Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Must see movies for Dallas Video Festival 2011
In a Q-and-A, Bart Weiss, head of the festival, gives us a history and then spotlights his favorite picks this year.
Wednesday night marks the opening of the 24th Annual Dallas Video Festival (a.k.a. Video Fest), which runs through Sunday and features something like 130 or 140 films. Even Artistic Director Bart Weiss, who has been the driving force behind the festival since its founding, couldn't tell me the exact number off the top of his head.
Weiss met me at a coffee shop near Pegnews World HQ to give me the lowdown on the 2011 festival. Knowing his passion for putting the big annual show together, I was surprised when he told me that this year — for the first time — he used extra help to select films.
As Weiss put it, "it's a difficult thing to give up a little control, but I think it worked pretty well."
Weiss, wearing a Video Fest t-shirt (of course!), munched on a pastry and sipped from a glass of water while I sat down across from him and punched the red button on my digital voice recorder...
Bart's "Must See" List (as mentioned in the text)
KERA: Fifty Years — Staff from the station review and contextualize archived clips
The Other F-Word — Punk rock dad: an oxymoron?
Where Soldiers Come From — A documentary that chronicles four years in the lives of childhood friends as they enter a faraway war
How To Create Child Friendly Aps - for the iPod
Transmedia workshop with Nick DeMartino
John Meyer: There's been a convergence of video and film going on for some years now. What differentiates the Dallas Video Festival from a garden-variety film festival — many of whose "films" are now shot on digital media?
Bart Weiss: When we started out, there was such a dramatic difference between film and video. There's a cultural difference, an economic difference, and an aesthetic difference ...
[We're] kind of like an underground film festival. Film is the stuff that is kind of celebrity based ... but the works that we show in general — if we don't show them, they don't get seen.
And it's a matter of looking for things around the world and around the block that are otherwise kind of invisible to us. I find things that I think audiences are going to like ... and bring them to [the festival].
Branding as a video festival was important in the '80s and '90s; it's just sort of a legacy of our tradition and it really speaks more toward the independent spirit of a peson with small means being able to create something that's really important.
Film implies that you have a laboratory ... and there's both an economic and a skill level to get an image. Whereas somebody with an idea can go out and make something. And that's the kind of spirit we're trying to push.
JM: What keeps you motivated to run this thing year after year?
BW: This year ... I've gotten assistance from other people for the first time in the three major areas: documentary, drama, and video art. I worked with other curators or programmers to assist me. Plus, I'm 58, and this is a young person's world.
This is mission-driven for me. I really believe very deeply that when you see a film, you have total empathy for a situation you didn't know about. And that your world view changes. Film has a ... deeper way of connecting to your psyche. So the next time you hear something about something [you've seen on film] you feel very differently about it.
And a lot of the works I think can have that effect on people, we don't get a chance to see. They're either available to us but we don't know how to find them, or they're not available. So it's my role to bring that to the community of Dallas.
JM: What's the most challenging thing about putting together a film festival?
BW: A lot of challenges.
The first one always comes down to funding. Funding for us will always be a challenge because our festival's not based on celebrities. For other festivals, like DIFF (Dallas International Film Festival), they'll bring in these people, then you can have a party, and sponsors want to go to a party and meet these people.
The people we bring in are not celebrities and they're not going to draw the major funders. So for us it's really hard. We've been very good with the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts), and the Texas Commission on the Arts, and the (City of Dallas) Office of Cultural Affairs, but they're all having funding issues on every level.
Public funding for the arts is diminishing, and I don't see it in the future getting any better.
We have some individual donors, and we have some corporations — HBO has been very good to us — but long-term funding is a problem.
The other side of that is, we work efficiently. I don't get paid, we have a managing director of one (Raquel Chapa), and we have an intern, and then we have some volunteers and some technical staff. Other festivals have way more staff to get a lot of things done. We (don't have) billboards all over the place...
So for press, we've gotta work Facebook and we've gotta be smart, and we have to use the technology we believe in, because the world changes with technology.
Finding the work is not a challenge. Getting the kind of outreach that we'd love is a problem. The Dallas Morning News doesn't write about every film we show ... It's hard for us to draw an audience when we don't get that kind of coverage.
JM: Any big success stories relating to past festivals?
BW: Some of the things I'm most proud of over the years:
The guys from DNA Productions, who did Nanna and Little Puss Puss, have a new Nanna and Little Puss Puss. We showed their work early on, and they went on to do Jimmy Neutron, a TV show, Ant Bullies ... so they've gone on to major things and I think we sort of helped discover them.
There's a local filmmaker named David Lowery. Done some really good things ... we had the first screening of a David Lowery film at our fest (a few) years ago.
And a lot of other work from young filmmakers (for whom) we've had their first screenings.
JM: I went through the list of films, and it looks like there are a lot of them. Can you give me an actual count?
BW: I think there's over 130, maybe 140 ... it's sort of a weakness of mine that I'll try and get as many films in as I possibly can. If I can find a way to get 61 minutes into an hour block I'll do it.
As a festival director, one of the hardest things for me is to write a rejection letter to somebody. Particularly for something that I like ... but just couldn't find a slot for.
JM: Since it's impossible for festival-goers to see everything, what would be on your "must see" list this year?
BW: It's like — I'm looking at my hand saying "which one of these fingers don't I like?"
Let me tell you some things that I think are sure hits. Really kind of interesting, not obvious ...
Thursday night we're doing a tribute to KERA. KERA's been around for 50 years. And looking at the work — it's clearly like looking at a history of Dallas over the years, and the stories that were there are really great.
KERA's doing their own tribute, but it's gonna be one of those big ticket items that you and I and nobody who's reading this is going to be able to afford to go to.
There's a film called The Other F-Word that I particularly like, which is a film about being a father and being a punk musician, and how the two of those can kind of not work, or can work.
Where Soldiers Come From — the filmmaker, Heather Courtney ... this will be the third film of hers that we've shown. She spent three years making this, following these kids from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, before they go to war. Then follows them into conflict in Afghanistan, then follows them (back home), to see how the war's affected them. I've seen a lot of documentaries about ... kids going to war, but very rarely do they come back afterwards and see what their life is like. And this really gives you that kind of full trajectory. Wonderful film.
And one of the things we're doing with that one is we're letting all vets from Iraq and Afghanistan in for free.
We have these two workshop things on Sunday that are great. One of them is about making video for the iPad. So there's this company called Moonbot, from Louisiana, run by a guy named Brad Oldenberg, who used to be in Dallas and then they moved, but they took this children's story and made a short film about it. It's a really beautiful film. We're actually showing it as part of the Siggraph program. And then decided to transform it into a children's book for the iPad.
(He whips out his iPad to demonstrate. What I see is an animated narrative that you can actually interact with by dragging picture elements around on the screen — reminding me very much of a magical Harry Potterish newspaper story.)
So it integrates using text and animation to reconfigure what a children's book will look like.
So on Sunday morning we're first having a free event where kids come and experience this, at noon. And at 1 o'clock, after that's over, there'll be a workshop on how the guy produced this. And how to think about doing this for filmmakers.
This comes to one of our core missions that we've done since the beginning of the festival. It's sort of like, "This is what you think television is now; this is where it's going." I mean, we had a program in 1988 on this new thing called high definition television ...
Not just "what's coming," but "this is what's good about what's coming."
And right after that, we have this guy doing a panel on something called Transmedia. Transmedia is a term that people in New York and L.A. are buzzing about all the time ... It's really about how the internet and film can work together. So there's this one piece that's a dramatic story about a sort of ecological disaster. There's this film in the middle, and there's this data on the side, and he's typing stuff on the side and the film changes. The story has information and stuff and you change things and it moves around ... it changes the way a film can play when it plays off a computer screen.
More and more we're gonna have these kind of transmedia experiences ...
When you talk about "what is a video festival and how're we different than a film festival," we're pointing to where things will be. Our goal is to make active viewers ...
For the most part we settle when we consume media. I think there's greatness out there. There's the potential for spiritual, emotional, political, aesthetic growth. And what we try to do (during the festival) is get you sensitized to the great possibility that your life could be changed by making better decisions when you choose to consume media. To look for things that are really good rather than settle for whatever's on TV at that point.
All I can do is get (people) excited and point them in directions. Then it's up to you. With Netflix, with Hulu, with everything that's on YouTube, you can find things if you look. Good media is never far away.