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New Ashland film festival programmer wants to incorporate live performances

New Ashland Independent Film Festival Program Director Richard Herskowitz will make his Ashland curatorial debut during Varsity World Film Week, Oct. 2-8. He plans to bring an interdisciplinary approach to Ashland’s Film Festival offerings, including experimental films and live performance. Herskowitz has programmed films for festivals and universities for more than 30 years. He taught film studies at the University of Oregon for the past seven years, and will continue to curate media art exhibitions for UO’s Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. I visited him on Skype from AIFF’s offices on A Street in Ashland. This is the second of a two-part column. The first appeared Monday, Sept. 14. It's online at www.dailytidings.com.

EH: Is there an example of things that you may have done at the U of O using media and live performance?

RH: There have been so many. There’s a wonderful filmmaker from Portland named Vanessa Renwick. Last year she came to Eugene and collaborated with a musician. She performed live, while we projected her footage of wolves. This was a night that we called, “Wolfapoloosa.” Everything had to do with wolf management as dealt with by artists. We had a three-screen projection with live performance of her music.

Also in a neighboring gallery, she had a piece called “Hunting Requires Optimism” in which people opened refrigerators, and inside each of the dozen refrigerators was a video monitor that showed wolves hunting prey. Basically it was drawing a comparison between how we get our food and how wolves get their food. We tend to be much more successful because all we have to do is open the refrigerator. Only one of those wolves, in one of those refrigerators, actually caught its prey, which is the actual percentage out in the wild. These are examples of the kind of thing that is a “unique experience” that artists are creating partly in response to the fact that media needs to become more live and more interactive, in order to attract people to engage with it in a public setting.

EH: How do you propose to expand the film festival audience?

RH: Is it true that it’s not easy to get younger audiences into movie theaters? Absolutely, there are all these competing screens for their attention. Taking screenings to campuses, to the schools, having this live component, there will be all kinds of efforts to expand and excite people about a range of film practice they would otherwise be unaware of.

There’s an animator in San Francisco (Jeremy Rourke) who creates animations and then performs live with them, he literally steps into the screen and engages with his own characters. It’s an experience, that if you don’t come to the theater, you’re just not going to have.

One other thing that has never been done before (as far as I can tell) at World Film Week is that we have an animated feature. It’s something that I think will delight kids and their parents as well. It’s called “Boy and the World.” It is from Brazil. It has no words, and it has a very rich soundtrack of samba and Brazilian hip-hop and flute, but it’s also an actual visual feast of color and design. It is a story, a film, but it’s told without words. We’re basically saying it’s for kids 8 years old and older. Some kids are going to see a kind of animated film they’ve never seen before.

Festivals are a mission to broaden the tastes of audiences. That will result in better movies being made. It’s simple as that. Better audiences make for better movies.

Tickets for World Film Week are available at the Varsity Box Office. For tickets and information, or to volunteer, visit www.ashlandfilm.org. The 15th annual Ashland Independent Film Festival will be celebrated April 7-11, 2016. For more information, visit www.ashlandfilm.org.

Evalyn Hansen is a writer and director living in Ashland. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre and is a founding member of San Francisco’s Magic Theatre. Reach her at evalyn_robinson@yahoo.com.