Experimental: Hannah Piper Burns

hpb_travoltaI’m talking to different filmmakers and curators in an effort to get information about all kinds of distribution today. You are the Director of Grand Detour and the Experimental Film Festival, both in Portland. How would you describe the state of experimental film distribution as it exists today?

I think that in some ways, the idea of distribution is really changing (although I can’t speak to print traffic as I deal so rarely with it compared to a lot of my peers). SVOD is starting to open up new possibilities. For better or for worse, we’re moving away from experiencing the physical commodity of a film.

What is the breadth of work under the umbrella that’s largely labeled “experimental”?

This is a great question! The short answer is that there is a large breadth of work, depending on your definition or your fidelity to tradition. I always ask my programmer peers what they think is the difference between experimental and underground film, for example. Or the difference between avant-garde and underground and experimental. Really it’s about venn diagrams.

Grand Detour has historically brought in touring experimental artists and curated programs (Mallary Abel’s Cut and Run tour has also bee the focus of an interview here) as well as provided local-to-Portland makers with a screening venture (Portland Stew). Do you see national work or local work as more vital to your mission?

The dialogue between the two is what is vital to my mission. I also take Portland experimental film work to screen around the country for this reason.

Do hybrid forms, i,e, experimental narrative or experimental documentary, exist apart from purely experimental work (if there is such a thing) or is there an integration of all work that has “experimental elements” in the festival and micro cinema circuit?

Oh, there’s a huge spectrum of work. Thank god. I mean, Ann Arbor programs music videos. We had a family-friendly screening. And a porn screening. I feel like experimental is not itself a film genre, but it’s rather an approach to making media.

It’s often said that experimental work doesn’t lead tot funding and/or box office funds, Can you address this?

It depends – like, on what country you are in, for example – but I haven’t found a lot of money in experimental film. But when was the last time you saw a movie in a theater? I’m mostly kidding, but seriously, if you’re in experimental film for the money, start doing Etsy crafts or oil paintings. You can do plenty of other stuff for the money it takes to make your films! You can teach. You can write grants to buy supplies or to travel. You can have a day job, just like most artists. The great thing about making experimental film is that the paywall can come down somewhat from a “normal” film project budget, so there’s not as much overhead to get things done.

I will say that the experimental film community has a tremendous amount of cultural currency, which can be very valuable to artists.

What would you say to a student who wants to make an experimental film?
If you’re ever making the film you think you’re “supposed” to be making, it’s not experimental.

Thank you!


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