Designing artwork for the USC Thornton School of Music affords me many opportunities to re-work classic portraits of equally classical composers. Gustav Mahler, featured above, was a late-Romantic composer whose works are still strikingly modern by today's standards. In service of this, I re-interpreted a profile etching of Mahler by portraitist Emil Orlik in the style of the great Milton Glaser, similar to his Bob Dylan portrait in the 1970s.
Since 2007, NewFilmmakers Los Angeles has been providing a home for artists to share their creative voice in an environment that supports truth in cinematic storytelling. In addition to their monthly film festivals, DocuSlate, a entire day of documentaries, was added to their yearly programming in 2016 to increase awareness and widen opportunities for representation of true stories and personal narratives on screen.
Last December I enjoyed sitting down with NFMLA Board Chair Danny De Lillo for a discussion about my creative process behind The Duel, and the unique challenges inherent in “translating” someone else’s truth. As an artistic custodian of my own family experiences which have been transmuted into past works, making these connections during our discussion was illuminating for me, and helped me better appreciate the delicacy required for handling something as fragile as memory itself, especially when it belongs to someone else.
About: "NewFilmmakers Los Angeles (NFMLA) is a non-profit designed to showcase innovative works by emerging filmmakers from around the world, providing the Los Angeles community of entertainment professionals and film goers with a constant surge of monthly screening events."
Since its inception in 2016, The Bird City Comedy Festival in Phoenix, Arizona has blossomed into a premiere destination for some of the best voices in comedy, improv storytelling & sketch to stretch their wings in the Valley of the Sun. This year, founder and friend Genevieve Rice has trusted me to brand her event, as per our little friend above us. Be on the look-out this spring for apparel and merchandise, as I will undoubtedly by updating this blog with photos of comedians as ersatz fashion models slaying this graphic tee.
Joined by six shorts from around the world, I'm honored to share The Duel with its first live audience outside the United States as a part of the International Shorts Program at the Victoria Film Festival in British Columbia. Among the dazzling offerings this year are familiar works I've screened with before, such as director Denis Côté's A Skin So Soft, (SF DocFest) along with delightful surprises such as the latest Studio Ghibli film, Mary and the Witch's Flower. (Meari To Majo No Hana)
Though the responsibilities of grad school will bind me once again to Los Angeles, I wish I could visit Canada again. The last time, I was 16-years-old, traveling as a guest of the Toronto Teen Film Festival with my mother. I remember sipping a chocolate milkshake as cold as the afternoon at a Dave & Buster's in the shopping complex of the AMC Theatre where my film was screened. I felt worldly. It's been a blessing to have this film travel across my homeland, and though I wish I could visit each new city it finds a new home in, I'm thankful for the audiences who gather to welcome it in my absence.
I've been experimenting with making cut-and-paste collages from my own illustrations, scrambling them in order to find new shapes or meanings. Music usually keeps me company while I do this, and one of the most delightful songs to do so last year was Boy Pablo's "Everytime." The music video is a delight, sun-dappled friends playing together on a dock in Norway. As the guitars swell and ring, you can almost feel the brisk of the afternoon by the water and the joy shared by all the musicians. Unexpected and effervescent, I highly recommend giving it a listen.
At NewFilmmakers LA earlier this month, I was honored to share the screen with director Ellie Wen's Single Mother Only Daughter, a lovingly-crafted portrait of her relationship with her mother. Stitching new connections between analog memories culled from her collection of home movies, diaries and childhood photographs, Wen traces the synchronous orbits of two lives circling closer together with age. As the film navigates through a collage of VHS footage chronicling birthday parties, ballet recitals and impromptu Mother/Daughter karaoke performances, their bond is strengthened by the film’s aural foundation; A recorded phone conversation between the two. Auspiciously, Wen's husband, Greg Katz began filming her end of the line one evening, capturing her moments of realization & revelation with their shared past that would’ve otherwise remained in the dark.
Naturally, I find a kinship with Wen's work, as much of my directorial efforts are traced along similar lines of connecting the past with the present, and the web of dreams/memories that form between its many points. Both my latest film, The Duel and Single Mother Only Daughter attempt to reconcile childhood mysteries with a waking adult life that refuses to shake them free, perhaps motivated by a duty to forgive or better understand their parents. Film is one of the rare art forms in that respect, as it grants the artist the tools to fold time in on itself to form new strength in re-examining the power of memories and the role they continue to play in shaping their lives. For Wen, Single Mother Only Daughter is a beautiful effort in striving for that new understanding.
Last night I spilled some watercolor and inadvertently created a new state named "Ticonderoga," after the No. 2 Ticonderoga-brand pencil that rested against my desktop lamp. It's a brave new world, and its robust fishing economy is generously fed by three lakes that lap against its magenta shores: Lake Eugene to the north, and Lakes Dixon and Avery, which hug its southern border. Its capital, Moto City, is famous for its wild-caught Cadmium sandwiches, which can be enjoyed along the boardwalks during the Moto Music Festival come mid-November. Cooled by the balmy winds sweeping off Lake Avery at autumn's end, its boardwalks can be heard clattering with the shoes of college kids, some hand in hand, considering the wide expanse of ocean that rolls into the horizon. Last year when Aimee Mann played, the sound of her guitar seemed to skip across the surface of the water like a polished stone, similar to the one Casey, a student home from Cape Cobra, smoothed in her left hand. "u home for txgiving?" texted Brian, her (ex) co-worker from the office supply store she worked at freshman year before she transferred schools. She put her phone back in her pocket. Talking to Brian was like pulling on a loose thread, not unlike the one that swung from the back of her olive green sweater. She knew better than to reply, not wanting for handfuls of loose yarn and quick goodbyes in the morning of his studio apartment. Probably the same one he had since the last time she saw him. "I Can't Help You Anymore" began to play down the pier. Looks like Aimee was invited back this year. This song always reminded her of closing the office supply store late at night after her boss had left, when she could play whatever she wanted and sing as loud as she possibly could. Some nights she would scream and try to shake the stacks of 28 lb. carbon white like leaves. Her pocket vibrated. Probably Brian. Again. As the band continued to play, Casey turned to face the water and rubbed the stone in her left hand, warming it up, waiting for the right moment to let it go. If it wasn't for her mother trying to reach her, she'd throw her phone instead, and wait for it to skip or sink.
Sometimes, time should escape you.
Fine-grained memories about friends cling to me, like sugar on the end of my fingertip. Tiny white dots form a small pattern that speaks to a larger system, an innate mechanism that helps defines their character. For director Jordan Kim, it was his attention to detail. "I spent way too much time on this," he bashfully admitted, opening up a window on his computer in 2004. I was looking at a poster for Bicentennial Man 2, Kim's harder-edged sequel to the wholesome Chris Columbus film featuring Robin Williams as a robot Pinocchio. Adding an intricate, gold cybernetic visor to his face and draping him in a trench coat while an oppressive, Gibsonesque megalopolis in coral pink towered over this new, hardened detective incarnation of the former cyborg butler, Kim confessed to me he should’ve spent his evenings in a more constructive way. Yet, whether it was goofing around or getting down to the business of directing, his impishly subversive dedication to calibrating each element of his vision applied to both the frivolous and more cinematic of pursuits.
Whether it’s his hauntingly beautiful and playful homage to Nobuhiko Obayashi’s Hausu in his Vimeo Staff Picked music video for Toro y Moi, or the cackle of live that vibrates through each magical sidewalk crack in Clara, Kim is still just as fastidiously attending to his craft as he was when I first met him at San Francisco State University almost fourteen years ago. Clara is a deceptively innocent fairy tale full of big bad man-children in wolves' clothing, envious magic spells and jaded princesses of Silverlake locked away in the shadows of their condos. The film hums with softness and humor though, stimulated by a glowing performance from Hannah Kasulka as the timid, titular witch, brimming with hysterical coiled menace that springs loose in hilarious bursts along her winding journey through the banal enchantment of a Los Angeles-esque city dream. I won’t spoil the plot, describing it would be nearly as fruitless as describing the details of Kim’s Bicentennial Man 2 poster again. Just watch this. Pour yourself a hot cup of tea and absorb the patterns that form. There’s magic in them too.
Visit Jordan Kim and see more his work on Vimeo. And be sure to catch his nimble editing work on Portlandia.
This past summer at the Marfa Film Festival, I had the honor to the share the screen with this film. Jay Hollinsworth's "The Art of Emptiness," its namesake taken from the song by Torrejón, follows a retired president in Texas who has taken up oil painting. Cleverly using subtle gradient shifts and trembling line work, the film binds together a string of vibrating static shots that betray the bucolic scenery with their sense of unease.
Gathered inside the Crowley Theater, its tin roof trembling against an angry thunderstorm, the audience absorbed the plaintive guitar of the song and the retired president's eyes tightening at the unease of the task before him; What to make of a blank canvas? While raindrops scattered like needles above me, I was thankful for the company of Jay's film, even though it couldn't keep away the storm.
A wonderful night of films and making new friends at an outdoor screening in Reseda, presented by NewFilmmakers Los Angeles. None of us were ready for this picture, and Drew's shirt commands the frame. Special thanks to Executive Director Larry Laboe and to the hard-working staff of NFMLA, who set up the event, braving record temperatures that afternoon and a city-wide power outage. Unreal! I can't speak for all the filmmakers pictured above, but I deeply appreciated it, and I think the row of smiles speaks volumes.
Last weekend, I was made a guest of Limited Engagement for a jaunty discussion of the craft of storytelling with writer/host Jared Duran. The Phoenix-based arts & culture podcast focuses on engaging with artists of all types, from music & the performing arts to visual art and writing. It was a delight to speak with Jared about my latest film, The Duel, and join his roster of fantastic previous guests. Tip: If you're looking for something intellectually stimulating to keep you company while you work, I highly recommend checking out the Limited Engagment archives for a fantastic collection of other artists discussing their processes and compulsions. (My choice of words)
I was honored to provide artwork to Vidiots Foundation and Film Powered for their screening of Catherine Hardwicke's Lords of Dogtown at The Theatre at Ace Hotel DTLA last week. Jen McGowan, founder of Film Powered, describes her organization as: "...a skill-sharing site for professional women in the entertainment industry created to increase the skills & contacts of women in the industry, strengthening our community." Together with teachers and guest speakers, Film Powered provides energetic spaces to share ideas, sharpen skills and discuss important films that raise the profile of working women in Hollywood.
I've been a long-time admirer of Hardwicke's work, particularly the clarity of Thirteen (2003), a semi-autobiographical portrait of "Tracy" (Evan Rachel Wood), a 13-year-old girl struggling to find her mooring amidst the snares of peer pressure and rudderless adults in Los Angeles. Lords of Dogtown, her kinetic portrait of LA skateboarding culture in the early 1970s, was the film that brought together the women of Film Powered and Vidiots, and reminded me of the importance of community engagement through art, and its greatest gift it can bestow those who participate: empowerment.
This week, if you can, I encourage you to find a public space where such stories are being shared with those who value their places in our society. Live music, comedy, theatre, film, spoken word, wherever you can find voices expressing themselves, seek them out. Stories are fragile things when left alone, but they're strengthened by those who gather and listen, and more still, by those brave enough to share them.
Thomas Demand is known for making photographs of three-dimensional models that look like real images of rooms and other spaces. Art critic Michael Kimmelman writes of his work: "the reconstructions were meant to be close to, but never perfectly realistic, so that the gap between truth and fiction would always subtly show."
Special thanks to my friend Alexandra for sharing his work with me on one of our computers at work when it wasn't being used as a cash register.
I've just found my new Internet fascination for the next few weeks.
"20/20" By Sean David Christensen. (2017) Mixed media; Contact case with two Bausch + Lomb Ultra (TM) contact lenses with MoistureSeal (TM) technology, magenta and neon green Avery dot labels with pen letters, sarcasm, construction paper.