Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Space in Time with Film Artist Jacob Swanson

I think cinema, movies, and magic have always been closely associated. The very earliest people who made film were magicians. –Francis Ford Coppola

In recent years I’ve become aware of the benefits and power of collaboration. Most writers and artists work in isolation. On the other hand, filmmakers are fully aware of the dynamics of a team production. Jacob Swanson’s collaborative works have involved an interesting cross-section of local actors and artists, and have begun catching the attention of a widening audience.

EN: Your dad was an art teacher. How did that play out in your home when you were growing up?
Jacob Swanson: Growing up I would watch my dad dress up as different characters before teaching his elementary art class (I didn't go to the school he taught in). The characters that come to mind are Dr. Yrag Nosnaws (gary swanson backwords), Quick Draw Mcgraw and Superman. These corresponded with lessons about printmaking, free drawing and primary colors. I think he mostly had an effect that made art a fun activity to take part in rather than a mystical thing that was only open to certain people. My mother was also a choir teacher which also helped art and music to be something I've always been participating in.

EN: What do you do for a living? How do you balance art and life?
JS: Right now I'm a filmmaker and freelance videographer by trade. I've recently started doing commercial work with Walter Raschick (Walt Dizzo) under the name Lakefront Films and we focus on doing creative, professional and cost effective videos. So far our niche has been doing video for live music performances. We've worked with artists such as David Bazan, Low, The Murder of Crows and Southwire. For my personal art, I've gotten grants from the Jerome Foundation and Minnesota Arts Board to make my first feature film "Walk Amongst the Living" which is currently in production. Balancing art and life has been a struggle for me, especially when I had a full time job and that dilemma is actually what provided the inspiration for my feature. It's about our devotion to institutions in our lives vs. our desire and need to live for ourselves. Living in Minnesota has actually greatly diminished this dilemma for me because of the great grant opportunities available.

EN: You've been working in film quite a bit. What is it you find so fascinating about film?
JS: The thing I find most fascinating about film is the manipulation of time, space and reality. When you're holding a camera, you are using reality to create your art. You're in a real space, with real people/objects to tell your story. It's up to you to decide how to you want to capture this reality and make it tell the story you want. It's an incredibly familiar and popular medium to the general population and can be viewed very naturally. As a filmmaker you get to choose how you display your own personal manipulation of reality to an audience and your audience gets to choose how they interpret that reality. My films and video installations tend use surreal environments, single characters and loose metaphors. This allows for drastically different interpretations from an audience and I always enjoy finding out what people take away from my work.

EN: Who are the film makers you’ve drawn your inspiration from?
JS: The most obvious influences on my work are David Lynch and Guy Maddin, who are also two of my favorite filmmakers. My first college short that I made, people asked me "how much David Lynch do you watch?" and at the time I didn't even know who David Lynch was. So I feel that much of my natural aesthetic leans in that direction to begin with, and of course now I've seen plenty Lynch and don't mind the reference (though I would never compare myself with him.)

EN: Can you talk about the feature you’re working on? What’s the genre? Is this also an “art” project or something designated for theaters? Where will you be distributing the completed project?
JS: The feature that I'm working on is called "Walk Amongst the Living". It's my first feature film and is currently in production. It is designed for theaters but I'm hoping to blend live performance at select screenings. It's a (mostly) silent film and I've been referring to it as an Experimental Narrative. It's about a woman who feels trapped by all of the institutions that affect her life. Early in the film she dies and has the opportunity to walk through and observe aspects of her life and these institutions.

EN: What are some of the risks involved in film making? 
JS: The biggest risk, as I see it, is that you can't make films alone (of course there are exceptions where you can.) It's a long process and keeping everybody and yourself motivated and on the same page is a hard task.

Most of this interview originally appeared in The Reader.

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