The 20th anniversary of the Utah Film Center’s Damn These Heels Queer Film Festival also marks the return of the center’s Artist Foundry program through two workshops for independent, do-it-yourself filmmakers and a conversation about queering the filmmaking process.
Festivals such as Damn These Heels often inspire aspiring filmmakers to make their debuts with their own queer stories. Among the many films the festival has featured, many were produced with scarce resources, low budgets or even on mobile devices. One of the best examples was in 2015, when Damn These Heels presented Tangerine, directed by Sean Baker, which had its premiere earlier that year at Sundance. Baker’s comedy about two transgender sex workers searching for their philandering boyfriend on Christmas Eve in Hollywood gained worldwide attention, including the fact that he shot the film primarily with an iPhone on a budget that was barely $100,000 and he used nonprofessional actors who only had taken a class on improvisation.
Low budget films can open doors for many directors. Consider Christopher Nolan, director of Oppenheimer. His first project was Following, a 1988 project he completed with just $6,000. He used natural light and filmed every scene either in a family member or friend’s home. Some short films that were shot with no formal budget whatsoever, including those that premiered either at Sundance or Cannes, include Killing Time (2011), The Assistant (2015) and The Stranger (2016).
Amanda Madden, who recently was named manager of the Artist Foundry, will hold a beginner’s level workshop on Video Self-Portrait (Oct. 14 at 10 a.m.). Jack Hessler, partner at the SLC-based production company WZRD media, will lead a workshop for intermediate and advanced levels, Directing Films, from the POV of an Editor (Oct. 14 at 1:30 p.m.). Both workshops will take place in the Studio Theatre at the Rose Wagner Center for Performing Arts.
During the summer, Madden launched Reflection Collective, a series of online workshops and offerings that explore DIY and experimental filmmaking practices with a focus on exploration, introspection, and connection. Madden, who also is co-facilitator of iowahouseSLC, a queer and trans community building project in Salt Lake City, said in an interview with The Utah Review that this workshop is “a great way to start out with filmmaking by creating a video self-portrait in as playful a way as possible.” They added that these workshops are yet another way to empower festival attendees who have thought about making their own films and to demonstrate indeed, that accessibility is realistic and they do not need to feel intimidated by industry gatekeepers and barriers. For example, a smartphone can be as effective as a professional quality video camera in producing a successful film.
“It is about providing a good emotional space for everyone to work together through some of these creative challenges,” Madden explained. Technical tools and strategies will be offered along with creative prompts to experiment in ways that individuals might see and share themselves using image, text and sound.
Their portfolio is extensive, including Pride, Athens International Film & Video, Thomas Edison, Big Muddy, Brooklyn Women’s, DOCNYC, Outgaze, Asian American International, Splice, Newark International, and Imagine This Womxn’s International Film Festivals, The Artists Forum Festival of the Moving Image, Queer Spectra Arts Festival, NOFLASH Video Show, Hyperreal Film Club’s HYPERDRIVE series, Landscape x Olympia video residency at Elsewhere, on FemmePowerTV, and at the Museum of Sex and Performance Space.
Hessler’s workshop is designed for filmmakers who have a final project in mind. He focuses on the relationship between editor and director, comparing it to a parent and child, respectively. Hessler envisions the role of the editor within a Japanese artistic aesthetic for repairing broken pottery that is more than 400 years old — known as Kintsugi. If a vase is broken, the shards are never discarded but put together again by using tree sap that acts like glue and the cracks are speckled with gold. The marks of damage are not concealed but highlighted, emphasizing that an imperfection can actually magnify beauty.
“The same thing happens during editing,” Hessler explained in an interview. “The editor sees all of the mistakes that happened on set and can see some of them as happy accidents that capture the vision of what the director was trying to accomplish. Good directors understand what the editor can do in what is really the last rewrite for a film.”
Hessler added that editors ask the most important questions. “What is the point of the film you’re trying to make? They also think about why would the audience be interested in a scene. They see lessons in every mistake.”
Hessler started by making films about snowboarding and then delved into editing character-driven sports documentaries, such as the Telly award winning documentary series Far From Home, as well as the feature documentary World Debut. Hessler has worked with brands and networks like White Claw, Red Bull, YouTube Originals and Olympic Channel, among others. His work has screened and won awards at festivals like Hollyshorts, Mountainfilm, Independent Short Awards and Rainbow Visions. Recently, he has been exploring narrative filmmaking, notably queer psychological thrillers.
Hessler and Madden will be joined by Utah filmmaker Marissa Lila on Sunday, Oct. 15, at noon (Rose Room, Rose Wagner Center for Performing Arts) for a conversation about the importance of not just telling queer stories but queering the filmmaking process itself. Through prompts and dialogue, the trio will join local filmmakers who identify as members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community on talking about strategies for the queer filmmaking process. Topics will include building production teams, planning production to emphasize inclusiveness, navigating the editing process and expanding the definitions and potential of queer filmmaking.
Upcoming for the Artist Foundry will be a comprehensive Business of Filmmaking workshop series. The organization also will sponsor events with partner organizations and create formal and informal opportunities for local filmmakers to connect.
For more information and tickets, see the Damn These Heels website.