Friday, March 28, 2008

Interview with Joanna Priestley

Name some essential qualities that you feel should be present in a work that is labeled "Documentary Animation."

[J.P.] Documentary animation is based in images and sounds of actual events.

Do you feel that once a work is labeled "Documentary" that it's set up for a deeper level of public scrutiny and potential controversy than it's non-fiction counterparts?

[J.P.] Animation, in general, does not engender much scrutiny from most viewers. Many people are not aware that animated documentary is a genre and they do not distinguish non-fiction from fiction animation. They are often surprised to see a serious subject dealt with in animation and they watch the film in a mild state of shock. I have never seen people critique a documentary cartoon as they would a live action documentary.

Do you see documentary animation playing a unique role in communication of "truth" that hasn't been tapped into by documentary film?

[J.P.] Because animation is considered a "friendly" genre that lots of people are comfortable with, it can reach an audience that might not watch live action documentary. It is sometimes easier to incorporate difficult subjects in a animated documentary. My recent film about menopause, "Streetcar Named Perspire", is a funny cartoon but it also touches on subjects like anxiety, female facial hair and vaginal atrophy.

What led you to create Pro & Con? Have you created other work that you would call "Documentary" or "Non-fiction"?

[J.P.] Pro and Con was made as a part of the Percent for Art Program in Multnomah County, where a small fraction of the construction budget of a public building (funded by taxpayers) is used to acquire art for the building. In this case, the building was the Inverness County Jail. A national competition was held to select a film project. Joan Gratz and I were the only animators and the only women to apply.

In the "Pro" section of the film, I incorporated self-portraits by inmates in the art class at the Oregon State Penitentiary and handmade crafts (tiny weavings, macrame crosses and pipes) that were made by prisoners. I was also able to animate weapons that were confiscated from inmates: butcher knife, meat cleaver and saw. This section of the film is based on interviews with corrections officer Lt. Janice Inman.

To write the text of the film, we send questionnaires to 450 inmates in the Oregon Prison System. One of the replies we received was outstanding and we used it for the "Con" section of the film (directed by Joan Gratz). This was written by Richard Green, an inmate who was in solitary confinement for over two years. "Pro and Con" took three years to make and it includes numerous animation techniques: stop motion, rotoscope, drawings, paintings, puppets and clay painting. The documentary aspects include original sound footage, interview footage, biographical narrative and based on a true story.

Having produced both Fiction & Non-fiction work, how has audience response differed to each?

[J.P.] A surprising number of people reject animation as being either for children, silly or "arty". Every time I show "Pro and Con" someone (or many people) come up to me afterwards and say that they loved the film and were stunned to see animation used to examine the prison system. After screening "Pro and Con", I often hear people say that they did not know that animation could be serious.

Has "Pro & Con" been seen outside of festivals and academic forums?

[J.P.] Yes it has had excellent distribution.

Has the internet been a channel to distribute this film?

[J.P.] Not the full length version.

Film Description

Pro and Con looks at an African American, female corrections officer, taken from interviews with Lt. Janice Inman, and a white, male inmate, written by Jeff Green. It includes self-portraits that were drawn by inmates at the Oregon State Penitentiary and animation of contraband weapons and crafts confiscated from inmates. Pro and Con uses a variety of techniques: object animation, puppets, drawings on paper, cell animation and clay painting.

"Pro and Con is a brief but excellent exploration of the thoughts and emotions of those working and living in our prison system."

-Rebecca S. Albitz, Pyramid Film and Video

Directed, produced and animated by Joanna Priestley and Joan Gratz. Sound designed and produced by Lance Limbocker and Chel White. Music by Chel White. Narrated by Lt. Janice Inman and Allen Nause. "Con" written by Jeff Green. Commissioned through the Metropolitan Arts Commission's Percent for Art Program, Multnomah County, Oregon

Awards/Festival screenings: Black Maria Film Festival: Director’s Choice Award, Cindy Competition: Gold Award, Annecy International Animation Festival, Northwest Film and Video Festival: Honorable Mention, Bombay International Film Festival, Worldfest Charleston: Worldfest Gold Award, Birmingham Educational Film Festival: First Prize, USA Film Festival, Columbus Film Festival: Honorable Mention, CINE Competition: Gold Eagle Award, Holland Animation Festival, Sinking Creek Film Festival, Ottawa International Animation Festival.

No comments: