Sunday, April 10, 2011


Artists' Television Access (ATA) celebrates the first five years of the ATA Annual Film & Video Festival with a retrospective screening at the Roxie, Playback: 2006-2010, April 19th, 2011, a selection of local and international works, celebrating unconventional films that entertain and provoke audiences worldwide; what BadLit describes as "a real powerhouse of experimental media exhibition."

The program includes works by Tommy Becker, Ariel Diaz, Paul Clipson, Zachary Epcar, Sam Barnett, Jibz Cameron & Hedia Maron, John Palmer, Rachel Manera, Carl Diehl, Martha Colburn, Guy Maddin, Clare Samuel & Candice Purwin, Olga Chernysheva, and Federico Campanale.

I stopped by ATA to visit with festival directors Isabel Fondevila and Shae Green to talk about the upcoming retrospective screening and their collaboration with the Roxie.

* * *

Michael Guillén: To start off here, can you tell me a little bit about yourselves and your involvement with ATA?

Isabel Fondevila: I've been a volunteer since 2003. Everything I've learned about film I've basically learned here. I started out helping with projection and doing the door, things like that, and then Shae and I did a couple of shows together and then decided to start a festival.

Shae Green: I've been a volunteer at ATA since 1999. I've done various things here. I did editing tutorials, when we had an editing system. I was volunteer coordinator for a while. And then, as Isabel mentioned, for the last five years we've been doing this festival of experimental shorts.

Guillén: So how did the collaboration between the ATA Annual Film & Video Film Festival and the Roxie Film Center get going? This will be your first year to screen there, right?

Fondevila: I put together a "meet the festmakers" panel for the San Francisco IndieFest, which took place at the Roxie. I met Mike Keegan and he told me, "ATA! I've always wanted to do something with you guys. Let's talk. We have some open dates in April." And I said, "Well, I think we could do a retrospective of our festival."

Guillén: That's great. I love hearing about these collaborations with the Roxie. It all seems to be part of this resurgence of cinema activity in the Valencia Corridor, what with new management at the Roxie, and the San Francisco Film Society offering education at both the Roxie and the Lab, and now you folks collaborating with the Roxie. All welcome news!

So let's talk about Playback: 2006-2010. You're bringing us the best of the past five years of your festival. How have you gone about soliciting shorts for your programs?

Green: At the beginning of each year we put out a call for entries. We do a lot of web-based outreach and reach out to local media arts organizations and film schools. We get a great response. We usually get about 300 plus or minus entries and then from there as the festival organizers
we pre-screen all the films—we watch all of them!—and then we have a panel usually of about 15 ATA people or also film community people who come in and watch about 60 films plus or minus. They comment on the films, take a tally, and select the top choices from that panel.

Guillén: Does that pre-selection process reveal any curatorial trends for you of what people are liking and choosing?

Green: I don't know. I definitely see trends in the films that are coming in—and I'm not sure if that's because of the space we are so that people think we're going to want these types of films—but, as far as curatorial trends, I think what we select is based upon the personality of ATA.

Guillén: How would you define that personality?

Green: Looking for a different voice. We're seeking experimental works, which is a rough umbrella category, but we're seeking unique voices. We don't mind narrative storytelling but we prefer an alternative narrative storytelling.

Guillén: So, in effect, you look for first wave grass-roots experimental work? How are you distinguished, let's say, from what is offered by the San Francisco Cinematheque?

Green: I'm not totally familiar with their programming; but, I think they get the bigger names. We're more for up-and-coming filmmakers. We'll get a submission from some little guy in Omaha.

Guillén: Though Playback: 2006-2010 is not suffering from a dearth of known names. You're screening Guy Maddin's Sissy Boy Slap Party, for example. Did he submit or did you solicit?

Green: We solicited from an organization in Canada called Bravo!Fact. Like European countries, or other countries besides the U.S., people get funding to make films....

Guillén: Unbelievable, isn't it?

Green: So this organization way back when gave Mr. Maddin some money to work on this film. They sent it to us along with some other shorts that they helped support.

Guillén: How many shorts do you usually program in your festival?

Fondevila: About 16 to 20.

Guillén: So you've culled from about 150 entries to put together this "best of" program?

Green: I want to make the distinction that it's not necessarily the "best"; we love all the films we've included in every year of the festival. These were the films that seemed to work for this program. There are some films that I loved that were on the longer side, but—if we included some of them—there'd be five films in the program. We wanted to offer a broad array of different types of work and as many filmmakers as possible. We don't want to make the folks not included feel like they're secondary.

Guillén: Gotcha. That being acknowledged, can you talk to me about some of the filmmakers you've included in your program? Maybe each of you could profile two filmmakers?

Fondevila: I would say Paul Clipson. His work has been in the festival since the beginning. It seems that at every festival he brings us a film at the last minute.

Guillén: Is he local?

Fondevila: He's local. And he's not an up-and-coming filmmaker anymore. He's doing well and doing lots of shows, in the States and internationally. He collaborates with musicians. He's really inspiring.

Another one? I would say Zachary Epcar. I think he's a young kid. We haven't met him yet but we're looking forward to meeting him. He's from San Francisco but he's been studying film in the Czech Republic. We had two of his films in our last festival and I think he's a really talented filmmaker.

Green: He's got an eye for detail and an ironic humor that affects me.

Guillén: How about two more from you?

Green: I really enjoy Jibz Cameron. Her work is called
The Quiet Storm. She's a local gal who's now in New York. When she was here, she was in a band but now that she's in New York I think she's doing one-woman shows. There's a rumor that the character in her one-woman show was ripped off by Saturday Night Live. Her films are flat-out funny, silly. She does DYI green screen stuff. Her eye into what is really going on in human interaction is brilliant.

Sam Barnett. Sam Barnett is a talented animation artist. His work is dark, cryptic, mouthdropping and always fascinating. It always leaves you wondering what's going on. His work is emotive. Maybe you don't get exactly the story he's telling but it's moving.

Guillén: Being that you're both curators working with short films, pulling together a festival of short films, what would you say is the value of short films for your audiences?

Green: It's important for several reasons. First, it's a great opportunity for up-and-coming filmmakers to practice the trade, to get their ideas out there, and then to get feedback from festivals or open screenings. For the community, a festival of shorts gives the opportunity to put forth a lot of different ideas. I mean, I like sitting down to watch a feature-length film or documentary; but, with our festival you get to experience 14 different voices that you get to hear in one evening. To me that's what films are: they're shared ideas.

Guillén: Will any of the filmmakers be attending Playback?

Fondevila: Yeah. Tom Becker will be there. He'll be doing the vocals for his short piece. Paul Clipson will be doing his own projection on his Super 8 projector. Zachary Epcar will be there as well. Rachel Miner might be there. The cinematographer of her piece will definitely be there.

Guillén: That's a good sampling. Hopefully I'll get to touch base with some of them during the festival. Anything else you want to highlight?

Green: We're very happy to have Video Transfer Center as a sponsor. We've used their services for a lot of duplication needs over the years and they helped us out with this program.

Guillén: Let's talk a bit about the growth of the festival. Have your audiences grown in the last five years? Do you interact or co-present with any other community-based film festivals?

Fondevila: We usually have a packed house for our programs. Last year I went to Albuquerque to the Experiments in Cinema Film Festival. They had come to ATA and shown a selection of shorts from their festival so then I went there and showed a few pieces from our 2009 film festival.

Green: We've done a bit of touring. We did a great exchange with an organization in Moscow called Cine-Phantom. Isa and I went there and presented a program and we were fortunate enough to get some funding for that so we were able to bring a couple of the filmmakers as well. It went great. Their thing there is that they won't show a program unless they have curators or filmmakers involved with it to be there to answer questions. That's their platform and it was a really great experience. Then we showed a program of their works here too. We've also shown films down at the Echo Park Film Center. We've been to New York. And we've been invited to Hong Kong.

Guillén: How about funding for your festival? Where does it come from?

Fondevila: We don't have a budget. We charge $10 for submission fees and that's basically our budget. We don't spend that much money. We're all volunteers.

Green: We can basically run the festival on the submission fees; but, we would like to get some funding to do more workshops. Last year we had two hands-on workshops. The year before we had a free panel on the state of experimental film so we would like to branch out into those kinds of educational outreach and it would be nice to bring people in and give them a fair rate to share their expertise.

I think of our efforts in two parts. First, we're putting on the film festival and, second, we feel it's an obligation and a privilege to take these great films and show them to more audiences. We show them here but we want to show them elsewhere too. That's the name of the game. We're trying to get these films out there.

Cross-published on Twitch.