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The Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival from the interns' point of view
Friday, April 4, 2014
Blog posting by Kimberly Capehart, Documentary Studies and Production' 16, FLEFF Blogger, Cherry Hill, NJ
I'm currently sitting here in what is a very crowded, very warm Park 223, at the very end of FLEFF Lab Friday!
The day has has featured intimate, conversational sessions with Andrew Loewnethal, executive director and co-founder of Engage Media, Leila Nadir and Car Peppermint of new media collective EcoArtTech, Laura Kissel, Ithaca alumni and director of Cotton Road, Ernesto Livon-Grosman, director of Cartoneros and Brasco, Vanessa Domico, founder of Outcast Films, Jonathan Miller, international radio and print journalist, Irina Aristarkhova, new media theorist and art history scholar, and Rodrigo Brandao, Ithaca alumni and distributor for distribution company Kino Lorber Films.
We're joined in this special, annual panel, titled How to Get Your Break by Amy Browne, Laura Kissel, Ernesto Livon-Grosman, and Rodrigo Brandao.
As I'm live-blogging this session, feel free to contribute to the comments section with any questions that you have for the guests!
Amy Browne begins by sharing her story.
"I wanted to start theatre company, I spent three years in a conservatory and eventually went back to school to finish my degree. In school documentary ultimately found me. My sister, in Australia, was working on a green burial project, and I became very interested in her work. I decided to take a short documentary class and a producing class at my university the next semester in order to make a film about green burial. After I finished the short film for the class, I decided that I wanted to keep working with it, so four years later, it's a feature-legnth film and now I'm here!"
As Browne is speaking, filmmaker Ira McKinley, director of The Throwaways, joins our conversation.
"As a student directing a documentary, the school provided [my co-directors and I] with no financial aid. A lot of the project was self-funded for a long time, but, ultimately, we applied for grants and got some money form investors. We were very conscious of making A Will For The Woods on a budget."
As for future plans, Browne says that she plans to return to her home in Australia in a few months time for a little bit. She hopes to work for a production company while at home, but definitely plans to continue to make films.
Laura Kissel begins her story by sharing her interest in documentary filmmaking in high school.
"I came to Ithaca College because there was a very strong documentary program. After I graduated I moved to Austin,Texas and worked with a filmmaker in return for a place to stay and food to eat. Instead of establishing myself full-time as a freelancer, which, at the time, was less realistic (because of the sheer size and cost of the equipment), I decided to pursue my MFA at Northwestern University in Chicago. I wanted to study and I wanted to make my own films, so I've since been teaching at the University of South Carolina. Teaching gives you more time and freedom, more so than a corporate job, to pursue your creative work; it's worked really well for me."
She continues: "For me, graduate school was not only helpful, but necessary, for me wanting to pursue my work as an individual."
Ernesto Livon-Grosman, a current professor at Boston College, notes that he got started by studying literature.
"Literature helped expose me to social issues, which I discovered that I wanted to make documentaries about. It's interesting, when we all describe our own processes, because we all got started in different ways! Technology has gotten increasingly cheaper and it's made it easier for more people to get involved in a filmmaking capacity. Access to technology has really enabled more voices to be heard."
Ira McKinley and Rodrigo Brandao both seem interested with the politics of filmmaking in Argentina and ask Livon-Grosman about the specifics of financing filmmaking in a different country.
He notes that, as opposed to filmmaking in the United States, filmmakers can have their films financed by the government in Argentina.
Rodrigo Brandao shares Livon-Grosman's experience as a native Latin-American who is living and working in the US. Born in Brazil, Brandao moved to the United States on a visa to attend college. Another Ithaca College graduate, Brandao says that IC was "the ideal situation" to give him the jumping-off point that he needed to get started in the film industry.
"Film distribution was always very interesting to me. As a junior [at IC] I found a really prestigious internship that I wanted, applied to it, and received it. After receiving the internship, I had a very narrow, and very specific goal. As someone from Brazil, I had one year on my visa to find a job after graduation, and I found a job and ran from there. Now I'm working on opening my own company and moving ahead. I really knew how to take advantage of my opportunities, and it ended up getting me really far."
"My advice is to take advantage of the place that you're in," says Brandao.
The last presenter, Ira McKinley, is a native, born-and-bred Ithacan.
"I had a really good education in Ithaca, but, being as it is in Upstate New York, I really didn't get a lot of exposure to social problems like racism until I left Ithaca and joined the Air Force. When I came back from the Air Force, it really opened up my eyes to the effects of racism; I couldn't get a job, so I dealt with homelessness. Because of being homeless, I was, admittedly, a thug. I moved to Albany after some incidents in central New York."
"I've always been an activist, first and foremost," McKinley asserts. "I trained in a college television program for two years, after I got out of jail, as a means to share my story. I've been really inspired to tell my own story; it's all about social change for me. I made this film The Throwaways to show how I felt after I was arrested. There's a real need for a discussion about race and racism in this country."
"Don't give up," he concludes.
"That's true," Laura Kissel adds, "you've got to be persistent."
In the spirit of advice, the guests all begin to chat, amongst themselves, about the best advice for students.
"You're going to hear a lot of no's," says Browne "but you're also going to hear a lot of yes's. It's important to make a lot of connections and do a lot of behind-the-scenes work to really push your films out there."
"You've got to have purpose, you've got to have passion," McKinley concludes.