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Young filmmaker inspired by Queens

What we know as the American film industry got its start in Queens, at the Kaufman Studios, approximately 100 years ago. Since then, the movie business has gradually developed its major film factories in Hollywood - a name is now synonymous with billion-dollar profits and celebrities.

However, for many aspiring filmmakers and film historians, Queens is still the source of inspiration and community. This is the second of three interviews with them.

Adrianne Jorge, a young filmmaker and projectionist from New Bedford, Mass, holds clear views about the ever-broadening geography of filmmaking in America. Jorge moved to Queens because she likes the cultural diversity here, and appreciates the support of the large population of artists in the metropolitan area.

“My sister actually went to art school in Boston. So, she kind of introduced me to art,” said Adrianne Jorge in a recent interview. “And I had a video teacher who had gone to art school in Boston. And, I don’t know, I decided to try film, but art film as opposed to Hollywood industry film or something.

But I also was like really into MTV. I’m a total spawn of the MTV generation. In some ways, it really did a lot of good things for kids like me [from a working class background] that didn’t have access to art movie houses.

Q: How do you get the inspiration for the films that you make?.

A: I know that the “Songs of Azores” was inspired by my heritage [Portuguese-American] - wanting to explore my roots and my background. But generally, the reason that I’ve decided to become a documentary filmmaker as opposed to just experimental or narrative was because I really like meeting people and talking to people. And I always find people’s stories to be way more interesting than any fictional story you can come up with. All the fictional stories are usually inspired by real people.

Q: Are you bi-lingual?

A: Yeah. My film “Songs of the Azores” is actually in Portuguese and subtitled in English.

It’s a 10-minute short. I shot it on Super 8 film which is that old home movie gauge of film. I shot it in ‘97 when I was visiting my relatives out in the Azores Islands and I met this woman who is sort of like the village’s aunt. She’s not my blood aunt. She’s like my mother’s cousin’s mother-in-law. She was 102 years old at the time, and she was singing these songs from the turn of the century. But she was sort of taking pieces of them and like morphing them together. You know she was 102, but the fact that she was able to sing them at all was amazing. And so, I filmed her singing those songs. And I filmed my real aunt tending to her chickens. And when I got back [to Queens], I realized the footage was really beautiful. And they were really strong women on this little Catholic island. So, I edited them together and I made “Songs of Azores.”

Q: How did you get funding for this film, and your films in general?

A: I’ve been funding everything - that’s sort of what slows me down. I’m the aspiring young filmmaker trying to get films under my belt - in order to even apply for grants you have to have some films under your belt. “Songs” is sort of my first film outside of college [Massachusetts School of the Arts in Boston]. I consider it, I don’t know what hat do you call it? As opposed to college? It’s not a feature.

What I’m actually working on right now is a documentary that I shot in 1995 while I was in college. A friend and I decided that we wanted to do a documentary about long-haul truck driving. And we decided we wanted to travel with truck drivers coast-to-coast. So, we put an ad in a trucker magazine saying what we wanted to do. Five hundred truck drivers called us. During the winter break of ‘95 and ‘96, that one month that we had off, we traveled with truck drivers and we carried Regular 8 video cameras. I remember the school did not have a giant budget. They were really afraid to give us the film equipment. They thought we were going to get killed hitch hiking with truck drivers. They were really concerned. They were like, “Are you really going to do this?”

Q: The truck drivers were probably very sweet to you.

A: For the most part - I think we were pretty street smart about how we selected them. There were a couple of times when we really did have to thumb it. But most of the time, it was guys that we had interviewed on the telephone or already had gotten contacts like dispatchers or people that we could call as references to make sure they [truck drivers] weren’t ax murderers. Which of course there weren’t. Because you can’t be an ax murderer and a truck driver.

Q: I would think that it would be a little hard to make a living like that.

A: [Laughs] So, we shot 90 hours of video footage and tried to edit it over the spring semester. This was an overwhelming project, especially since the school didn’t have that many editing systems. We had to compete with the entire student body who had their own projects. We really kind of half-assed finished it. I think that we were just too overwhelmed to absorb what we had just experienced. It was a really amazing experience. I was 20 years old at the time. I just remember riding in the cab of an 18-wheel truck and seeing America for the first time. I’m editing the footage now as a matter of fact.

It was such an eye-opening thing for me. I don’t know how the hell I tried to edit that. But we tried, and now we have this old version. Neither of us is really proud of that version. Like I said neither of us had absorbed what had gone on. And then we both finished school and basically had no money. We were the typical starving artists. She went off to California to go to grad school and I just tried to make ends meet projecting films in Boston. And then finally I moved to New York because I was too frustrated. The film industry in Boston is only so big. I couldn’t get a job, so I moved here and I started getting jobs. I’m still pretty broke, but I managed to make enough money to buy a computer. Almost two years ago, since I got the computer, I’ve been working on editing the film. So, I’m hoping to finish it this spring.

Q: So, you edit your films on your computer?

A: Well, this was shot on video. So, I can edit it on a computer.

Q: So, you work in film and video. Or is film passé?

A: You know, being in the avant garde world especially at Anthology [Film Archives], I’ve discussed this question with so many people. Which is better film or video? Basically, they are two different mediums. It’s like oil and watercolor. Film is definitely the most beautiful. I don’t think video has reached the level of romantic beauty that celluloid has when it’s projected onto the screen. But, I also think that the way technology is today, you can buy an editing system for under $5,000. It’s possible for young filmmakers to save their pennies and buy a Mac or a cheap PC or something with a little DV camera and just make their movies. So, video is a great thing. It’s reached that level.

Q: What do your parents think about your work? You’re a filmmaker and a projectionist.

A: Well, my parents never really had the experience of going to the movies. Actually growing up, they didn’t really take me to the movies at all. I think my first movie was in junior high school. I don’t even remember what it was. But, I don’t think they understand what it means to be avant garde or an art filmmaker. But my dad is really proud of me. Last summer, I went to the Portugal Day parade in Newark, New Jersey. And I videotaped the parade. I sent my dad a copy of the video, just so that he would really feel - because he’s really proud to be Portuguese. I knew he’d be psyched to see that parade in another town. And he called me. This was the first time, he really said anything to me about my filmmaking. He said, “Your camera work was so good. It was like watching that parade on the news.” And I was like “Dad that’s so cool.” He was so psyched. He said “You really do know how to use that camera, don’t you.”

Before that, a lot of my films - like the truck film - the old version of the truck film - my parents didn’t understand what I was trying to do or anything. But they’re very supportive. Especially with me being a movie projectionist. I don’t think they really understand what that means. They haven’t really been to that many movies.

Q: So, they’re not really expecting you to be a “nice Catholic girl living on the Azores wearing long dresses and braids in your hair?”

A: No, they’re pretty cool about that. My sister went to art school. She became a graphic designer, which is in the commercial arts and a craft. So she bought a nice house in the suburbs and she’s got a family and a baby. They’re really glad that she has done these things. But at this point, they know that I’m not going in that specific direction. They’re pretty cool about it. When I was in my early 20s, they were really frustrated with me. They really wanted me to buckle down. I was working as a movie projectionist. They were like, “Why do you keep working at these movie theaters? When are you going to get a real job?” Now that I have whatever they call a real job, it’s in the industry. It’s like the exact same hours and pay practically as a movie projectionist working at this DVD authoring company. I think they’re just realizing that it’s more who I am and not just some passing phase.

Mass Art definitely sealed [the need to be a filmmaker] for me. Because they showed us a lot of experimental documentaries, like Wiseman and Barbara Kopple. There are so many others - Saul Levine, who was my professor there, is not really a documentary filmmaker, but he encouraged all his students to just carry a Super 8 camera around with you everywhere you go and document things around you. You sort of become a self-documentarian of your own experiences. I would bike around the city with a small Super 8 camera in my pocket and film anything that looked beautiful to me. Before I knew it, I was actually making documentaries - experimental ones because they don’t have that structure that the Discovery Channel uses. I really was into the more guerrilla style of making documentaries. That is sort of what “Songs of Azores” is. I took my Super 8 camera when I went to the Azores. I was like, “I’ll film everything I see.” But I ended up filming these two women, among other things. But that was definitely the most interesting stuff that I got on film. And I always carry a camera with me. I totally believe in documenting your own life and having documentaries come out of that. I usually just carry a still camera around with me. But if I meet someone, I usually just ask them, ”Can I film you sometime.” Then I usually come back with a video camera and videotape them. So, there’s a lot of small projects that I would like to start working on. But I really want to finish this old one first. It would be like a feature-length documentary - this truck movie. Then I think I’ll use that to shop myself out there to introduce and market my work as a filmmaker to the public.

“Songs of Azores” got into a few festivals last year. It got some recognition as a short. So I think I’ll use that [publicity] to help me get “Truck” out there. And then “Truck” will get me a little further out. And then I’ll feel liberated. You know what I mean. You know, it’s like when you have the old project just sitting on your shoulders. After finishing “Truck,” I’ll feel liberated and inspired to just move on to new projects.

Q: Do you plan to always produce, direct and edit your films?

A: I don’t really think about it in that way. I kind of want to produce, direct and edit all of my films. I really believe in the more grassroots way of documenting people. So, I basically have the guerrilla style honed down. I got my DV camera, I’ll need a sound person and someone to hold the mike. A three-person crew. Sort of like what Barbara Kopple was doing, too. I’ll just be with this tiny little crew that’s completely mobile and kind of go with whatever happens. If you’re documenting someone mowing their lawn. You can totally follow them around.

I actually want to do a documentary about my dad’s garden because Portuguese people have really crazy gardens. Like, my father can graft different kinds of apples on one tree. He has this weird kind of science. He puts the branches together and he puts fertilizer and he wraps them up. Then a year later, the branches are grafted together. And then it growing the Macintosh apples on the next branch to the Granny Smith. He has these crazy trees like this. So, like, my entire hometown, everybody has gardens like this.

Actually the songs that my aunt sings in the film compare a widow’s love for dead husband to a garden.

But at the end of the song she is hoping - I think she is getting ready to die and she’s hoping that she could be got out to sea to meet her husband. She’s talking about going to Rio de Janeiro. A lot of Azoreans went to Brazil as well. It a very interesting song.

Q: Let’s talk a little more about how you choose a subject. The fact that you are a young woman who supports herself in the film industry and who makes the kind of films that you want is revolutionary. However, you don’t see yourself as a feminist filmmaker.

A: No, when I was at Mass Art, I explored being a feminist filmmaker. I tried making self-exploration films of my own identity. It was good, I mean every art student should go through that. But I am not specifically interested in making films about women. Although, “Songs of Azores” is a feminist film in a lot of ways. But, I am just interested in making films about people.

I actually got a really great interview with this one woman. But, well, everyone has a story. I really love that. Andy Warhol said that everyone should have their 15 minutes of fame. I totally believe everyone should have that.

That’s why I like living in New York - it’s really practical. I wanted to learn more about the film industry than I was getting in Boston. New York is an industry city. I knew that I would be exposed to more stuff technically, like how to become more professional about making my films. Experiences like that.

But moving to Queens has been that kind of experience. You meet so many different kinds of people. It’s like this palette of colors, flavors.

Q: A lot of that has been food for artists for 200 years. I love that about the city too.

But has the [Sept. 11] attack changed your ideas about filmmaking?

A: For a while, after September 11th, and I’ve been editing this one film (Trucks) for about a year now. By the way, I was unemployed for about eight months during 2001. I was still unemployed on September 11th. I remember feeling doomed economically. And looking at that film about hitchhiking across America. That means something totally different now. I don’t think I could make the same film ever again. I almost was thinking that I should stop making this film. I thought this isn’t as important, and I was kind of depressed about it for a while. But as time went on and I kind of snapped out of it. I began to see the film as a documentary about truck driving in 1995. That’s what it is.

Nine-eleven is the dividing point [in American history] for me. I think it made me want to make films even more. But some months have passed, and I don’t feel like back to normal. - but I am starting to get some of the ideas that I had before the attack. It hasn’t affected me to the point that it’s altered anything too much.

Part three of the three-part series appears next week with a feature on filmmaker Jason Bolling.

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