Artists' Television Access

Interview with EFF Portland Director Hannah Piper Burns

We asked Hannah Piper Burns a few questions about EFF Portland. She will be presenting “Noble Gases: 2013 Director’s Pics” at ATA on Sunday, August 25th. Hannah directs the festival along with Ben Popp, also in the picture.hannah&ben2

What can you tell us about the Experimental Film scene in Portland? What is the contribution EFF Portland is making?

The experimental scene in Portland is very vibrant, and I think there’s still a lot of room for growth. There’s a lot of movement between generations of makers, which I love, with the academic institutions like PSU and PNCA, and there’s lots of people making on their own as well, and exploring new forms. EFFPortland aims to connect this community to the rich tapestry of experimental media across the US and beyond by creating an event that brings all this work into dialogue and creates an opportunity for these communities to come together and celebrate and strengthen each other.

EFF Portland 2013 had over 12 screenings back in May with great attendance. What was the audience response like?

We did! We also had an exhibition of installations and a night of performances curated and coordinated by Julie Perini and Jodie Cavalier, as well as several pre- and post-fest events, including an evening showcasing the Seattle Experimental Animation Team! We had great audience response. It was really cool to meet filmmakers from Chicago, North Carolina, Canada, and San Francisco, etc… and also locals we hadn’t met before, and get their feedback. It’s a great boost to keep going, keep making this festival a sustainable dream that can grow and be around for a long time.

As a filmmaker yourself, what have you learned being the director vs. being a filmmaker in a festival?

I’ve never had work in a festival myself, since my current work primarily lends itself to large-scale installation formats, and also my focus has kind of shifted lately towards EFFPortland and away from my own practice. I’m working really hard right now to shift it back. I will say that Ben has been very active at festivals like Ann Arbor and Experiments in Cinema and it seems to be just apples and oranges. I don’t want to intimidate anyone who is interested in starting or running their own fest, but it is a tremendous amount of labor. It’s basically another job that doesn’t pay. But I wouldn’t change anything – it’s a labor of total love. All of the stress and moving parts and kind of existential anxiety is all worth it in the end.

What are some of the primary characteristics you look for in a film that would make a good addition to the program?

Well, Ben and I watch everything together, which is a system that has really worked for us. We look at originality, or how someone is taking an experimental convention (of which there are many – just see our periodic table of the elements of experimental film!) and bending it in a new way. After watching over 500 submissions, you begin to really see which work stands out like that. We also look at the way someone uses their tools, and what they are ultimately trying to convey as far as a message, mood, or concept. But there are so many ways for a film to be experimental and it’s been a real joy to see that multiplicity manifest itself through the screening process. One thing I would say is we try to program films that wouldn’t have a home at Sundance or other non-experimental festivals. We are looking for things that really break form.

What can you tell us about the films you are about to present at ATA included in “Noble Gases”?

There’s a tremendous amount of range here, from experimental documentary to animation to semi-narrative. There are films by established filmmakers and there’s some, like “Up Ended”, which was a conceptual artist’s kind of first foray into this milieu of experimental film-making and the festival circuit. We’ve also got a film by Jeremy Moss, this filmmaker out of Pennsylvania who was in our best-of program last year as well. We love him. Ben and I thought these films exemplified their forms and we are very passionate about them.

Where do you see the festival going in the future?

Excelsior! has been my mantra since day one. It means “Ever Upward”. Ben and I are thrilled to start taking EFFPortland programs on tour (this screening is the first leg of that adventure!) and we are writing grants to try and facilitate that. I think we are both really invested in keeping this festival fun, accessible, diverse, multifaceted, and adhering to a high level of quality. We look at Bryan Konefsky of Experiments in Cinema as a mentor and an inspiration, big time. We’d love to attain nonprofit status so we can keep our development goals on track. And we are always kicking around ideas like opening up more of a distribution kind of thing. You eat the elephant one bite at a time.

Why did you choose ATA as a venue for this program?

Oh my gosh! Having lived in San Francisco, ATA has always been a beacon of experimental goodness for me, and I think Ben and I have both looked to ATA for inspiration when developing and growing Grand Detour, the microcinema that kind of gave way to EFFPortland. It’s a pleasure and honor to be here and to be able to introduce this audience to our mission and programming.

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