Enie Vaisburd Interview

I have known Enie Vaisburd for many years.  We have taught classes together, drank gallons of coffee and discussed many films and students over the years.  In the classes we team taught we put together a very effective “good cop/bad cop” routine for the students.  (I am sure you can guess who the “bad cop” is.)  She is a caring and compassionate teacher who is also a terrific filmmaker.  With an active family life (husband & two sons) and teaching full time she doesn’t have as much time as she used to for making her films, yet she keeps moving forward.  She has a new film, WALK which will be screening later this week at the NW Film Center in Portland.  For more info follow this link… http://www.nwfilm.org/screenings/34/343/#2039

This interview took place over a series of weeks because she is that hard to pin down.

KB: What’s your background in film/video?

EV: Growing up in Brazil, I was exposed to films by Bergman, Bunuel and others. I would also see what was shown at the cinematheque, including my first experience of seeing a frame of film burning in the projector’s gate magnified in the screen (both beautiful and horrifying, but also very tangible). In undergraduate school in Israel, although a French major, I spent a big part of my week at the Jerusalem Cinemateque. I absorbed as much as I possibly could.

In 1988 I moved to Pittsburgh, and started taking film production classes. I was timid at first but the more classes I took, I just wanted to do more. At Pittsburgh filmmakers I was also exposed to experimental film, video art and installation. The concept of creating a subjective space in film really appealed to me. I was hooked.

This led me to Southern Illinois University where I received an MFA in film in 1996.

I came to Oregon shortly after and from 1997-2008 I taught at the School of Film at the Northwest Film Center. For the last three years I’m a film/video professor at Pacific University Oregon.

KB: You make what would best be labeled “experimental films”, who are your influences?

EV: That label is funny. People often talk about the fact that experimental film is defined by what it is not, much more than for what it is. So many times I catch myself saying: “ My films are not exactly documentary, not solely experimental…” and then I have to go on and say “it is experimental-documentary, somewhat lyrical, impressionist…” and I keep trying to translate that concept.

The films that I like the most are the ones that convey the poignancy, the humor the surreal, the absurd, the joy, the complexity and the pain of the human condition in ways that I never thought before. I love leaving a film and carrying it with me for a few days, weeks, or years.

KB: Tell us about your newest film and your technique?

EV: I just completed WALK, a 12 minute film.

At the beginning I had two things in mind: I wanted to shoot at various times and circumstances at the same place. In this case it was the Smith and Bybee Lakes in North Portland, OR. I also I wanted to create a sense of place.

I enjoy discovering as I shoot. As I review and think about the experience, themes start to emerge. It is different than writing a script, finessing it and filming. Hitchcock said that his films were made in his mind and his storyboards. By the time shooting began, he was bored.

I also enjoy creating connections with seemingly disparate things, so the process becomes about tying in the connections, having conversations about it, reviewing the footage and listening to my reactions to it.  I quickly understood that I was interested in creating an emotional space and not a straightforward physical representation.

As I visited the space I realized that it sometimes elicited wonder and sometimes fear and vulnerability. At that point I started interviewing adults and children about courage and fear.  As I was reviewing the interviews, it became clear that although the adults had experienced tragedy, death, illness and loss and were very articulate in processing these experiences, when asked what made them get through it, the response was exactly what the kids stories were expressing: “I was afraid, but I did it anyway”, “I imagined something horrible but at the end I tried and it was not as bad”. Their stories distilled what the adults were saying and became a parallel to the Talmudic parable at the end. Deborah, the adult voice in the film, provides the insight and context.

The challenge was in tying things together, discovering connections. How do I decide what belongs in the piece?  What do I let go?  I started with a big onion and kept peeling the layers off.

KB: What was your biggest budget item?

EV: Equipment purchase and post-production were probably the most expensive budget items. The many in-kind contributions by all the wonderful people that worked in the film in production and post-production were also big budget items. It was a real treat to collaborate with my students and to work with David Jahns as a colorist, Lance Limbocker as a sound designer and Grahamsound as a composer. Cam Williams was the creative consultant, which is really a way to encapsulate his ongoing creative, technical and family help and support. Pacific University, where I teach, was also a major supporter of the project.

KB: What would you do different next time?

EV: I would like to work with a mind-reading producer, a personal-manager, so all the logistics would be taken care of… This project ended up involving many wonderful people and it would have been really helpful to have a production coordinator. Film is really a collaborative medium and people often accumulate roles. Learning how to delegate and collaborate is vital. I always say at the end of a project “next time I’ll do it in a much simpler way”. Wish me luck!

KB: How do you balance teaching, making films and your family, you have two sons.  You got a lot going on…

EV: I imagine myself on a rolling ball while trying to balance many things in my hands. Or a really cool circus contortionist. As you can tell by the time I took to get this interview back to you, it is not perfect. But, I tend to have a lot of respect for people who are just being human with all its flaws and wonders. I have a very supportive family and friends and this really helps. That being said, we just moved, the semester just started, it is little league time and I have a few projects that need attention, so….!!

KB: What’s your next film?  Any ideas yet?

EV: I have a couple of ideas brewing that I’m still trying to simplify before they expand too much. I would like to shoot some in Brazil, where I am from. I would also like to work more with kids. But I would also like a project with very strict limitations and see what comes out of it.

I’m really excited about “Kid on Hip; Camera in Hand” a program by women making films through the lens of motherhood. My colleague Jennifer Hardacker and I collaborated in curating the program and it premiered at the Portland Oregon Women Film Festival, POW (http://www.powfest.com/2011-festival-schedule.html) on March 12. We are both premiering new shorts and showcasing work of filmmakers we are really admire such as Lynne Sachs, Emily Hubley, Sacha Waters Freyer, Kathryn Ramey, Johanna Hibbard and Cecilia Cornejo. The program will eventually be available on DVD and will travel.

KB: Is there a film (experimental or not) that was a huge influence on you?  What is it about this film that influenced you?

EV: There are many films (and filmmakers) that I really love and they have impacted the way I think of stories or images: Bergman’s “Wild Strawberries”; Antonioni’s “Red Desert”, Theo Angelopolos “Landscape in the Midst”, Wim Wenders “Alice in the cities”, Todd Haynes “Safe”, Abbas Kiarostami “The Taste of Cherry”, Tarkovski “The Sacrifice”, Rafi Bukai’s “Avanti Popolo”, Fassbinder’s “Berlin Alexanderplaz”, Glauber Rocha “Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol”, Maya Deren’s “Meshes of the Afternoon”, Leighton Pierce’s “Blue Hat”, Mattias Mueller “Alpsee”, Bill Viola, Maya Deren, Agnes Varda, Lynne Sachs, Leighton Pierce, Jay Rosenblatt, Alan Berliner, Ross McElwee, Bela Tarr, Tarkovski. Mostly light and happy films….

I’m sure I’m forgetting many here. One of my big joys in film lately was watching Jacques Tati and the Marx Brothers with my kids. I also love a heart-wrenching Douglas Sirk melodrama. I love seeing my students’ films develop from idea to the screen. I get very excited about the creative process and all the groundwork involved.

KB: Where can I buy copies of your films?

EV: You can contact me at evaisburd@pacificu.edu

Don’t forget Enie’s screening later this week in Portland.  http://www.nwfilm.org/screenings/34/343/#2039


VISITING ARTIST-Former Film Center lead faculty member and now Pacific University assistant professor Enie Vaisburd has helped many Portland filmmakers find their voices as artists. Tonight, she’ll share her own films and talk about the work that has inspired her. Included in the program are her new film, WALK (2011), an experimental documentary exploring themes of fear and wonder through the eyes of children, the Hebrew language, and ancient Jewish texts; AGUA (2004), which layers footage of the sea with text from escape legend Harry Houdini to take a look at our most precious resource and its ability to both preserve and endanger life; and UNWINDING THE THREAD (1996), which interlaces transitory images from a journey by train through the lush Brazilian countryside and telephone conversations between a mother and daughter. (90 mins.)”