Experimental film maker Sheri Wills is visiting the Chester College campus Tuesday, September 23 as part of the 2008 Visiting Artists Symposium Lecture Series. She will give a free public lecture in the Wadleigh Conference Room at 2:30.
SO Good: Can you walk us through your process? How do you bring an idea from concept to finished film?
Sheri Wills: I generally start a new project by gathering materials to make photograms, (cameraless images on film). Sometimes I'll go out looking for things, other times I might just sweep the floor and use whatever winds up in the dustpan.
Once I get the processed film back from the lab, (I work on all film formats, from 4x5 to 16mm movie film), I'll spend some time looking at it and thinking through different ideas.
At that point I usually scan the photograms, and start working with the imagery in AfterEffects, or sometimes I'll re-photograph them onto 16mm film. Other times I've played with them using ancient analogue video effects. What ever it takes to start bringing them to life.
Then I edit the piece and create sound, or turn it into an installation with multiple projections, or I've been doing a lot of live video lately – so I might cut it up into shorter clips for a performance.
SG: Much of your work has a strong basis in music and poetry. Are you a musician or poet yourself?
Wills: Like many people, I am really inspired by music, and I love to perform. I am a pretty poor musician, actually, but I'm a great listener. Which I think is just as important in a lot of ways.
SG: How does your creative process change when you are working on a collaborative project?
Wills: Actually, it really doesn't change it very much at all. Perhaps because our roles are necessarily clearly defined, (video artist & composer, for example).
I do find it tends to expand my notions of what my work is, or what it can be – because I'm working so closely with people from different disciplines, whose work I really respect – and they often see things that really surprise me.
And it expands the scope of the projects I am working on – more people can work on bigger projects.
SG: Do you see yourself as a director or as an artist who uses the medium of film? Do you even think there is a difference? Would you say your work is best experienced in a movie setting or gallery setting?
Wills: I think there is definitely a difference between a video artist and a director – although there are people who blur that difference in wonderful ways.
Personally, I've always thought of myself as an artist. If I weren't working in film and video, I'd probably be painting. My work makes much more sense in a gallery setting, than in a movie theater – and bears little relationship to cinema history, but situates itself in an art historical context.
SG: How do you think the recent rise in popularity of independent film and art house films has changed how the general public views experimental film makers? Do you think it has opened doors for experimental film makers or made what they do seem less avant garde?
Wills: I think the attention independent films currently get is great! No longer does a person necessarily need a major studio to get their work shown, which is wonderful.
I think experimental film still falls well outside what most people have access to seeing, so I'm not sure the rise of indy film has really had much effect on experimental film – it's still quite an oddity and difficult to place. Which is, of course, part of its charm.
SG: Is there a certain period of time you would consider the 'golden age' of experimental film and how do the films of that time period differ from the films being created today?
Wills: The 1920s were a "golden age" of avant-garde cinema in Europe and the USSR. The 1960s and '70s were probably the peak in the US.
Today access to equipment really opens up opportunities for people to make work, which is exciting. Personally, I think everyday technology, in the right hands, has great expressive potential. I love showing my work on an iPod or making a little film with my phone. In that way, it's really similar to excitement artists in the 1960s must have felt, using Super8 film.
SG: Who are some of your influences?
Wills: Standish Lawder was my first film teacher, and a huge influence. Maya Deren is still a great inspiration, as are Robert Irwin, Louise Bourgeois, and Joseph Cornell. When I want to feel inspired to reach beyond perceived limits, I listen to Bach...talk about avant-garde!
I am also a big fan of Tara Donovan's sculptures. She's having a major show at the Boston ICA this fall, which I would encourage everyone to go see!
SG: What film makers or books about film would you suggest to people who want to learn more about the genre?
Wills: There is a small, British press that specializes in film – called Wallflower Press. All of their books are excellent, and the one they have on experimental film is a wonderful introduction: Avant-Garde Film: Forms, Themes and Passions, Michael O'Pray, Wallflower Press, 2003
Also, Criterion made a really amazing DVD of Stan Brakhage's films that everyone who is remotely interested in film as an art form should have on their shelf. It's a two-DVD set, beautifully re-mastered, with lots of interviews and such....and it's priced at around $30! Incredible. It's called "by brakhage."
SG: How did you get your start in film and what advice do you have for emerging artists?
Wills: I was interested in writing, and simply took an art history class as diversion. The class, (taught by Standish Lawder), focused on European Modernism, and we watched a lot of avant-garde films in that class. That was it – I was hooked.
My advice: Look for your passions, actively seek them out. And when you find them, never let them go. It's the most practical advice in the world, really.
For more information on Sheri Wills, and to view her videos, performances, and installations, visit her website www.SheriWills.com