An Evening with Eve Studnicka: Part Two

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This is the conclusion of my interview with Eve Studnicka, where we really get into my favorite parts of the discussion. If you haven’t checked out part one, please do so HERE. I’ve included both part two and the entirety of the audio version. There’s some great additional bits of conversation in there, so give it a listen.

Interview Part 2: Download Here

Full Interview: Download Here

 

So you talked about being a film critic, and I’ve read little bits and pieces about you watching films in your basement on your CRT or, of course, perusing Netflix. I’m wondering what you think the effect Netflix has had on our generation of filmmakers and film thinkers.

I kinda come at that from a different angle than most because I was using Netflix (this is very hipster of me) back before it got cool, when it was just DVDs or nothing. There was nothing more exciting than getting that email notification that your DVD is shipping tomorrow and you’re going to get this movie, that you’re dying to see, in your mailbox. Being in this small town that only had a movie store with VHS’ of blockbusters and classics, I didn’t even know anything else existed. I didn’t know there was any such thing as foreign film, art-house, surrealism, dark comedy, or anything other than Disney. I just didn’t watch that many movies because they weren’t interesting to me until I discovered that Netflix had this wealth of literally everything in the fucking world. So I started watching shit like Triplets of Belleville, Delicatessen, and Dr. Strangelove, realizing that there was this whole other world out there that was so immediately available to me. I stopped really watching movies when I started making them, because I realized I didn’t have time. I felt really unproductive when I was watching movies or reading or doing those things that people who write and make films do to expand their minds and understanding of what has been created before them.

I think it’s similar now in the sense that storytelling is always going to be important to people and if it can be incredibly accessible that’s always going to be a positive thing. We can pick apart the arguments of “the screen is too small,” “You can pause it and you get up to make dinner which interrupts the viewing process because we have too short of attention spans,” maybe “it’s on YouTube and that delegitimizes it” or something, but I think that’s all bullshit. I used to not, I used to be purist and think that if a movie wasn’t shot on film and projected on a screen that was the size of a wall it wasn’t worth anything. Now I’m starting to see that all of this is starting to create a broader dialogue about storytelling. You’re able to watch something and all of your friends are able to watch it too. You can talk about it and it can actually affect your life rather than sitting in isolation in your basement watching and thinking about weird movies that nobody else has ever seen. That does have its value, it’s how I got interested in film, but in terms of more contemporary viewing styles, I think there’s a lot of value in streaming.

I was volunteering at the Sun Foundation, that place I made the movie about, and this girl and I were talking about books (she was a student and I was a TA). When I asked “What’s your favorite book?” she said “Twilight” and I was like “Aw son, why do you like Twilight?” (I’ve never read it albeit, so I have nothing to base it on other than the popular consensus of people I respect thinking it’s bullshit). She looked at me and she said “Well I like it because I can talk about it with my friends cause they’ve all read it,” and that’s a great argument. You can be the most profound, educated motherfucker in the world, running around waving Don Quixote around your head, but you’re alone. There are very few people these days who you can sit down and have a conversation about that book with and isn’t that really what storytelling’s all about, that connection? So even though Twilight might not be the most profound literary experience we’re going to have, at least young people are reading and talking to each other about what they’ve read.

You were mentioning you don’t watch films anymore, which is where a lot of people these days get their influences from, so where do you get ideas and inspiration from, if not film?

From the people around me, the stories they tell, and the lives they lead. I know some just remarkable, fascinating people. As a documentary filmmaker, to see these stories that exist in the world around you is something that sort of comes naturally, at least to me. It’s not because I’m seeing the world as a film and as source material, but because I’m just so passionately curious about the things that exist in our day-to-day lives and the universal truths that come from the mundane, or seemingly mundane, lives of people and the nuances of how they perceive the world, how they interact with people, and their personalities. I think maybe that comes from just being so lonely for so long, not being around humans, and not having that interaction. It’s striking to me what we all go through. So yeah I think that’s my inspiration both for film work and especially for festival work, that’s what I really care about.

Why don’t you elaborate on festival work, is there some sort of creative side to that?

Oh fuck yeah. I’ve been involved with Driftless for six years. I became the Operations Director last year and the Festival Director this year, so it’s only been two years that I’ve been kind of on the executive end of things. The first four years I was a volunteer and I was a festival coordinator, doing organizational work that was giving me insight into how the festival ran and operated. In Chicago I’ve worked for the Midwest Independent Film Festival as their Director of Submissions and I’m currently working with CIMMFest, the Chicago International Music and Movies Festival as their Senior Submissions Manager. I love this work. I think it’s amazing, because it’s all Midwestern; it’s all building these platforms and spaces for media arts to survive and become empowered in this region.

There’s this idea that you have to be exported to be successful, that you have to go to New York or LA to be successful in your industry and really all that does is put you not where the jobs are but where everyone who wants a job goes. It throws you into this artistic bureaucracy that really sucks out the soul and humanity of storytelling and of creative work, turning it into a commodified rat race. It’s really a shame. It makes people disillusioned. People put a lot of stock in that, like that’s what you have to go through, you have to fight through that to be successful, but I don’t think that’s what it’s all about. I think it’s about building those places where they should exist and where they do exist, which is here.

Here there isn’t so much money that all decision making is tied to dollar bills. You’re able to be ballsy here, to be fearless, and to take risks, because there’s less at stake and we’re still laboring under this Midwestern idea that we’re all in this together. We have that blue collar mentality that it’s about hard work, community, and support. I think that’s really what’s conducive to great art. I think we’re a hidden treasure, that we’re growing, and I love being involved in groups that are making that happen like CIMMFest and like Driftless.

What does your job as Festival Director actually entail?

As a festival director, I’m in charge of programming. So I curate the line-up, I look through other festival’s programs and I find films that would be appropriate for our festival. I organize and coordinate the team which is: our Operations Director, Development Director, Social Media Coordinator, and the Associate Director who’s also our Graphic Designer. I have to do a lot of PR, outreach, and marketing strategy development. I work with our Operations Director to figure out what the budget is and how we can spend that money effectively. I work really closely with our Development Director to create fundraising initiatives and build up community partnerships so that we can be successful and sustainable. The Graphic Designer and I make sure we have good branding and that the website is up to date (he’s wonderful). This whole team, it’s just such a delight to work with them. But yeah, making sure we have the content, organizing filmmaker lodging and transportation, getting all the press releases written, and doing a lot of copyediting. In general, overseeing all the operations of the festival and making sure it runs smoothly. It’s a lot of different things, making sure they all work together, and I love it. I totally, totally love it.

I think I heard about this from you, but do you know anything about the Chicago Feminist Film Festival?

Oh yeah! So it’s being organized by Michelle Yates and Susan Kerns, who are both Columbia professors. I’m also the president of the Women + Film Club, and we’ve been talking about it for a long time. Susan and I, and a lot of other people, have sporadically talking about the necessity for a place where women can become empowered by the showcasing of their work. In the film industry, obviously, women are incredibly underrepresented and treated unfairly in a lot of ways. It’s an effort to create and build strength in a community that promotes visibility and legitimacy. So to have a festival, which I believe is taking place mid-April, that is largely women-produced or feminist work and has an emphasis on that, is an amazing thing for us to have here and something that has a lot of potential.

I’m excited. So you’re the president of the Women + Film Club, then this is something that really matters to you?

Oh fuck yeah man, I’m a woman and I’m in film. I’m a feminist and I think it’s atrocious how women have been marginalized in the film world. It happens at the distribution level, because you see pretty equal levels of men and women entering the festival circuit, but when films get picked up for distribution, these companies see women as too much of a risk. They are under this impression, which is completely false, that men will listen to men and women will listen to men and so it’s much more valuable for them to invest in men. They think those projects are the ones that are going to be more successful, which is totally false logic. It’s really sad to see an absence of 50% of this country’s story on screen and being told in a legit way.

I’m curious as to your philosophy towards body image in media or culture in general? Is there anything you think can be done to improve it?

I think that what is given to us in terms of the ideal that we should strive for is incredibly unrealistic and damaging. I know this because I was not exposed to any kind of nudity at all until I started shooting burlesque and growing up with that in mind I hated my body, I thought I was really disgusting. I thought “Shit, this is not what anybody is supposed to look like.”

Do you mean nudity in real life or nudity in media?

In real life. I saw it on screen, but when you see naked women in movies they’re typically of a certain body type. I went to my first burlesque show over a year and a half ago and I was kind of expecting Dida Von Teese perfect shapely hourglass figures and I saw this complete spectrum of bodies. All of them had stretch marks, weird boobs, and body parts that jiggled and moved or that were not tight and toned, but they were all so incredibly exquisite and beautiful. Part of that was because they were being presented in a sexually empowered way and you don’t see sexuality and body flaws in the same sentence in our culture a whole lot. So that was when it started changing for me. When you spend so much time around naked women you start to realize, shit, there is nothing normal. Nothing is normal, nothing is abnormal, everyone is completely customized to who they are and what they look like.

I think the best thing I ever heard about body image was from this burlesque dancer who teaches a class on body image. You go into a room, everyone gets naked, and they just have a conversation, not about body image, it could be about body image or it could be about whatever you want. It’s just about being present, not being clothed, and exploring what that space feels like. She said that her philosophy, which I completely share, is we put so much emphasis on our body’s aesthetic appeal. Beauty is wonderful, important, and something we all enjoy, but my body can taste chocolate, walk for miles on end, have orgasms, lift heavy things, give people hugs, and it is capable of so many things other than just being visually appealing. If you really start thinking in those terms, it changes your perspective completely.

This was fantastic. Thank you very much for your time.

Yeah man, thank you. It was great to talk to you.

This was a lot of fun to do, I hope everyone enjoyed it as much as I did. If you liked what you read, then absolutely check out Eve’s site, facebook, and instagram! If you wish, you can find me on facebook and twitter! Also, if you have an interesting project you’d like to talk about or a cool person like Eve you think I should interview, shoot an email to jwiderski@gmail.com!

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Filmmakers vs. Critics

Here I am, sitting in Moving image Art class (film 101). It’s the first class, and I’m talking to a few people around me. They’re chatting about the shorts they’ve made and the commercials they’ve done and all I’ve really got is my reviews behind me as my experience. Ok, so we came into film from two different points, no big deal right? Wrong, because as the class progresses the professor gets to the part of the lecture about critiquing your classmates work and the difference between critiquing and criticism. Seems like a oddly confusing question doesn’t it? Those two things… are the same thing, just a different form of the word. This is how they describe it: Critiquing is constructively analyzing and giving feedback on a rough cut of the project to attempt to make it better. Criticism is an opinionated look at the final product, and isn’t constructive.
That’s backhanded, but that’s not the worst part. How the professors (we had combined with another class for the latter part of the period so both professors were lecturing) had gotten to this point was by asking us “name some words that you associate with a Critic”
Here’s what my classmates said: “judgmental”, “opinionated”, “harsh”, “harmful”, “condescending”, “not helpful”, “destructive”
And that’s when I realized the big difference between me and them (maybe not everyone’s like this, but for the sake of this rant I will just say “them”). I came into film from the critics side, looking at the overall film first and then as I progressed, looking at how it’s made and wanting to be a filmmaker because of it. They came into it from the perspective of “Oh that movie was cool, I want to try that” and from there becoming more and more fascinated with the intricacies of film, jumping straight into the role of the filmmaker.
Even the professors, who I would expect to have at least mentioned that reviews have their purpose in culture, talked condescendingly about critics, even bringing up specific ones like Roger Ebert. To be fair they didn’t say outright that ALL critics are evil, or even the notable ones they mentioned were, but they still had a bitter tone to their voice and the same word choice as the students.
There are three parties when it comes to movies. The makers, the audience and in-between them are the critics. The purpose of a critic is to let the audience know, in their opinion, what movies should and should not be viewed. Like it or not, filmmakers are putting out these movies for people to pay for, even if it is the penultimate artistic expression of their career. People need to know if they are getting their moneys worth. On the other end, filmmakers who may think that their ideas are great need critics to wake them up and show them when they’re not. For example, during the production of The Phantom Menace, George Lucas was surrounded by yes men who would not argue with him on anything. That movie was shit. Critics had to basically say “George Lucas, you’re fucking stupid for thinking this was good.” Did it change how the other two turned out, no, but if the same thing happened with Spielberg or Cameron or Scorsese, it would be up to the critics to tell it how it is, because these men are so powerful. Critics can help a movie too! Do you think The Conjuring would have made nearly as much money if the Critics hadn’t let the audience know “Hey, dumbasses, don’t go see The Lone Ranger! This movie kicks ass!” Critics praise movies for decades when they deserve it, keeping them relevant to people who aren’t in the industry. What are the odds of people knowing that “Citizen Kane” is the best movie ever, if Critics didn’t keep putting it on their top lists.
Don’t get me wrong, Critics can be judgmental, ignorant assholes. They’ll tear apart movies and say they’re shit, just because they aren’t their favorite genre. Just look at my progression for example. My first video review was of The Legend of Sorrow Creek a low, low budget indy film that clearly had some hard work put into it, but still turned out terribly. I feel terrible about how I treated that film. I totally Nostalgia Critic-ed it, when it didn’t deserve it. I tore everything in it apart, sounding like a whiny snot nose bitch. Here’s the thing about the Nostalgia Critic. He tears apart big Hollywood productions (for the most part) and he does it for COMEDY, with an occasional moral about film. If you can’t take the joke, piss off and I, at the time, didn’t get the joke properly. Since then I’ve learned a shit-ton about filmmaking and have made a few things on my own, but I probably would still be a raging asshole if it weren’t for the moral crisis of Joe Christiana of “The Cutting Room Movie Podcast.” He faced the trouble of reviewing movies, when he himself was a movie maker and when it came to reviewing a smaller indy production he refused to do it, because he didn’t know if he would someday meet those guys. He couldn’t hold himself on a pedestal and judge their work, all the while having the same things said about his stuff. This made me realize that every movie is made by hardworking people, and the redeeming qualities need to be given credit.
Quick sidebar. One reason critics get bashed on is them constantly hating horror films and smaller indy projects that aren’t avant-garde. Again, as a person who has seen Battleship Potemkin and Death Bed I am torn between these two worlds. Yes I understand that in the grand scheme of things a movie like Death Bed is terrible, but it serves its purpose of being a low budget horror film to laugh at and because of this, it’s good enough for a certain audience and deserves credit for such. The same can be said about Sharknado, which is brilliant, because it accomplishes everything it should, just like Citizen Kane accomplished its goals.
So yes, a critic who doesn’t understand the filmmakers point of view is an asshole, the same way a critic who doesn’t understand the audience’s point of view gets no followers. However, that doesn’t mean filmmakers are exempt! Filmmakers who don’t see the purpose of Critics are assholes, the same way a Filmmaker who doesn’t see the audience’s perspective has no viewers. Critics serve as an intermediary and should not be ignored. A filmmaker who understands the perspective of a critic will be better able to not only take criticism, but understand the trends in cinema and what will and won’t work in their movie. This is my main problem with professors who ignore that, because they are hindering growth.
They aren’t wrong though in that there are a lot of critics who don’t treat films fairly. I like to think that I’m fairly balanced in my perspective and thus I can judge a film better, but a lot of critics don’t have that balance between filmmaker, critic, and audience member. It just makes me wonder… will my more critically based eye prevent me from interacting well with my fellow students? Can I help them see the Critics perspective? Or should I even bother when the world of reviewing clearly needs more unbiased eyes?