UNCG filmmakers to screen works at Cucalorus

by Keith Barber

Production still from Michael Frierson’s “Camroulette.”

Among the slate of more than 100 independent and international films screening at the 17th annual Cucalorus Film Festival in Wilmington this week are short films by UNCG students Mariah Dunn and Adrienne Ostberg, as well as faculty member Michael Frierson.

Earlier this week, Frierson sat down with Dunn and Ostberg, MFA candidates in the Department of Media Studies, to share some insight into the creative process behind their films. Frierson said although he considers Dunn and Ostberg to be colleagues rather than students, he still felt great pride when he first watched Dunn’s experimental film, “Nite Lite,” and Ostberg’s documentary short, “A New Life.” Frierson said he’s consistently amazed by the excellent work produced by his students.

“The technology part of it has changed so much,” he said. “You have the ability to get really gorgeous images in a package that’s not very expensive and to be able to edit them on a machine that’s not very expensive and that has really changed the way this generation of filmmakers works. To me, it’s just really exciting.”

Frierson described his experimental film, “Camroulette” as a “structuralist” attempt to take raw material and transform it into something completely new and different.

“It’s an experimental film using a rotating camera and trying to think about how you can take that material and change it into twodimensional symmetrical imagery,” he said.

Dunn’s inspiration for “Nite Lite” was borne out of her fascination with time-lapse photography. Dunn said she struggled with the film’s structure but eventually settled on a small narrative that contains experimental elements.

“I was interested in making a film that would help you step away from reality for a little bit and enjoy the fantasy,” she said.

Ostberg’s inspiration for “A New Life” came from an article she read in the New York Times. The article documented a program at a New York maximum-security prison that pairs inmates with dogs from local animal shelters. Ostberg discovered the NC Department of Corrections program, a New Leash on Life, and documented inmates at the Forsyth County minimum-security prison as they worked with shelter dogs to prepare them for adoption.

“I was prepared for the idea that the men participating in the program are actively attempting to change their future once they get out of prison because programs like this give them a set of skills,” Ostberg said. “What I wasn’t really prepared for was how candid they would be about the emotional experience of working with the dogs.”

In the film, Ostberg captures one of the inmates, Perry, as he undergoes a personal transformation while participating in the pro gram.

As Ostberg built trust with the inmates, they opened up and shared their personal stories freely.

“My approach was to enter [the prison] and meet these guys — what’s unique about this [film] is their own personal stories,” she said.

Founded in 1994 by the Twinkle Doon filmmaking collective, Cucalorus annually screens more than 100 independent and international films. The festival is one of the longest-running film festivals in the nation and is listed among MovieMaker Magazine’s “25 Coolest Film Festivals” and the Brooks Institute’s “Top Ten Film Festivals.”

A Cucalorus veteran, Frierson screened his feature-length documentary, FBI-KKK — about his father’s work as an FBI agent infiltrating the Greensboro chapter of the KKK in the 1960s — during the 2009 festival. One of Frierson’s former students, Mark Gilmer, was an original member of Twinkle Doon, so UNCG’s connection to the festival runs deep.

“It’s a great festival,” Frierson said. “The thing I’ve always appreciated about the festival is the opportunity to get feedback on your film and just to see an audience react to it, ask questions about it, and be interested in it.”

“I find it a very open, welcoming kind of place,” he continued. “People like the art form and they’re willing to invest in watching the material and engage you in a conversation.”