July's filmmaker of the month is Michelle Bauer Carpenter who's an Associate Professor of Digital Design in the College of Arts & Media at the University of Colorado Denver. Carpenter has produced, directed and edited award winning experimental and documentary films. Her films have screened in numerous international and national film festivals, art galleries and on broadcast television. Her 2016 film Klocked: Women with Horsepower was recently nominated for three Heartland Emmy Awards and has currently won three national and one international awards including an Award of Excellence Feature Documentary from the Hollywood International Independent Documentary Awards and it was featured for Women’s History Month on KCET, Los Angeles and KQED San Francisco, California. Carpenter's 2012 film about the catastrophic Fourmile fire titled Above the Ashes was awarded two prestigious Heartland Chapter Emmy Awards in the categories of best topical documentary and best program editing. The Heartland Chapter is a chapter in the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS) and the Emmy Award represents the best in the television industry.
Carpenter’s creative research consists of two distinct styles of art making: traditional narrative video and experimental video documentary. The content of her work is driven by and created in response to primary experiences in her life. She draws from personal experiences to develop documentaries, experimental single-channel videos or video installations that empower women and encourage discourse on difficult subject matters, including the Fourmile fire, domestic violence, women’s body issues, breast cancer and Alzheimer’s.
Michelle’s prior non-profit work experience with Free Speech TV includes collaboration with grassroots organizations and larger institutions including INDEX: Design to Improve Life, the Getty Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Roosevelt Institute, Human Rights Watch International, among others.
From the Artist
“For a writer, it’s a word. For a composer or a musician, it’s a note. For an editor or a filmmaker, it’s a frame.” –Quentin Tarantino
Digital art and especially video, provides valuable contributions to the discourse on political and social issues of our day, and transforms the way people confront those issues. Utilizing the medium of video and installation, I address personal memories, loss and the construction of romantic and social mythologies about women, aging and even everyday heroism. In my work I seek to relate the complexity of human emotions and response. Often using personal narrative and gathered experiences, my work discusses the manifestation of violence, social constraints, personal loss and individual triumphs. Combining techniques of montage and collage, I combine original footage with found footage and dialog. Metaphor and implied meanings are the basis for my image selection and fuels the content of my work. My film and artwork asks the viewer to critically examine humanity and tour de force of life.
Tell us your backstory. How and why did you get into the filmmaking?
In the 1980’s I was a professional singer in a rock and roll band (Barracuda, Mission Control and Wench). My band and I performed full time in the Detroit area and surrounding states. In the mid-eighties I left Michigan and was on my way to California to seek out fortune and fame in the music industry. I stopped in Boulder on my way to visit a friend and started rock climbing. I just LOVED the thrill of climbing and fell in love with Boulder and adventure sports. In 1989, I started studying experimental video and film at the University of Colorado. I had the great honor of knowing experimental filmmakers Stan Brakhage and Phil Solomon and meeting incredible installation artists and video artists including Anne Hamilton, Daniel Reeves, Vanalyne Green, Mary Lucier, Rita Meyers, among others. CU has an incredible visiting artist and filmmaker program and it was life changing.
What films have been the most inspiring or influential to you and why?
Two of my favorite filmmakers are Errol Morris and Stacy Peralta. Errol Morris’ is an amazing filmmaker and his film the Fog of War had a profound impact on how I look at storytelling, the power of montage and use of creative motion graphics and B-roll. Stacy Peralta’s Dog Town Z Boys and Crips and Bloods: Made in America influenced how I approach interviewing, editing and sequencing stories. I teach motion graphics and broadcast design at the University of Colorado Denver so I love researching motion graphics firms and designers. Some of my favorite designer and firms are yU+co, MK12, Jaime Caliri, Saul Bass, Karin Fong, Digital Kitchen, Radley, Imaginary Forces, among others. One of my favorite websites is Art of the Title. http://www.artofthetitle.com/
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I often look for the extraordinary in the ordinary. Most of my documentary work is created as a response to primary experiences in my life. As a woman I have had plenty of life experiences to draw from and to use as subject matter for documentaries including women’s body issues, domestic violence, family members and friends with breast cancer, Alzheimer’s, and a wildfire. I am also very interested in breaking female stereotypes and empowering women in my films.
What is your favorite aspect of film production?
I love finding a great story and the detective aspect of making documentary films and it is very satisfying to uncover hidden facts and to make discoveries when you are interviewing, but my favorite aspect of filmmaking is post-production/editing. I just love the process of editing. It is like doing a giant puzzle and there are so many ways you can tell a story. I lose track of time and the hours just fly by when I am editing. I just get lost in the story, pacing and finding the right b-roll or graphics. I loved splicing film and I even loved to edit when I was editing . inch videotape and we only had 4 fonts we could choose from in the olden days!
What are the next project or projects you are beginning work on?
I am currently working on a new film calledEnough White Teacups. Perhaps more so than in any other region, the practice of design in Scandinavia is deeply embedded in the cultural identity of the place. Innovative design in Scandinavia is a highly valued part of daily life and design is apparent in every facet of Danish culture, from print media to city planning. Scandinavian design culture and practice is dedicated to design that can improve the quality of life both locally and globally and is based on the participatory (collaborative) design model. The participatory design model asks that designers, architects, scientists, businesses, government and social institutions collaborate and co--design with local and global communities to solve human need design problems.
The documentary Enough White Teacups highlights the Danish non-profit INDEX: Design to Improve Life ® (INDEX) and the film explores their history as an international design competition and highlights the most innovative INDEX award winners. The piece explores Scandinavian design culture and practice and explains the many ways that inventions are designed to impact daily life. The documentary conveys the Scandinavian view of design and communicates that design is more than decoration or the creation of objects for consumption. The documentary explains how design can be used to plan and build affordable housing to prevent of blindness, to destroy landmines, to learn a foreign language, to clean up the oceans and to help prevent infant and mother mortality, among others. Enough White Teacups examines sustainable designs/inventions that embrace the principles of social, economic and ecological sustainability and examines how INDEX uses the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as guidelines and inspiration for their design competition and education programs. Enough White Teacups emphasizes international collaboration and gives viewers exposure to the Scandinavian design model that is based on collaborative practice and is dedicated to helping solve local and global design problems. Enough White Teacups gives viewers the opportunity to expand their own mode of questioning, to consider reaching across disciplines, to be innovative with technology and investigate a range of possible solutions when approaching local and global problems. When most people hear the word “design” they think of the American definition and word as a noun and picture an architectural plan, a pattern for fabric, or an object like a teacup or dress. In the documentary: Enough White Teacups I ask the viewer to think of the word “design” as a verb. To think of the word “design” in a Scandinavian context… as a way to create an intended result such as, this invention was designed to reduce plastic pollution in the ocean.