Jeff Malmberg and Chris Shellen Document the Real Power of Art

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Spettacolo by Jeff Malmberg and Chris Shellen

What can art do in a time of turmoil? Documentary filmmakers Jeff Malmberg and Chris Shellen have made a career of showing how individuals and communities use art to work through personal, political and public issues. Their 2010 documentary Marwencol, which won numerous awards, documents how Mark Hogancamp uses photography and story-making to deal with a traumatic brain injury. A new film called Spettacolo–their Creative Capital project, premiering at SXSW in Austin, TX, on March 11–explores how villagers in a small Italian farming town preserve their heritage and confront community issues by turning their lives into an annual play. We spoke to Chris and Jeff about shooting Spettacolo ahead of the premiere at SXSW.

Alex Teplitzky: Did you happen upon the theme of using art to deal with real life problems accidentally or was it intentional?

Jeff Malmberg: We ran into this story completely by accident. We were on a vacation in the middle of making Marwencol when we bumped into this strange little town with a theater. So it just sort of hit us in the face. That said, I think we’re both attracted to stories about people who use art to deal with their issues. It’s not like they are making art as a means of self-expresion–they’re making art to try to solve an actual problem.

For me, those stories always manage to get at the real “power of art” that people like to talk about in ways that other art stories just can’t. That “power of art” idea is usually so abstract–the power to do what exactly? In both these cases, the creation of art is granting these people the power to actually transform their lives and understand themselves.

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Mike Crane’s teledrama “UHF42” Premieres in Berlinale Forum Expanded

Mike Crane, still from UHF42

Mike Crane, still from UHF42

Mike Crane (2015 Visual Arts) premieres the first two episodes of the six-part teledrama, UHF42, in the Berlinale Forum Expanded exhibition (curated by Stefanie Schulte Strathaus, Anselm Franke and Nanna Heidenreich, on view through February 20th). UHF42 is set entirely in the studios of Wattan TV, the longest running 24-hour news station in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah. Each episode portrays one day of a continuous work week, blending scripted performances with documentary scenes of office life. Continue reading

Penny Lane’s Creative Capital Project is NUTS!

Penny Lane is a filmmaker who focuses on lesser-known histories as a means of reconsidering current issues. So, it’s no surprise that she took an interest in the little known tale of John Romulus Brinkley, a man who gained national fame and fortune after curing impotence in the early 1900s, inventing the informercial and dismissed his critics as “the establishment.” NUTS!, Penny’s Creative Capital-supported project, has already received accolades in film festivals like Sundance and Rotterdam. It premieres June 22 at Film Forum in New York, followed by a release in other major cities. We caught up with Penny to ask her a few questions about the project.

Alex Teplitzky: The Guardian calls the film’s plot “a story so odd you’ll wonder why you haven’t heard it before.” How did you come across it?

Penny Lane: Like all good things, I found the story of John Romulus Brinkley in a public library. I stumbled on Charlatan by Pope Brock—a really terrific book—and was hooked pretty much right away. As a nonfiction filmmaker I’m constantly scanning for stories, and in my case those stories almost always come from reading. (I suppose for some other filmmakers the stories come from traveling, or talking to people. I like to sit alone and read books; sue me).

And as I began telling friends about this amazing story, about “a guy who used to implant goat testicles into dudes to cure impotence,” I was amazed that a lot of people would ask, “Well… did it work?”

No, of course it didn’t! But I began to think about how much people want to believe in miracle cures. The weirder the better, really. How “one weird trick to melt belly fat” is way better click-bait than “eat less to lose weight.” Who doesn’t sometimes wish the world was more interesting, more magical, more colorful than it really is?

This is why the highest-rated Animal Planet program of all time was a fake documentary about mermaids. This is why Water Kirn falls for Clark Rockefeller. Why conspiracy theories are so compelling. And why we fall for quack doctors, time and time again: they sell us a story we want to believe. This insight became the core of the film that—a mere eight years later—is NUTS!

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“Approaching the Unknown”: Filmmaker Mark Elijah Rosenberg on the Agony and Joy of Making Art


Official trailer for “Approaching the Unknown”

On June 3, Mark Elijah Rosenberg’s Creative Capital-supported film, Approaching the Unknown, will be released theatrically in ten cities (see list at bottom of post), and available on-demand. The story follows Captain William D. Stanaforth (played by Mark Strong), an astronaut on a one-way solo mission: taking humanity’s first steps toward colonizing Mars. Although the entire world is watching him, he is completely alone in a dark and distant sea of stars. Stanaforth rockets bravely through space facing insurmountable odds, but as the journey takes a toll on his life-sustaining systems, he is forced to make impossible choices that threaten his sanity, mission and very existence.

Approaching the Unknown received the Creative Capital award in 2012. I connected with Mark to learn more about the evolution of this ambitious project and struggles encountered along the way.

Jenny Gill: Approaching the Unknown is (obviously) a work of fiction, but you mentioned in your presentation at the 2013 Creative Capital Artist Retreat that there are elements of your personal life experience and desires in the story. Can you talk about the balance between the personal and the imagined in your writing?

Mark Elijah Rosenberg: No, it’s not fiction—we really sent a man alone on a one-way mission in space! Or at least, that would’ve been easier and quicker.

Approaching the Unknown is about an astronaut on a journey to set up a colony on Mars. He knows he’s never coming back to Earth, and he’ll be alone for a while, but within a few years he’ll be joined by dozens then hundreds of other people. There are some lines of voice over that never made it into the film where Stanaforth, the astronaut, relates his experience to that of his grandfather, immigrating to America, and his ship being just like a boat sailing across the Atlantic. But is that the comforting story we tell ourselves so we can do something adventurous, or is it naive and hubristic to think any worthwhile adventure in life can ever be a cakewalk? That’s the line Stanaforth is walking, and it’s a line anyone with ambition has to balance upon. What’s brave and what’s stupid? To do anything amazing, you do need experience and knowledge and confidence. But at a certain point, you also need to push yourself into the new, the unknown, the frightening. Continue reading

In Kerry Tribe’s Artworks, Forgetting Leads to Creating

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Aphasia is a little known disorder that, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 1 million people suffer from in the United States. The disorder does not affect a person’s intelligence, but rather, causes difficulties in speaking, listening, reading and writing—though the symptoms are largely unique to the individual. Kerry Tribe (2012 Visual Arts) has spent her career examining notions of memory and subjectivity through art works, and was naturally drawn to aphasic community as a way of continuing her practice. After receiving support from Creative Capital, Kerry spent time with and interviewed three individuals who struggled with aphasia and turned their story into a powerful video and installation. This series of works, called The Loste Note, will debut at 356 Mission in Los Angeles April 10.  We spoke to Kerry about her upcoming exhibition.

Alex Teplitzky: Can you describe the manifestation of the project a little more in depth?

Kerry Tribe: The Loste Note includes a number of works that have been percolating since I received a grant from Creative Capital in 2012 to make a body of work about a communication disorder called aphasia that makes it difficult for people to understand or produce language in its many forms.

The central work in the exhibition is a three-channel video installation called The Aphasia Poetry Club. It is roughly half an hour long and plays across a massive wall constructed to bifurcate the 10,000 square foot warehouse-turned-gallery. Much of the film was shot at 356 Mission, and the space makes a series of increasingly surreal and spatially confusing appearances over the course of the film.

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