Spiro's Experiment

The Austin Film Society Documentary Tour: 10 Under 10 and Its First Five Years

<i>Nathan Pelkey</i>
Nathan Pelkey

10 Under 10, the brainchild of UT Radio-Television-Film professor Ellen Spiro, is celebrating its fifth anniversary on May 9 with five new films and five previously shown films, one from each of the program's first five years. The films made by RTF students are, according to Spiro, "a celebration of raw creativity, real reality – as opposed to the scripted television kind – and founded on the notion that great ideas can happen on no budget and in little time." Spiro says she's watched too many students get caught in the "film school debt romance" and decided to produce an event to honor films made with "little money but lots of substance and inventiveness." The concept is simple: The film must be less than 10 minutes in length with a budget not to exceed $10. "But," Spiro adds, "we will not audit."

Spiro describes herself as an alum of the "cheap and dirty" school of filmmaking. "I learned early on how to make cheap documentaries on 8-millimeter video, and it was liberating. I never would have learned the art of storytelling if I'd had to pay out the wazoo for it." Spiro's very first documentary, DiAna's Hair Ego, was made for "approximately next to nothing" and was the first documentary shot on a so-called consumer-video format to be broadcast nationally on television.


Each year, outside judges choose the films submitted by RTF students. This year's judges were Kate Horsfield, former executive director of the Video Data Bank, and producer Karen Bernstein. According to Horsfield, "All of the submissions were impressive, but we chose ones that pushed the boundaries of nonfiction filmmaking and took creative risks."

This year's selections are an innovative and interesting mix with a shared sense of passion in the process of creating and storytelling. One of the more poetic and personal films in this year's program is Marianela Vega Oroza's "Conversation." Oroza says of her film, "I wanted to explore my own experience of dealing with my mother's divorce and what it means to me in the process of defining my identity. As a 27-year-old woman, I constantly find myself thinking about marriage and motherhood and the way they would fit into my own life and about the roles that my society expects from women and how different my situation and my choices are from the women of previous generations in my family. I'd like to think that many people who are dealing with the same issues can connect with the film and relate to their own experiences."

<i>When the Light's Red</i>
When the Light's Red

The ubiquitous topic of panhandlers on the interstate access roads is dealt with through subjective humor and self-reflection in Keith Wilson's "When the Light's Red." Wilson made the short documentary because he was "amazed at the number of people flying signs at red lights. I realized I was horrified every time I pulled up to an intersection and would have to make so many decisions in such a small amount of time. 'Who was this person? Can I believe what they're saying? Will I contribute to a problem if I give money? Am I being cheap if I don't?' I went back and forth between compassion and contempt, always feeling guilty about the interaction or lack thereof. I knew there wasn't a 'right' thing to do, but I wanted to make an informed decision about what was best for the flyers. My motivation was also a selfish one: I was tired of going through a guilt-laden inner-dialogue at every red light."


Of the "flashback" films picked from the first five programs, the highlight is probably "Social Pariah," a documentary about the closing down of the Cinema West porn theatre on South Congress. The film is a reminder of how much Austin has changed in recent years. Where the Cinema West once stood, there was an Internet start-up, now defunct, followed by several other businesses. end story

For more information, visit www.10under10.com.

10 Under 10

May 9, 7pm, Alamo Drafthouse Downtown

Admission: www.austinfilm.org

New Shorts ...

"International High School" by Marcel Rodriguez

"When the Light's Red" by Keith Wilson

"Nathan Pelkey" by Drew Daniels

"To Live Is a Masterpiece" by Gaby Yepes

"Conversation" by Marianela Vega Oroza

... and Selections From the Past Five Years

"Unwrapped" by Mike Gomez and Ashley Cook

"Levi Oliver: Competitive Eater" by Joshua Jaedike and Claire Canavan

"Social Pariah" by Stevenson Jacobs III

"Spiral" by Jeanne Stern

"Luke" by Naiti Gamez

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