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Posts Tagged ‘Witness Trees’

I am honored to be the featured filmmaker and to present my short film TRAVELIN TRAINS, this Friday, 8pm, June 4, 2010 as part of the RAW: Natural Born Artists event at the great Hollywood screening venue, CINESPACE.  RAW Artists is a multi-faceted arts organization showcasing handpicked artistic talents in the avenues of film, fashion, music, art, DJs, models, photography and performing arts. Each month there is a party event promoting the artists and their work.  It’s an invite only, cocktail affair.  If you want, you can order your tickets by following this link HERE.

They posted an interview with me on their site, but I wanted to take this opportunity to expand on some of those comments and offer direct links below.

Q- Tell us about yourself.

I’m a Filmmaker that’s been based in Los Angeles since 1994. Before that I lived and worked in Atlanta for 10 years. I was born in New England. I went to Emerson College.

Q- How did you first get started in film?
I started making Super 8 films when I was 10 years old. Lots of three minute in camera editing. I loved going to movies and would emulate the stories with my friends that we saw at the theater. Recently, I’ve reconnected with some of them on Facebook and it’s been fun to share these films from our youth. When I was in college I started shooting in 16mm and video. Haven’t stopped since.

Q- Tell us about TRAVELIN’ TRAINS

TRAVELIN’ TRAINS is a short 16mm black and white film I made a few years back (well, actually more then a few) about a young man in search of his father in depression-era Georgia and the blues music that both joins and separates them.  We shot it in Atlanta, grant supported. Most of the script was written in a local Atlanta blues club, “Blind Willies.”  I’m excited that people are going to get to see the film on a bigger screen, because these days it is mostly watched on DVD. I think it is the best example of my work as a filmmaker because unlike other projects I’ve done that have producers, actors, clients involved, all the decisions, both good and bad, were my own. I take full responsibility.

Here’s a youtube link to the Trailer for TRAVELIN’ TRAINS

And here’s a link to “Freight Train Blues” scene from the film.

Q- Any other films you’ve produced?
I now work professionally as a producer and director after more than twenty years as an Assistant Director for film and television. Not to say I wouldn’t AD again, if the right project financially came along. I still love to AD commercials, but you do a couple of long term projects and you fall out of the loop quickly.

I recently directed a five-camera DVD live concert of David Arkenstone and his new band, Mandala. A couple of years ago, I produced the live action segments to the EA video game, “Need for Speed: Undercover.”  Directed by Joseph Hodges and photographed by DP Jeff Seckendorf, you can see some clips on my company website, Unconventional Media.

TALES FROM THE CATHOLIC CHURCH OF ELVIS continues its award winning film festival run recently winning Best Microbudget Feature Film at The Cannes Independent Film Festival in May. I produced this “shocking” true tale of a Catholic school girl in Las Vegas! Part “Canterbury Tales” meets “PeeWee’s Playhouse,” writer, co-director and lead actress Mercy Malick narrates, as a communal theater experience leeps off the stage and onto the streets of the City of Sin.

The acclaimed documentary on the USA domestic energy crisis that I produced with director Nicole Torre, HOUSTON WE HAVE A PROBLEM has also been playing the film festivals, including this week at The Barcelona International Environmental Film Festival and opening at the Downtown Independent in July. I also just returned from a great trip to Western Ireland after producing for writer/producer Diane Namm, a documentary-comedy hybrid,  WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE DINGLE.

Q- From where do you draw inspiration for your work?

I’m drawn to music projects. Music is a huge inspiration. I can’t play so maybe that’s why I love music so much, some of my best ideas happen when I’m at concerts. I also like travel, history and true stories. For some reason, I have never been interested in love stories.

Q- From start to finish, explain your process; what does a typical film-making day look like for you?
If I’m not working for someone else or shooting a project, then the ideal day starts with emails and reading web updates on Twitter. Lots of good leads and information so I have to watch out that I don’t get sucked in and spoil the whole day riding the internet highway. So, next thing I do is take a walk for an hour, listen to music, to clear my head for some writing. It can be writing a screenplay or writing a one-sheet pitch. Sometimes instead of writing, I’m editing a project. Sometimes I’m editing stuff I shot years ago. I’m convinced that something that you put aside at one point is the focus of your interest another time. Your old films are your assets. I’ve got lots of plans for my old footage.

In the evening, I like to have a glass of wine and read the newspaper. If the news doesn’t get me too angry, I check emails again, but sometimes I get lost on the internet trying to get more information. I don’t trust just one news source anymore. I’ve got to know the WHOLE story. At night, I either catch some live music or watch a movie or show on television. I’ve got a big pile of books that I want to read by my bed, but rarely get there early enough to get in some good quality reading. If I do, then I consider that to be an exceptional day.

Q- All time favorite film?
MODERN TIMES – Charlie Chaplin

Q- Are there any filmmakers–past or present–who strongly inform and influence your work?
There are many filmmakers that have influenced my work, but I’m most attracted to the filmmakers that try different styles, take some risks with different genres, sometimes successfully, other times not as much. I think a filmmaker is limiting themselves as an artist if they keep doing the same style over and over again. Stanley Kubrick, John Huston are good examples of directors that did different kinds of films. I think Clint Eastwood is proving to be a pretty diverse filmmaker.

Q- Are there any specific reoccurring themes or subjects that you explore and deal with most in your work?
Not really. As stated above I like diversity.

Q- Any previous films/collaborations that you are most proud of?
In 1999/2000, I co-produced with director/producer David Zeiger, the 13 part documentary series for PBS,SENIOR YEAR. We are about to release it on DVD and it’s amazing how after 10 years so many of these issues are still the issues of High School kids. It feels very contemporary. I wish more people had seen it and I hope with the DVD release they will. It was a pretty amazing series. We introduced a lot of cinema verite techniques, like diary cams, time lapse, that you see on most reality series now.

David is also talking about releasing on DVD the documentary we both produced and directed in 1995, DISPLACED IN THE NEW SOUTH.  The film explores the cultural collision between Asian and Hispanic immigrants and the suburban communities near Atlanta where they settled. It was the inspiration for the Indigo Girls song, “Shame on You.” You can see clips from our film in the music video. The interesting thing is the documentary covered issues still being debated in Arizona and the rest of the country.

That’s what I mean when I talk about filmmakers keeping their assets, their films. You never know when an interest will come again, look at TRAVELIN’ TRAINS.

Q- Why showcase with RAW?
Any opportunity to show some of your work on a big screen to a new audience is exciting. I’m honored to be a part of a show at a great venue with a group of artists I didn’t know before.

Q- Any current rising stars within the genre that you would recommend we look out for?
So many of the projects I’ve been involved with as a Producer lately have had limited funds. I wouldn’t make the commitment to help the Directors if I didn’t believe they were rising stars. I’m honored to have been able to help facilitate the directing visions of Mercy Malick, Diane Namm, David Zeiger, Nicole Torre, Stefan Rhys, Joseph Hodges, BrandU

But I should add, I still consider myself a rising star. I’d still like to direct a feature film. I’ve been trying to find financing for my narrative film, PRESS>PLAY and a couple of times we’ve almost had the money in place. In 2006, I was supposed to direct another feature. We had a cast and location and everything, but at the last minute, the money went dry. I’ve been developing a documentary film on Arborglyphs since 1992 with visual artist/musician Sandy Corley, entitled WITNESS TREES. Now that 3D programming for television is becoming a reality, there is renewed interest. So you never know where it’s going to come from. Just keep working on the projects that inspire you. I guess that’s the “artist” part of me. Thanks for having me.

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I am honored and excited to announce that the feature documentary that I produced with director Nicole Torre, “Houston We Have a Problem” has been invited to the Documentary Fortnight at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. This is a high profile event, so we hope to have a good crowd for both the 1pm and 3pm showings on February 20th, 2010.

For those of you that don’t know, “Houston We Have a Problem” is a feature film, shot on HD, about the history and future of US domestic energy policies beginning with the Wildcatter’s discovery of oil in the late 1800’s. The film premiered at AFI-DALLAS in March 2009 and has gone on to play at over a dozen festivals to critical acclaim, nationally and internationally, including the International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam.

That following day, February 21st, the feature comedy that I produced, “Tales from the Catholic Church of Elvis” will be in competition at the Big Muddy Film Festival in Southern Illinois. I’m glad to have the film playing there since this is the very same film festival that I won my very first film award 22 years ago for “Travelin’ Trains” (Best Narrative Film) That film can now be viewed on IMDB.

I’m also excited to announce the world premiere in March of another comedy I produced, directed by Diane Namm, “Telemafia” at the Dingle Film Festival in Ireland.

In regard to upcoming projects, I am reviewing a few proposals, but like for most of us, funding is tight. I’m still trying to get my documentary feature “Witness Trees” and narrative feature “Press>Play” financed, but am also producing/line producing and Assistant Directing for other production companies again. I have also partnered with Jeff Seckendorf for commerical productions at Snaproll Films. Check out the body of work at the website.

Luckily, I also do have some post production rentals coming in to Unconventional Media through Stefan Rhys, a terrific editor. Check out his reel at www.CoffeeCartProductions.com We are also starting to see a return on the 4-hour DVD of the “BrandU – Conscious Entrepreneur Experience” presentation and talk show that I produced and directed through Unconventional Media last year. You can get a ten minute taste of the show at www.BrandU.com/FreeCEE

I also continue mentoring new filmmakers with the OneOnOne Film Training program and have been scheduled to teach another one of my week long workshops on Line Producing/PM/AD work in Rockport, Maine at the Maine Media Workshops in late June.

Looking forward to a productive 2010. As always, you can get updates at my website, EricMofford.com

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It was reported last week in the trades that Michel Gondry had been hired by Sony Pictures to direct the feature “Green Hornet” starring Seth Rogen.  Between Rogen and Gondry, I’ve got a feeling this won’t be your usual Superhero comic book movie.  I’m interested in what Michel Gondry does with the material, I’ll tell you why.

Many, many years ago, I worked as the 1st AD for Gondry on a Sheryl Crow music video, “A Change Would Do You Good.”  At the time I was doing a lot of big budget music videos, usually for the production company, Propaganda Films.  This was my first with Gondry, although he already had a great reputation for making interesting, artistic videos, especially for Bjork.

The concept for “Change” was that Sheryl Crow was a “Bewitch”-like character, shaking up the lives of people, give them a chance to step into someone else’s shoes before returning to reflect on their own life.  Big concept for a three minute song, especially when you start including an all star cast.  Of course, at they time, most of them, other then Ellen Degeneres, were hardly known.  Heather Matarazzo had just been discovered in “Welcome to the Dollhouse.”  Molly Shannon had only a few seasons of Saturday Night Live under her belt.  Jeff Garlin had not yet co-starred with Larry David in “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”  Years later I had the opportunity to work with Mary Lynn Rajskub as Chloe O’Brian on a few seasons of “24” and with Andy Dick on a whole series of comedy shorts for the MTV Movie Awards, but at this time, they were basically “unknowns.”  BTW, most of those short films are up on YouTube.

It was a difficult shoot, coordinating everyone’s schedules around the various stage sets and their other gigs.  Michel, who is originally from Versailles, France (and was still struggling with English), was having a hard time communicating his vision or I was having a hard time understanding, which slowed things down.  I think, for me, the highlight was when Sheryl came to the set and for whatever reason felt I had adjusted the schedule to accommodate her, so she gave me a big, wet kiss, which I’ll never forget.  I liked her instantly!

Now before I get lost in sentimental memories, the reason I’m writing is because of Michel and his desire to direct a feature film.  This was way before “Human Nature” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”  He wanted to direct a feature film and at the time, the one he wanted to direct was “Green Hornet.”  It was a different script, but based on the same comic book.  Any time he wasn’t working on prep for the music video, he was meeting with his assistant, breaking down ideas and storyboarding his vision of the “Green Hornet.”  I wonder how many of those ideas from over ten years ago will find their way to the upcoming production?  I guess things really do come around if you want them bad enough.

I think about these things and relate them to my own life, my own projects.  I believe everyone has their own projects that at different times get put on the back burner.  I have my directing projects like “Press>Play” that I’ve tried to launch for almost as long, or in the case of “Witness Trees” even longer.  I get frustrated when it isn’t moving forward, but just like Michel Gondry, I’ve taken other great projects offered to me to keep the creative juices productive and to bring in some finances.  It’s nice to know that sometimes the pet projects return, even bigger and better then you ever dreamed, even if they now star Seth Rogen.  Either way, a change has done me good, looks like some great stuff is brewing for Unconventional Media, even though it’s not originally mine. At least I’ll always have Sheryl’s kiss.

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sunburstarborglyph1Last Night I saw the IMAX version of “Dark Knight” and all I can say is WOW!  Not only is the film a great story, but it is well acted and very well directed by Christopher Nolan.  I’d seen the film during its original release and enjoyed it at a regular movie theater, but after seeing the footage from the feature that was actually shot with IMAX, on an IMAX screen, I’m blown away.  Okay, I get it.  No wonder no one goes to the theater to see small independent films.  This is a movie worthy of the big screen.

Previous to “Dark Knight” I had seen only documentaries in the IMAX format.  I always enjoyed them, but wondered why the format wasn’t used more often for large scale productions, especially theatrical narrative films.  I’m not talking about blowing up 35mm prints for IMAX screenings, I mean really shooting with IMAX cameras.  I know the cameras are heavy and loud, so some projects are just not suited for the format, but I think it really takes a genius like Christopher Nolan to show what can be done creatively with the format.  These are definitely Unconventional times!

I have an IMAX movie I want to make.  Actually, I’ve wanted to make it for a long time, but now maybe the time is right.  For over 10 years, Singer-Songerwriter-Artist, Sandy Corley and I have been developing, “Witness Trees.”  Only problem is it is not a documentary or a narrative film like “Dark Knight,” it’s an art film (am I even allowed to say that word?).

Beech trees of the Southeast United States have stood for over one hundred years as unspeaking witnesses to sunlit mornings, lashing storms, nocturnal secrets, birth, death and historic occasions of celebration and despair.  Voices from the past still speak through the bark of these trees because beginning with the American Indians and later with the early European settlers, “Arborglyphs” have been carved into the trees, holding vital information and historical memories.  These are the messages spanning the Revolutionary war, the “Trail of Tears”, the war between the States and now, the present day.

You can see this is no ordinary film, it is a story as old as the forests.  Soon these Arborglyph messages will be silenced and lost.  Due to a natural end of lifespan, clear-cutting, acid rain, storms and their status as a non-timber “trash tree”, there is  a very little time left to document these “Witness Trees”.  Today’s remaining Arborglyphs are not only historical artifacts and national treasures, but are art forms from the Cherokees, Creek Confederacy, nameless soldiers, settlers and other travelers on the trails of our past, who left no other visible legacy.  This is an environmental story, an American Indian story, a “DaVinci Code” like story.

These trees exist and many have been documented and included on our website, WitnessTrees.org, but imagine an IMAX film with images of American Indian stories and legend, historical reenactments, environmental and scientific documents, with music and art inspired by these trees.  A film that makes you feel like you are in these forests like only an IMAX film can.  That’s the film I’ve always wanted to make.

I first met Sandy Corley, American Indian, in 1990, as she was developing a site sculpture and performance piece protest of the 500 year anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s “discovery” of America in 1992.  I was already a huge fan of poet/musician John Trudell and a strong believer in the spiritual and traditional programs of the American Indian Movement (AIM).  Sandy and her husband, Howard Deutsch, had been researching, gathering endorsements, shooting still photos and interviewing historians, authors, activists, wilderness magazine publishers, Georgia trail trees experts, Indian education directors, Georgia land lottery experts, anthropologists, archeologists, and others about this uniquely southern, endangered treasure, the Arborglyph.  In fact, much of Sandy’s music and art centers on these Beech tree carvings.  It was through Sandy that I later met others that cared and worked to save these Southeastern forests including Lamar Marshall and the wonderful organization, Wild South.

Since starting the project many sickening losses have occurred.  Little time is left to document the voices of these silent sentinels in order to preserve and pass on their messages to future southeastern generations and the world.

I don’t know how we got to this point, but speaking of sickening losses, something must be done now to free Leonard Peltier.  For those that don’t know Leonard Peltier, a Lakota Indian, is on Amnesty International’s list of political prisoners.  It is time to stop the 34 years of injustice that this innocent man has spent in prison.  Freedom for Leonard Peltier is way overdue!

If you saw the 1992 film, “Incident at Oglala,” produced by Robert Redford and directed by Michael Apted (and if you haven’t you should), then you will know that Leonard Peltier, a leader of AIM came to assist the Oglala Lakota People of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in the mid 1970’s.  It was here on June 26, 1975, that the tragic shoot-out with Federal Agents occurred.  The court record in this case clearly shows that government prosecutors do not know who killed the agents, nor what role Leonard Peltier “may have’ played in the shoot-out.”  It is known that Peltier participated in the planning of community activities, religious ceremonies, programs for self-sufficiency, and improved living conditions. He also helped to organize security for the traditional people who were being targeted for violence by the pro-assimilation tribal chairman and his vigilantes.  He is a father, a grandfather, an artist, a writer, and an Indigenous rights activist.  He is not a killer.  Leonard Peltier was convicted to two life sentences based on fabricated testimony and circumstantial evidence.  September 12th of this year marked his 64th birthday.

Another parole application will be filed this month. The earliest that hearing is likely to occur is in January 2009 (according to the Parole Commission’s schedule for in-person parole reviews to be held at USP-Lewisburg, where Peltier is currently imprisoned).  We must all help Leonard Peltier get justice and freedom.  Other persons guilty of worse crimes have been released time and time again on parole or pardoned, yet Mr. Peltier remains imprisoned.  Nelson Mandela, Rigoberta Menchu, the U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights, the Dalai Lama, the European Parliament, the Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, and Rev. Jesse Jackson are only a few who have called for his freedom. To many Indigenous Peoples, Leonard Peltier is a symbol of the long history of abuse and repression they have endured.

From behind bars, Leonard Peltier has helped to establish scholarships for Native students and special programs for Indigenous youth. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize five times.  For more information check out his biography entitled “Prison Writings: My Life Is My Sun Dance” (St. Martin’s Press,1999) or contact Freedom Archives.

For me, Leonard Peltier is a white knight in dark times.  If people are truly ready for change, then he will finally be released from prison, just like Nelson Mandela was after the dark days of Apartheid.

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