Short and Sweet

Student Documentary-Making Steps Into the Limelight

This month's Texas Documentary Tour will feature Concerto for Two Harpsichords (above) and two other films from MFA students in the UT RTF department's documentary program.
This month's Texas Documentary Tour will feature "Concerto for Two Harpsichords" (above) and two other films from MFA students in the UT RTF department's documentary program.

The next stop on the Austin Film Society's Texas Documentary Tour is UT's Radio-Television-Film Department, where the short works of three MFA students -- Shu-Chun Lee, Mireille Fornengo, and Ken Galen York -- will be shown. Recent RTF production head, Doc Tour programming committee member, and award-winning filmmaker Paul Stekler has been champing at the bit to showcase the work recently coming out of his department, the documentary program that he considers, with all due impartiality, to be the "best in the country, bar none."

Pointing to recent student successes -- including Laura Dunn's Student Academy Award winner, "Green," about the consequences of chemical industry pollution along the Mississippi River, and Heather Courtney's "Los Trabajadores," a film about Austin's Mexican day laborers, which won the International Documentary Association's Wolper Award for best student documentary of the year -- Stekler believes the quality of student documentary work in the department has spiked in the past few years. "This is due to the impressive roster of new faculty we've attracted and the availability of funds to buy new digital equipment for students to use -- including cameras and nonlinear editing systems -- all of which, in turn, makes our program attractive to students with more talent and potential."

"Aliman and Lawuyn" (21 minutes): Directed, shot, produced, and edited by Shu-Chun Lee, a Taiwanese MFA student, the film is a sensitive and revealing portrait of an aboriginal family whose land in the mountains of Taiwan has been designated as a National Park, which means they can no longer legally farm or hunt on their property. The film shows their ongoing, but good-natured, struggle to roll with the punches thrown at their traditional farming life by the forces of modernity.

Shu-Chun Lee: I had known Aliman and Lawuyn for many years while working in Taiwan making cultural documentaries, before coming to Austin. Shooting the film, I lived with this family for two months during the summer of 2000, helping them with their farming when I was not shooting my film. We worked hard from morning until evening and at night went to church together. People still harbor stereotypes about indigenous people and their drinking problems but tend to have little idea of what their lives and day-to-day struggles are really like. It was a great reward for me to be accepted by the community.

"Concerto for Two Harpsichords" (20 minutes): Directed and edited by French MFA student Mireille Fornengo and set in the luscious South-of-France home of iconoclastic Renaissance man Pierre Ivaldi, "Concerto" follows Ivaldi through the long-term project of helping a musician build a harpsichord from scratch. In addition to being a fascinating look at Ivaldi's unconventional life, the film is an evocative meditation on the complexities of the master-disciple relationship.

Mireille Fornengo: Ten years ago, in the South of France where I grew up, I met Pierre Ivaldi, the main focus of the documentary. Some people referred to him as a hermit and an eccentric, but I discovered that Pierre's life is actually a vibrant testimony of a long lineage of Renaissance convictions. These convictions hold that arts, science, philosophy, self-reliance, and a strong attachment to the natural and cultural heritage should center our life. Through the years Pierre had become a dear mentor to me. Using a non-intrusive filmmaking approach, I wanted the audience to be there, in his house in the South of France, and feel inspired by him as well.

When I decided to make the film, Pierre was helping a young musician, Laurent Gallice, build his own harpsichord. Building a harpsichord from scratch is a slow process. I knew there was a story there, because a young person cannot spend an extended period of time with Pierre without starting an inner journey, some sort of a metamorphosis.

"The Illuminated Man" (26 minutes): Director/producer Ken Galen York's MFA thesis project is a portrait of master illuminator and abstract artist Bernard Maisner, exploring not only Maisner's utilization of Medieval and Renaissance techniques of manuscript illumination but also the artist's articulation of his inner life and creative drive.

Ken Galen York: While doing a short film on Austin artist Julie Speed, I was actively researching the roots of her painting techniques in the works of early Northern Renaissance artists Jan Van Eyck and Rogier Van der Weyden. I was starting a short film about Rogier Van der Weyden as part of that research when Julie told me about a current exhibit at the Austin Museum of Art. One of the featured artists, Bernard Maisner, had taken a famous painting by Van der Weyden and used themes and elements of that painting in his own modern abstractions for many years. It seemed like serendipity. Instead of making a film about a dead artist, I could have a live subject for my portrait. As well, Bernie extensively incorporates the ancient art of manuscript illumination in most of his artwork. ... Bernie's work depends heavily on text as a starting point for his visual art. His fine art and conceptual ideas dovetailed perfectly with many of my interests and studies, so I switched horses in midstream and made "The Illuminated Man" as my thesis film. end story

"Aliman and Lawuyn," "Concerto for Two Harpsichords," and "The Illuminated Man" will be presented as part of the Texas Documentary Tour on Wednesday, December 5, 7pm (ONE SHOW ONLY), at the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown, 409 Colorado. Advance tickets are available for Austin Film Society members only by visiting or calling 322-0145 by noon on December 4. Remaining tickets will go on sale at 6:15pm on the day of the show. Admission prices are $6 for the general public; $4 for Austin Film Society and KLRU members and students. The Texas Documentary Tour is a co-presentation of the Austin Film Society, the University of Texas RTF Dept., The Austin Chronicle, KLRU-TV, and SXSW Film.
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