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Journal Issue 2.supplement
An Interview with Barbara Hammer
By Deanna Utroske and the Films for the Feminist Classroom editorial collective
Utroske: You’re reaching out to a creative community of filmmakers that you’re drawing inspiration from, but professionally you’re reaching out to a different community, and I think that’s wise.
What sorts of work are you doing that you consider mentorship?
Hammer: Well, because I’m seventy-one and have a large body of work and teach only once a year at the European Graduate School, I am interested in helping younger people or older people who are just beginning in film or video. I, by chance, ran into a woman who works at a film lab here in New York and found out that she had not made a film for five years. I asked to look at her film—it was very good, a film that she’d made in school.
I realized that if you work in the film industry it’s very hard to make art at night because you’ve been dealing with film all day long. You get paid for it. And your weekends need to be free. So I thought, this woman is not going to be able to make her own work unless she gets some inspiration. Being at a place in life where I have a reputation that’s very positive, I asked her if she’d like to work with me, thinking that our collaboration could help her get a start in the world as an experimental film maker. And we are collaborating on a film called Generations (Hammer and Carducci 2010)—she’s thirty-three, I’m seventy-one. We shot at Coney Island. Coney Island has been around a long time and is falling apart. As with age, you fall apart in some ways. We hand-developed the film so that pieces of the film fleck off, like my skin flecks off.
Now, the real creative approach to this mentoring, not just working together and shooting together, was coming up with an idea to release her into really seeing herself as an artist all on her own, so that she’s not going to need to collaborate with me on the next film. The idea that I had was that we take the same material, we copy it, and we both edit it separate from each other. So, we shot in 16mm. She worked with a lab that can translate 16mm film into digital files, so we have two copies. I have finished my edit digitally on a computer. She’s editing on a flatbed—the old, traditional, cut-and-paste way. That reverses roles in terms of age stereotypes. We’re not looking at each other’s work. We both have to make a film of fourteen minutes and thirty seconds. When we’re finished, we’ll put them together and decide which goes first. They’ll always be shown together, and the premiere will be at MoMA, September 15.
I feel terrific about being able to do that with one person. I’m hoping that other older filmmakers, or artists, or writers care about this. And even if they just choose one person to work with, they are giving back. I didn’t have children, you know. I made a lot of films, so maybe I have 80 children [laughs]. Through mentoring I get to have a personal exchange with someone else. And, of course in mentoring you learn as much as you teach. It really is more collaboration than mentoring.
Utroske: Yes. Is there anything you’d like to share with the readers of Films for the Feminist Classroom that we haven’t talked about?
Hammer: Recently I was in conversation at MoMA for their education department. And I’m going to consult for them on a class in experimental film that will be on YouTube. So I thought of feminist faculty. Anybody who has a computer should be looking for the class probably in 2011. I think we’re going to start working in the late fall next year, on an introduction to experimental film.
I also want to start something programmed more toward youth, with elementary school students, because I think they need the introduction to those three genres—experimental, documentary, narrative—very young. I’ve taken my films to a third-grade class; the students are eight years old. I’ve shown them films like Pools (Hammer and Klutinis 1981). I didn’t show any sexual films but films that were experimental. Pools is an underwater film shot at the Hearst Castle with Barbara Klutinis, and the students knew what it was about. We had a discussion afterward. Some were scared because they couldn’t swim. There’s a gold-painted ladder that we shot underwater, as well as above water, as a way to leave the swimming pool. “Why was it gold?” “Oh, because you can walk to heaven that way, or you can get to another place,” the students said. Well, “exactly, ladders always connected two different locations, maybe the spiritual and the earthly.” You could do anything with this information that came from a child. A class could be taught on making a film about ladders, using ladders as a metaphor. Each of the students would get to think how they want to use ladders. They could put them upside-down, sideways, on the floor—they could play hopscotch in them.
What I’d like to say is, as you introduce these films you put the means of production in the hands of the students. You can bring your class together, and things will organically grow. The next class will come out of the class you just had. You have the basic idea, but you don’t have to firm up a rigid schedule before you go into the semester.
If anybody wants to invite me to come to class and start them off or come for a particular part, I’d be happy to. And I’d love to see more films in the feminist classroom from the elementary level up through post-doc.
Utroske: Thank you.
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