Excerpts from an informal interview with Experimental Filmmaker Brittany Gravely

By Cynthia Close


Gravely is currently in production on the short film BLOOD OF THE EARTHWORM, which she describes as an "ecological existential horror movie."

Close: When did you decide to become a filmmaker?

Gravely: High school was when I first began developing an interest in cinema beyond mere spectatorship. I was culturally naive in many respects, and so around the time I was discovering the "alternative" in music and Twin Peaks was on TV, I also began watching stranger, lower budget, independent, etc. films. Usually alone, I would go see the single foreign/art film that would play at theatres near me and I rented as many weird things as I could in Jacksonville, Florida.

In undergraduate school, I was very focused on painting and drawing, but one performance/installation class I took my last year involved shooting my first roll of super 8. After that, I began to think of making experimental narrative films with super 8, but was still occupied with painting and making collages. In 1996 I moved to Boston and took classes at the Museum School (Established in 1876 as a division of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and affiliated with Tufts University since 1945, the Museum School offers a variety of programs for artists of all levels of experience. It offers degree programs in performing arts, art history, film/animation, photography, video, sound, art education); my ultimate goal was to immerse myself in an interdisciplinary program, to do a little bit of everything, and the areas would then feed off of one another. I was happy with super 8 right away. Contemplating taking 16mm film production the next semester, I asked Louise Bourque, my film professor at the time, if I should continue with it, and she claimed I had 'an eye.' Once I shot with 16, it was all over. I was hooked.

Close: How did your education at the Museum School prepare you for survival in the working world?

Gravely: Ha ha. That's a good one, Cynthia. If you want the Museum School to prepare you for survival, you really have to take that kind of action - they do not push you much that way. And, I have always operated in a more unpractical mode anyway, focusing on my education and my artwork over any real world work concerns.

Close: How does your family feel about your work?

Gravely: They are very supportive and always have been. There was never this issue of doing something more 'sensible.' I think that now they may be more mystified by my concepts and methods. Both of my sisters are interested in art and art culture - everyone asks me questions and are curious about it all. But, regardless of how much they understand where I'm coming from, they remain proud of me and don't really criticize.

Close: Who has most influenced your filmmaking style?

Gravely: That's a more difficult question, because I feel that I've probably been influenced in ways by films and people that are not even clear to me yet. But the filmmakers I remember striking that type of chord, which was most near and dear to my own cinematic dreams include found footage filmmakers like Craig Baldwin and Bruce Conner who reassemble and recontextualize media imagery so that it critiques itself. I had been thinking about the possibility of using a barrage of text in a film to create multiple layers of communication, and then I saw Tribulations by Baldwin, which is the ultimate in this idea of several voices, many forms of information from every spectrum of the culture. Also, Abigail Child, who was my professor for my last couple of years at the Museum School. She made a series of films in which the relationships between sound, image, and motion constantly collide in extremely precise and profound ways. I love sound trickery in film and a large percentage of my last films were edited to my soundtrack collages rather than vice versa. Finally, there are many, many random "non-experimental" films and directors whose ideas I have used in my work or who simply freaked me out so much that it changed some aspect of my view toward cinema irreparably.

Close: Your first film INTRODUCTION TO LIVING IN A CLOSED SYSTEM has done very well. It has been screened at the New York Film Festival, The Boston Underground Film Festival, in Toronto and other venues. It is very abstract. Do you think audiences "understand" your work?

Gravely: I always get nervous about that, and it is more nerve-wracking showing it to people who don't see much experimental film. Experimental film-going audiences
>have been very receptive and people will come up to me with comments and questions that show they understood where I was coming from. Film is capable of so much as a visual form and language, and with this kind of film, each person notices different things or laughs at different parts. If no one laughs at anything, I am afraid they are either taking it too seriously or they are missing the point.

Close: Has your recent success had an effect on how you think about what you do?

Gravely: Yes, it's been encouraging and given me that little extra bit of self-confidence. When I saw my film projected at the Walter Reade Theater in the New York Film Festival in the midst of all of these amazing films, I felt differently about it and my place in the strange world of experimental film. I'm constantly filled with self-doubt about my work and so each festival acceptance makes me feel a little better, and of course receiving the LEF grant helped there too. (The LEF Foundation is a private family foundation that supports the creation and presentation of contemporary work in visual, media, and performing arts projects primarily in the New England and Northern California geographic regions. LEF funds projects of creative merit, cultural resonance, and timeliness, reflecting a belief in the value of experimentation and in the important role that art and its practice hold in society. PUB)

Since 1993 Cynthia Close has been the Executive Director of Documentary Educational Resources, a Watertown MA. non-profit film and video production/distribution company founded in 1968. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Society for Visual Anthropology and the Margaret Mead Film and Video Festival. She also currently teaches a course in Funding and Selling the Documentary at the Maine International Film and Television Workshops in Rockport. Prior to this she lived in Germany, working as a corporate Art Consultant and in the 1980's was Dean of Admissions at the Art Institute of Boston.