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Jurnal Footage interviewed Scott Miller Berry on wednesday, August 24th 2016. He was invited to be one of the jury for Arkipel Social/Kapital, he also had master class about personal film and film celluloid as medium of personal expression in Atamerica, August 23rd. Scott Miller Berry was festival director of Images Festival for ten years and now he worked with Rendezvous With Madness, also as festival director. In 2015, his long involvement in arts and culture makes him awarded with Margo Bindhardt and Rita Davies Cultural Leadership Award from Toronto Arts Foundation.
We did the interview in Galeri Cipta III Taman Ismail Marzuki in the morning. Afrian Purnama represent Jurnal Footage and Ario Fazrien document the interview. We have a long talk about film festivals, his experience and the cinema itself.
Jurnal Footage: I am just trying to repeat the master class that you had yesterday, you were talking about the personal experience in the film as film personal. So can you explain the personal film from your perspective?
Scott Miller: Sure, ya I think lots of things can be personal film, right? In the talk yesterday I kind of shared one approach to make personal film using celluloid and kind of doing all the steps yourself in terms of the shooting and the processing and the editing and all of that. But that’s just one approach, right, that I’ve learnt especially in the Film Farm workshop where I teach. But I think that, for me, a personal film can take many forms but the story comes from my personal place. Comes from tapping into an experience, something historical inside of us whether it’s family or friends, day to day life and existence. And I tried to show in the workshop that you know it can take, it’s a very definable form, because it could be as simple as trying to cross the street. You know, what it can feel like to cross the street and how hard that can feel, or stressful and upsetting. But it could also be about you know losing a brother or sister or having a bad experience with a boyfriend or girlfriend or you’re feeling stressed out or whatever. It’s just about, the personal filmmaking is synonymous with diary filmmaking or diaristic filmmaking. It’s sort of using a very personal reflective approach to telling a story. If that makes sense.
JF: So the personal film is you shoot your film by yourself?
SM: Usually, but you don’t have to. But I do.
JF: Because I’ve seen a film that is strongly personal but that use footage like Jay Rosenblatt that use many footage and it’s very personal. So that thing can be personal film.
SM: Absolutely, ya I mean I kind of gravitate toward it because the films I make that are about my life and my mother died when I was very young. She was very sick for a long time. I’ve been with my family members when they’ve died in physically. I had to think a lot about mortality and death and the process of grief a lot since I was a young person. So like the films I make come from asking myself those questions, you know all the time kind of relating to the world through these lenses of what it means to be in this world temporarily. But everyone’s experience is different. Personal film doesn’t have to be like that. It doesn’t have to be about family or pain or you know joy or whatever. It can, you know, like the film I just mentioned. That’s in the competition, to me that’s also a personal film. The filmmaker is documenting her father and her uncle and their experiences fighting in war. And she confronts them. It’s a different form but it’s still to me a very very personal film because she’s taking a risk by putting herself in front of the viewer to ask some very hard questions. You know that’s intersecting with the filmmaker’s life. And I’m sure at some level you could argue that all films are personal because they come from the director. The director has the idea or screenwriter. I guess I’m talking about first person life experience that is shared through film, video or digital, moving image.
JF: So the personal film kinda similar to authorship theory. The director can have their own vision with their own personal element. Do you think it’s different or is there any distinctive differences between authorship and personal film?
SM: I think it’s very similar. I’m not an expert on authorship theory but I think. But in a personal film if I wrote a film about my family, and I give it to you to make. That can be really really interesting. But it would be different because I’m not only the author of the story I experienced. If it’s a first person story based on you know real life experience. Again it’s not that I could write and you could make it. you could make, you could interpret it and make it but it would just be very different I think. So the authorship and first person personal cinema are very very connected because the filmmaker’s experience. They are the filmmaker and the author, right. They interpret their experience through their films. If that makes sense. Think about autobiography, think about someone who writes a book about my life or whatever you know. Someone wrote a song about their breakup, they are just trying to make parallels between whether other mediums. I think cinema, I said in my screening the other night or the other day but for me cinema is, for me, the perfect medium for personal cinema for first person filmmaking because it’s real time. Like it’s moving in time parallel to the way that our lives move and experience sitting in the dark together and having an experience. Frame over frame, image over image, every image like image, every image it’s there and it’s gone. It’s there, it’s gone, it’s there, it’s gone. It’s like two minutes when it started or whatever, it centrifuges, I could change my mind or I could correct myself, but we can’t go back, we always have to keep forward. But I think personal filmmaking can be a way to really take memories, take histories and make it present.
JF: Well, we have so many video blog right now like in Youtube, or many in places in internet and do you think it’s the same form or it’s evolution another personal film form?
SM: Yea, someone asked me this question or similar version yesterday. I think it’s similar, I think it is and people take to youtube to yell about their mother or to cry about their boyfriend. You know, share their feeling let’s say, or sing a song or whatever like. It’s personal, but I guess to me those kind of things they feel less intentional. It’s happening in the moment. “I just went to a restaurant and I had a terrible service and the waiter was rude and the food made me sick, I’m gonna make a video and post it on restaurant’s website”. Well ok, but you are just angry in the moment. But it’s not very intentional. You know but like sitting down, making time to write a story about your breakup or your brother who committed suicide or about you know trying to get over a hard situation.
JF: You screened your film here with the 16 mm, and 8 mm, why you don’t convert it into the digital?
SM: I do, yea I showed the super 8 like I was talking with Arkipel about the program. I showed this one film, both all of them in super 8, but we can show super 8 or digital. And you said oh I just brough super 8 projector, that’s ok as well. But I’ll bring both. You know because some festivals, some just can’t show super 8. It’s hard to have the equipment, to have someone to operate the projector. Sometimes in cinema, the festival using a big cinema. Super 8 is very small projector with the small lenses and small bulb and the place like kineforum is perfect. The 16 mm, some of my films like the last film on the night program, it’s finished on digital, like hd. I had hope to transfer it back to film because part of it was shot on film. but it was too costly and it took 6 years to finish it. Some of my films are finished on digital and some finished on film. but I always had digital copy, it’s also for archive right. Because that super 8 that’s was here is the only copy. You used to be able, until the 90’s you could make a print. You could actually use a lab that would take super 8 original and make the copy on super 8 but you can’t do that anymore. So it’s the only copy. So if I lose it, I need to have a digital backup. Or the movie completely disappears.
JF: So you also made a film and you managing a film festival, how making a film influences you to managing a festival and vice versa?
SM: I try to think. I guess those interest kind of develop. I mean as I shared the talk, I began seeing movies a lot from I was like nine, ten, eleven years old. I watched movies in the cinema and also at home. But I did a volunteer for film festivals when I live in New York and at the same time I started to try to make short films. so I guess that kinda happened in parallel and really ever since I’ve been slowly working on short films and also I’ve been volunteering, starting, creating, working out being on the board of directors for film festivals like ever since. So the filmmaking and the film festival work has been very parallel. So I appreciate the question. I think that I really love film festivals, i love the space of concentrated schedule, organise around the theme, organise around cultural community, region or form films. But it’s concentrated right, it’s only ten days or five days and it’s only in these venues. When they function well like Arkipel. There are guests, and there are central group, committee kinda organising it and then there’s always in festival a space for others’ voices. For example, the young agent curators, I think it’s amazing. Because I love the competition too. But It’s also great to have guests here presenting films from their regions or their cities and from their perspectives. They have different approach to the theme or to the documentary form. I think festivals offer huge like window and door into learning film as art and art through film. And so as a filmmaker, you know the fact that I happened to work in film festivals, it really affects me because I’m watching a lot of films and I’m always being inspired. Sometimes I watched films just for the festivals because I’m on the selection committee. But I’m also just watching, I try to watch all films all the time. Just for my own personal interest or they might be good for the festival or because in Toronto where I live there’s over 80 film festivals. So there’s a lot of chance to see a lot of films. So, did I answer the question?
JF: So ya, it really influences you.
SM: They are both like being, running film festivals and visiting the film festivals is totally influencing me as a filmmaker. But it’s also influencing as a film festival worker. You know it really is. I think about scheduling and venues and how programs are organised, like you know first, second, third, fourth films. I think about ok, is there enough time in between programs to meet other people to meet local filmmakers, to meet guests and it’s like because film festivals are also short. The films are the most important but for me, the nest, the second most important is the social. So space for parties, space for eating meals together, space for meeting each other is very important because we are having the experience together. And I wanna know from you like what do you think of that service program, what do you think of that Lav Diaz’s film or whatever, like you know…we are having a shared experience. Sometimes the art world is very territorial and very protective. My idea, my artist, I made that idea first or whatever. I try to approach that stuff, because it does apply with film festivals too, very openly. So I’ve already made suggestions from Arkipel back to colleagues at home. It’s a privilege to be here and to share my films and to do a talk, and to meet. So it’s great, it’s important.
JF: So it just like an internet where people can meet.
SM: I mean, it’s funny like I was saying to someone. I really don’t like watching movies online on computer. It’s like I have to do it for works, you know. I don’t feel the same connection. there is something i don’t like, I’m watching the phone rings or the cat needs foods. It’s just like things you get interrupted. You know when you are in a cinema, hopefully you are not answering your phone. You know it’s like, it’s a sacred space but that sounds really cheesy. But I really do mean it. It’s like where you can have a cinematic experience. I feel so much more connected to what I’m watching. When I’m watching on a computer, I’m still watching, I’m trying to pay attention, I’m trying to think and analyse and but for me, it’s not the same. Even if Arkipel was live streaming a film, as it’s live in kineforum and live on the web. It’s not the same. Because the people that are watching at home, they are not in cinema. I’ve been to events where they can have live chat, at the same time there’s Q&A. It’s like an attempt to expand the audience. I mean it’s not the same. It’s something else. You could argue it’s more inclusive or it’s like bigger audience or whatever but it’s, for me, I wanna be in the room.
JF: In the first Arkipel, I think we have a chat with the director from Canada. Do you remember?
SM: Luli, with the skype. It was in the theatre over here. It was like the Skype kept breaking, and the connection was like lost. There was no video. And it was a bit a stressful. But It was also funny, I mean we ended up doing chat, remember? You tell me like did it work? Was it better than not having it?
JF: Well, it’s better.
SM: I think so. Of course. People could ask questions.
JF: You are now managing Rendevouz Madness. Can you tell me about the festival?
SM: So the Rendevous Madness film festival is in Toronto, Canada. It’s the first, it’s the oldest and the largest film festival in the world that shows films on mental health or addiction. So it was started in 1993 so this year is the 24th festival. That’s in November, for 9 days. And it was started by an organisation that I worked for, called Workman Arts. So that’s all year round organisation that does public programming. So we do the film festivals, we run two art galleries all year round. We do public programming, workshops, that’s for the public and with the film festivals, that’s to destigmatise mental illness. So it’s kind of raise awareness of things like living with schizophrenia, living with bipolar, living with depression and anxieties, suicides, addiction, could be alcohol, could be gambling. So those are public programmes. And then we also have 320 members, 300 members who are artist, painters, filmmakers, writers, theatre performers, music. But these artists are still people living with mental health or addictions, right at some point in their life. Maybe 20 years ago, maybe they are in physiciatric hospital where they have long depression. So we just help them improve the practice through painting clasess let’s say to the painters and also help them with practical skills, like how to build a website, how to make a resume, how to apply for a grant to get money from the government, how to set up you know like a web store to sell your painting. It’s like very practical assistance to help them, hopefully increase money as an artist you know. We don’t do if someone is coming out of hospital let’s say and they want to learn how to paint, they want to learn how to play music, we don’t do that because we are not like a training school. You know we can refer those people to other resources but we work with people who were already all artists and they are living with some sorts of mental illness. Things are better now, for instance, like in North America, like there are overall less stigma about mental health but it’s still hard, it’s still a lot of combination, a lot of misunderstandings, if someone is physically disabled has a walker, crutches, it’s visible to us. So I think why the film festival so special is that we show a wide variety films. We showed documentary, fiction, animation, experimental. We show all genres. Mostly features, but also show shorts, and we always have an exhibition, installations. We always have symposium like in forum. But we also do very long discussions afterward. For example, so we showed a documentary last year called Paul Sharits. So Paul Sharits is really very interesting filmmaker and visual artist. He also had a bipolar disorder. So there’s documentary by Francoise Mirande from Montreal called Paul Sharits. And we showed it. The filmmaker was there and we did discussion.
JF: Can you tell me the films scene in North America, the ongoing trend of filmmaking, what approach they use nowadays? What the trend right now?
SM: There’s more film festival than ever. Film festivals in every region, city and town. I’m not sure that’s, I guess it’s good. There’s this continuous trend in America a lot. There’s thousand of film festivals. I think it’s hard for filmmakers to kind of navigate and find to show their films. There’s also a trend for film festival not to pay the filmmakers and although that’s complicated, I also think it’s really important that festivals pay filmmakers. I recognise that we’re very lucky and privileged in Canada where I live to have a strong government funding opportunities. But one of the conditions of receiving the grant that we receive like the money we got from the government. One of the things that you have to agree to is to pay filmmakers, you must. For me that’s not good enough because the festivals I’ve worked out, we pay everybody, give up without internal policy, we pay everybody. But I think the trend that I found disturbing and upsetting is that, I mean it’s true for very old festivals, like Toronto International Film Festival which is very big you know second largest to count, very commercial, as well as very international, very independent in certain sections. But there’s what I call festival ego where the festival thinks you are so great, you should be so happy to screen your movie with us, we don’t have to pay you, you should be so grateful, you are so lucky, you are going to change your life, your career make your money, you know. I showed Ars Memorativa (Scott’s film) that I also showed and actually in Oberhausen short film festival competition. It was real surprise and very honoured to be selected, I did not expect it. But one day, we’re communicating to me, oh is there a fee. Oh we don’t pay fee because blablabla, it’s to big and blablabla, we will give this, we will give you hotel for four nights oh yea. We can’t give give you a fee. Oh well you know, ok but it’s not acceptable to me because my attitude is you can’t have a film festival without films. And if you can’t have film festivals without films and need filmmakers to make films to show in your festivals. If your attitude is if you are so lucky then that’s to me backward so I think there’s a trend in North America to use systems like without a box,use real port, you know this film free way, these are like platform where the people can upload their preview and their pay a fee. And the festivals get percentage, right. But in my experience, what happens with these websites, the filmmaker is busy, they just want to send up the film to as many as film festivals as possible, right. So all of use real port, without a box, we’ll send you to one thousand film festivals that might cost, like hundreds and hundreds of dollars. And then the film festivals makes money but the film may not even be appropriate to their film festival. I have so many colleagues, their festival might show only experimental films, like very experimental film. But all of these submissions for traditional narrative, very traditional documentary and they get money. But only because the filmmakers using this service. To me, it’s not fair because people are kind of taking advantage of the filmmaker. Whereas they just should say that “your film is not appropriate for that festival. You shouldn’t pay the money”. But it’s sort of this, everyone is like needs money, right. It takes money to run a festival, of course. It’s kind f boring administrative triumph. I mean, I don’t know, in Toronto we have 80 film festivals. We’re very lucky. There’s a festival of sick film as festival Estonian documentary, festival of indigenous films. That’s’s really amazing. By the way, called Imaginative. There’s real Asian film festival which is all regions of Asia. There’s Cuban film festival, Tibetan film festival. It’s like really, it’s really because Toronto is very multicultural. It’s great. But I do see a trend that festivals are becoming more commercial, in terms of types of film they show and less independent. And they are not paying fees as much. They are not paying filmmakers to screen their films. I guess I’m trying to say like more is good to a point but sometimes more isn’t good for everybody because I think filmmakers should be paid for their films.
JF: What you think about the Social/Kapital, the theme that Arkipel raises this year?
SM: Well, to be honest, before I came I wasn’t sure I am understood. But I did have some emails back and forth of trying to answer the question which was helpful. And my Bahasa is not good enough yet to, maybe it’s translation issue for the English. But from what i’ve seen, I haven’t seen everything yet. I feel it’s like really good. I feel like it’s really. Again, based on what I have seen, especially in the competition but also beyond the competition and the guest programmes, it feels like there’s a lot of very strong film about global issues like land rights, the environment, gender, and you know abuse of power or abuse of people, development like land development, capitalism. When I first read it, I thought ok Socialism versus Capitalism, that’s one of my interpretations. Maybe that was wrong but I feel it that is, i feel like I’m getting some of that tension through a lot of the films which I already like in terms of, like collective issues of humanity, and the state and the capital and neoliberalism and globalisation and like how are those things not just coexist but there are other tension. It’s like these tensions exist, but now what? Because, I for one, wanted an end of Capitalism. it’s not working. It only worked in the very beginning, but it only serves the rich. Maybe I’m too sensitive or I’m too humane in my life? To me, capitalism is all about selfishness and getting ahead. So I want sooner the Capitalism ends the better. But I don’t know if I have all the answers in terms of what comes next. But I do, you know that I work a lot like activists approach. It’s always better, because we are in this together and generations before us and generations that would come out after us hopefully. But if we don’t make it better, then it’s only just gonna get worse. So I’m really enjoying the programmes. The programmes are long and hard. They’ve been working really hard to watch, the form, the content. But I love it.I wouldn’t want it any other way. this festival is really risky and really approaches the documentary in very politicised way. and that’s great, that’s important, that’s rare.
The interview transcripted by Fiky Daulay