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HOW DOES YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A TEACHER EFFECT YOUR FILM HOW DID YOU INTERACT WITH INDIVIDUALS WHO APPEARED IN THE FILM? MAKING AND/OR HOW DOES TEACHING EFFECT YOUR FILM-MAKING? I covered this a bit when discussing the differences on being in I suppose there are several elements at play here. In general, becoming a teacher has been a huge boon to my scripted film projects. I regard my fellow faculty as a veritable casting pool - many of the regular players in my films are colleagues. Teachers are essentially actors - you play a role when you’re up in front of students that is scarcely who you really are. They tend to be naturals for my projects because it’s just switching from one facade to the next. But as to how my avocation influenced Kora, that’s a bit different, for in the absence of a script, I didn’t need actors. Instead, I’ll credit my specific discipline to aiding my focus. I teach Biology and AP Biology, and as such, the sciences, especially the biological sciences, encourage observation skills and curiosity about one’s surroundings. I feel it would be naive to assume that doesn’t lend itself to skill behind a camera. On the flip-side, filmmaking is very much a hobby. In fact, I’m not a tremendous fan of the term “filmmaker,” for I feel most people who label themselves as such are just out to make a name for themselves (akin to calling yourself a rock star just because you play a guitar, or a chef, because you like to cook...). I don’t make films to support myself, and likely wouldn’t want to. I believe you should do what you love for your family and friends, not a boss or a paycheck. Digression aside, I regard creative expression as one of the biggest priorities in my life. And I try to convey that to my students. The biology classroom can lend itself to creative outlets just as much as the art classroom - it’s just up to the teacher to make that choice, and most don’t I’ve found. Part of my opening day talk with new students is assuring them that they will have such opportunities in my class, for I value the bygone art of imagining and taking the time to express one’s personality (not to be confused with expressing an opinion). That, I regularly discuss travel with my students as well (for the opportunities to travel dwindle with the onset of age and added obligations to jobs and families), encouraging them to get out of the microcosm of Shepherdsville, KY, if only for a couple of weeks, because there’s no other way they’ll be able to see their lives in a new light. I didn’t have such focuses early on in my teaching career, and admittedly, such changes might come about with experience, but I feel that filmmaking has led to that positive focus in my classroom.

I DID A PIECE WITH WILLIAM BRYAN RAGLAND A FEW ISSUES AGO AND WE BRIEFLY DISCUSSED KORA. HOW WAS IT WORKING WITH WILLIAM AGAIN, AND WHY DID YOU CHOOSE A SINGULAR SOURCE OF MUSIC FOR KORA? I love working with Will. The average person might look at the two of us and think we’re on completely opposite ends of the spectrum, but when it comes to tastes in films and music, and more importantly, creative expression, I think we’re pretty simpatico. During the scoring for both Symbiosis and Kora, I would make a trip into town just to listen to his live-scoring in his studio. There is just something about listening to his music at an organ-rattling volume as he dreams it up that makes all the pieces of imagery in my head come together. The two of us had been casually chatting for years about how we needed to collaborate on a film in the vein of Godfrey Reggio’s Qatsi Trilogy or the nonnarrative films of Ron Fricke (Chronos, Baraka, Samsara). When I realized that I had the potential to film something of that nature during my upcoming trip to China, he was down in an instant. So he had the context of the type of project I was doing from the start (as opposed to any other composer where I would have to loan them those films to use as a reference). Will is one of the most versatile musicians I know and I knew it was within his ken and ability to incorporate Eastern sounds within his own music to complement the film - specifically his style in the vein of his Cosmonaught or Misc, Etc albums. I also felt it was best to stick with one predominant composer, for if the film switched musicians every several minutes, then it could detract from the imagery on screen. For the project to work, the music and visuals needed to sync in perfect harmony, and we both felt in the end that they do. Ultimately, our process was this: first, I would look over the imagery I wanted to edit and suggest a rough length and tone (the only time he felt he couldn’t capture what I’d suggested was we asked Tony Robot of Ultra Pulverize, aka Chris Vititoe, to guest write a piece). Next, Will would generate a piece or two, if not more, and send them to me. From there, I’d listen them on loop until I knew the beats by heart and edit the footage accordingly. Finally, I’d run the edit by him and the two of us would debate whether the segment was too long, too short, etc. Often it would seem like a splitting of hairs, but for a project of this nature, the addition or subtraction of a few seconds really does make a world of difference. In the end, we both felt the final product was the best work we’d each done and were left with only one question: what project should we do next?

DID YOU WORK WITH OR CORRESPOND WITH ANY CHINESE OR TIBETAN FILMMAKERS DURING THE MAKING OF KORA? No. I would have loved to had I met any, but outside of Hong Kong, Chinese filmmakers are few and far least those making projects outside of the government or CCTV’s watchful eye.


As mentioned earlier, China imbued such an overwhelming in me in 2011, I felt the need to bring back that awe when I 2013...which I suppose it almost seems strange to think than bringing back baubles and cheap trinkets as souvefriends, I brought back an emotion and a state of mind.

the city vs. countryside, but for the better part, I stayed back from the moment I was endeavoring to capture and just let it happen. I shot 35mm film for years before I caved in and bought a digital camera, and as such, learned that you really can blend into the background and become invisible when you have a camera blocking your face,provided you allow that to happen. Most individuals who were in the film were oblivious to my existence, despite the fact that I stick out like a sore thumb in that culture. For the other individuals who are clearly interacting with the camera, typically the case was they approached me, out of inquisitiveness, as I was filming something else. Once I explained what I was doing, they were usually pretty receptive to letting me add them to my collection of Chinese curiosities, so to speak. I’m also glad I started out in 35mm, for training yourself on a camera with only 24 shots teaches you the discipline of making each shot count, as opposed to regarding every image you capture as dispensable. I treated every image in Kora as a 35mm still image, in terms of composition, angle, etc. and feel that what I captured benefited from this guideline in a long run.

WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF A CINEMATIC WINDOW INTO A CULTURE USING SYMBOLISM AND UNSPOKEN INTERACTIONS, RATHER THAN TRADITIONAL VERBAL STORYTELLING? I find that it allows me to focus with greater magnitude on atmosphere and emotion. My primary goal with Kora is to do one thing: to instill a sense of awe. In an era where the average American has a cell phone that doubles as a computer with access to the wealth of the world’s knowledge, we often forget that there’s still mystery to the world. And I don’t mean in the theological sense as to: “What lies beyond this plane?” or any form of Fortean explorations. Merely, there are eccentricities to cultures that we don’t realize exist. When I first visited China in 2011, I was enamored with the culture, largely because so many elements were altogether new to me. It was as if I’d stepped through the looking glass into a totally different world, and was intrigued by event the slightest minutia, because to me it wasn’t routine. Daily chores and rituals to the Chinese were a source of fascination for me, and so I chose to try and present the culture in that same light within the film. I didn’t want the film to be a traditional documentary, for that would reduce it to a travelogue. Rather, I wanted to restrict the audience’s view of the whole in such a way that they feel like invisible travelers in this foreign realm, and are filled with a sense of wonderment at the end of their journey.

WERE YOUR HUMAN SUBJECTS INDIVIDUALS WHO FIT A SOUGHT AFTER CHARACTER OR IMAGE THAT WAS VAGUELY CONCEIVED OF BEFORE SHOOTING, OR WAS EACH INDIVIDUAL FOUND WITHOUT A PRECEDENT ROLE AND BROUGHT IN ELEMENTS OF UNIQUE PERSONALITY? Very much the latter. As I mentioned above, I wanted to bring back the wonder of China with me, but as to how I was going to do that, I was clueless and chose to work it out once I got there. In addition, to plan out any shots ahead of time would have been ill-advised. Where directors like Godfrey Reggio or Ron Fricke had tremendous advantage over me when it came to their filming Koyaanisqatsi or Baraka and Samsara, respectively, is they had time and money. They could afford the luxury of staying in a location for a week or two for a single shot, whereas I was living out of a backpack and constantly on the move. That is another element of Kora that I feel separates it from the rest - it’s very much a film of sheer serendipity. Not a single shot in the film was planned. Every image you see was captured in the moment, and it was pure chance that I lucked into the beauty that I did. Early on, I foolishly sought to create the film in a no-budget mimicry of Fricke’s style, but I soon learned that would not work. Point in case: on my first day of “filming” (I put that in quotation marks because loosing myself in China was my priority, not going to China to make a film) I went to the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. It’s a gorgeous structure and I loved the idea of capturing it with a bit of time lapse. Problem #1: it was smoggy the day I went, so I could either pay to come back another day or just settle for a static shot. Problem #2: it was crowded as hell and there was no way I was going to get an open window for a clear shot. Then I backed up and realized that the essence of that moment was those people getting in my way to pose for cameras. I began to film people posing for other cameras instead, and so all you ever see of the Temple of Heaven in the finished film is what little pieces of it you see out of focus behind people posing. It felt very true to that moment in time, because as you view the film, you’re thinking, “Move out of my way,” as well as realizing, as I did, what a bizarre ritual it is to have a picture taken of yourself standing in front of an object to prove you were there. That then became my rule for filming while I was traveling; I sought to capture the character of that fragment of time, that point on Earth. In short, I woke up each morning and went out in search of what I didn’t know I was seeking. China revealed its soul to me through happenstance. If I went back ten more times, I would likely capture it ten different ways. Kora is just one of countless experiences that China could have offered forth to share. Additionally, in the end I had nearly 33 hours of footage that I whittled down to an hour and eighteen minutes (Will and I agreed before I began editing that the film should be the length of a standard CD). I could easily edit a variety of permutations for the film if need be, but the outcome, as it exists, is the right one.

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