, and with the help of a couple of friends, developed a script that I thought respected Poe’s legacy but might expand on who his characters were and the world they may have inhabited.

Garrett DeHart on set of IF I AM YOUR MIRROR.

I had the blueprint of all that pre-production I had done for the Tell-Tale script, but I was convinced we were making something new now—something certainly more challenging for me. So it wasn’t really a difficult process in deciding what to add or subtract. Poe’s story works really well in its minimalism and focus. He excludes all details that don’t lend directly to the development of the protagonist’s obsession and insanity. I was working on a new project; a film inspired by Poe. I think that “inspired by” gave me the freedom to expand on Poe’s ideas and imagine circumstances that may have brought his characters to the situations they experience in his story, and in that imagining I was creating my own story, a story that explored some slightly different, maybe more contemporary themes.

My first edit of the film we shot was almost 50 minutes. It was really more about pacing than it was about cutting scenes. But many of those quick shots, that last only a few frames, were 5, 10 or even 30 seconds long in the first cut. I was really working from the inspiration of Malick and Von Trier in the pre-production process. I imagined the film as a very slow, melodic PTSD nightmare. But as I worked with the film more and more, I found something of a thriller in it, and it seemed a bit pretentious to let the scenes linger like they were. I loved the 30-second wide, static shot of the train driving across the horizon, or 30 seconds of his wife walking through a burning wheat field, or a 5-minute flashback of the Civil War, but as I lived with the film day and night for two years, I realized this was a short, not a feature. I felt the audience might find it a bit tiring, and I wasn’t sure the long shots and extra scenes were really helping to propel the narrative. I’m happy with the decisions I made in cutting the film down.

Being an Atlanta-centric website, I’m required by city ordinance to ask: what local talent should we be keeping our eyes peeled for in the film? Any notable locals toiling behind the scenes that we should be aware of?

We had an amazing turn-out for crew from GSU grad students and for extras from all over the Atlanta area.

Shane Morton (aka Professor Morte of the Silver Scream Spookshow) was incredibly helpful on set. He did a lot of makeup work on the actors in production to help the paint effect along when we got to post.  He’s always working on cool projects. He did some effects and stars in the TALES FROM MORNINGVIEW CEMETERY horror anthology. He’s always planning and working on Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse, and they are in development on FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS (The sequel to DEAR GOD NO!).

If you’ve seen any Atlanta independent film you probably know Barefoot Bill (aka Bill Pacer), the Old Man/Evil Eye. Bill is always auditioning in Atlanta when he is not working on his one-man Ben Franklin show. He”ll be doing the Ben Franklin show at AnachroCon this weekend and March 2 at Duluth Historical Museum.

Mari Elle, the wife in the film, is now in LA but comes back to Atlanta to audition for films. She’s in town this week auditioning so catch her while you can. She is fantastic.

Steven Swigart and Chris Escobar were a huge help during production as the anchors of the production team. Chris is now the director of the Atlanta Film Festival and recently made a documentary short, shot partially in Colombia, about the ripple effects of family choices. Steven is making mini-documentaries for a university.

Jeff Ballentine, who let us borrow his large Civil War re-enactor wardrobe, is working on post for his own Civil War film.

What led to your decision to release the film online, rather than pursue the typical festival route? What has the reaction been thus far?

There’s a misconception, I think, that filmmakers are giving their work away for free when they put it online. The truth is that most filmmakers don’t make any money from their films; in fact, most spend hundred or thousands of dollars just trying to get the film seen in festivals. I made IF I AM YOUR MIRROR as my graduate school thesis project, so I wasn’t expecting to make money on the film. I wanted to create a film that exemplified my capabilities at the time, and I feel this film does that. MIRROR, at 18 minutes, is long for a short film and does not easily fit into an established genre. Therefore, it would be difficult to place it in festivals.

The festival circuit, while important, seems to me, just another way to suck money out of the truly indie filmmaking market. At $20 to $50 per entry, it’s just so much time and money that could be spent on the next project. And while seeing a film on the big screen is, of course, a far better experience (I screened my film at the Plaza Theatre and the trailer at the High Museum as part of WonderRoots Best of Generally Local, Mostly Independent Film Series), reaching an audience is really the most important thing, and the potential audience on the web is immense. Tapping that audience is, of course, the key, and that has been somewhat difficult, but I’m doing everything I can to self-promote the film through online media like ATLRetro. The critical response has been great and the film has gotten a lot of attention but, sadly, that has not really translated into as many viewers as I had hoped.

If you like the film, please support independent cinema, and pass it along to your friends and social networks.

This past October, I saw the 7 Stages production of DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA, and when I saw your film later at the Plaza, there were a few effects shots in the video projection that looked familiar—primarily some shots of the train and the train station itself. Given the overlap in talent between these projects, I have to ask: were these your handiwork?

Yes. Rob Thompson was in MIRROR and asked, when they started to develop DRACULA, if they could use some of the footage for the backgrounds of the rock opera. I adjusted a few of the shots and gave them longer takes, and I’m very happy that MIRROR helped to fill in some of the space of the Dracula rock opera.  We’ve talked about the possibility of doing a music video/short with one of the songs on the soundtrack that will be released this month, but we haven’t had the time to work it out yet.

Are there any future projects on the horizon we should be looking out for?

I’m hoping that getting IF I AM YOUR MIRROR out into the world will facilitate connections with other writers and filmmakers and lead to new projects in the near future.  I’m in development on a Steampunk character study, short film with a style inspired by Wong Kar-wai and Gaspar Noé, that I hope, when complete, I can crowd-source into a TV series or web series. I’m looking for some writers to help in the expansion of that project. Again, if you like the film, please support independent cinema, and pass it along to your friends and social networks.

You can like IF I AM YOUR MIRROR on Facebook and check out the webpage; www.ifiamyourmirror.com.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

All artwork is courtesy of Garrett DeHart.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Why Andy Ditzler Loves Avant-Garde Films and Why You Should, Too

Posted on: Mar 22nd, 2011 By:

SMILE JOHN: Includes HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO JOHN (1972), Dir: Jonas Mekas; FILM NO. 5 (SMILE) (1968), Dir: Yoko Ono; Fri. March 25, 7 PM; Plaza Theatre; $10 ($8 if attending 9 PM screening, too)

SKY, BED PEACE: Includes BED IN (1969), Dir: Yoko Ono and John Lennon; APOTHEOSIS (1970), Dir: Yoko Ono and John Lennon; Fri. March 25, 9 PM; Plaza Theatre; $10 ($8 if attending 7 PM screening, too)

Yoko Ono and John Lennon Montreal Bed-In, 1969 Photo by Ivor Sharp ©Yoko Ono.

Since he started Film Love, his provocative avant-garde film series, in 2003, Andy Ditzler has explored everything from the beat cinema subculture to American racism. But this Friday March 25 at the Plaza Theatre, audiences will be treated to filmmaking as love-making between two intensively creative people with the first two of five installments of YOKO ONO: reality dreams, which Film Love is co-presenting with Emory University and Atlanta Contemporary Art CenterJohn Lennon and Yoko Ono certainly must be one of the most famous couples of the 20th century, but these experimental films are rarely seen and aren’t available on video.

ATLRetro recently caught up with Andy to ask him about his own passion for avant-garde film, the origins of Film Love, what Frequent Small Meals are, and why you should spend Friday night getting to know John and Yoko better through some extraordinary movies.

From what I understand, you started Film Love in 2003 with a beat cinema series at Eyedrum. How did you become so interested in and passionate about experimental and avant-garde cinema?

In the early ‘90s, I was living in Boulder, where the great avant-garde filmmaker Stan Brakhage was teaching. I attended his screenings and classes. He showed the wildest films, things I had no idea how to process or even understand. Yet Brakhage had a way of talking about the films that made it clear that watching them was to be considered an adventure, that you could figure it  out, and most of all how important it was that we gather to watch these films.

Andy Ditzler, founder & curator of Film Love.

Some of the films were so small, so obscure, that they almost disappeared off the screen. I was hooked. One day Stan showed THE END and THE MAN WHO INVENTED GOLD by Christopher Maclaine. Maclaine was a shadowy figure, long dead, and his films of Beat San Francisco in the ‘50s were completely haunting. I totally connected with them.

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