About andrew

Website: http://www.earthkeeperfilms.net
andrew has written 17 articles so far, you can find them below.

Absorb All-Star Knowledge from the Pros

Starting tomorrow, for two weekends only, the wizards, masters, and warriors of documentary will come out and play.

At the 2009 Producers’ Series

Eye-Witness – Focus On Documentaries

April 4-5 & 18-19
Film Row Cinema
Columbia College Chicago
1104 S. Wabash, 8th Floor

Two full weekend sessions that cover the nuts and bolts of developing, marketing and distributing your documentary film! Some series highlights:

• Want to plan a series? Join Kartemquin’s Gordon Quinn, Leslie Simmer & Jerry Blumenthal to discuss the process involved in planning and producing their series THE NEW AMERICANS that spanned 4 years in the lives of new American immigrants.

• Need advice on pitching your film or work-in-progress to potential funders and distributors? Expert Laurie Scheer will tell you how, listen to pitches from participants, and give advice on how you can be most effective!

• Ethics Panel Discussion: The subjects of documentary films are often ordinary (or extraordinary) people unaccustomed to life in the limelight. What considerations should filmmakers take into account when making a documentary? Where do issues of time, money, deadlines and demands of story structure come into play? Join us for an in-depth discussion of the ethics surrounding documentary filmmaking with Ruth Leitman, Maggie Bowman, Danielle Beverly, and Stephanie McCanles.

• Get an overview of ITVS, application procedures and an outline of the relationship during and after, with ITVS’ Karim Ahmad and Kartemquin’s Xan Aranda, Associate Producer & Outreach Coordinator for MILKING THE RHINO.

• Two Chicago Premieres: TRUST US, THIS IS ALL MADE UP by Alex Karpovsky, premiered at SXSW this year starring Chicago’s own David Pasquesi and TJ Jagodowski!! HANDMADE NATION by Faythe Levine, DIY artist, founder of Art vs. Craft & published author!

**Free for Producer’s Series participants, Individual Screening Tickets Available for the general public!

To see the full schedule, purchase passes or screening tickets and for a look at the 2008 Producers’ Series, please visit our Producers’ Series page! (http://www.ifpchicago.org/category/producers-series/)


7 Questions with Jonathan Olsheski

7 questions with Jonathan Olsheski

Johnathan Olsheski, an up-and-coming Philadelphian filmmaker, hit the streets during the midnight hours to follow and film the nightly routine of a “scrapper” ― you may know them as those drifting individuals who push shopping carts filled with metal scraps ― these vagabonds forage around searching for discarded waste, collecting junk with little to no value, in hopes to sell it and turn a profit. The result of Jonathan’s followings is The Scrapper, a 32 minute documentary short, which recently played at the Chicago Underground Film Festival and will also be screening at Viva Doc on Tuesday, March 17.

1. What initially sparked your interest and/or influenced you to pursue filmmaking?

My journey towards documentary film was a long and winding one. I’ll give it to you in chapter form:

I. Loathley Lady Skate Company

It started out in the mid-'90s making skate videos and ridiculousness vignettes containing some mixture of blood, poop and insanity (http://llscfilm.com). Back then it was purely social, purely fun, an excuse to hang out with friends and actually do something.

II. Boring Art Fart

I graduated from high school in 2000, intent on being a garbage man, but somehow found myself studying film at Temple University. My focus shifted from energetic, social spontaneity to weird, serious, personal projects as self-therapy. EXPERMENTAL! I got bored and added English literature as a second major and found my way into still photography and new media design. I graduated with no desire to pursue filmmaking. I continued to shoot stills of abandoned buildings and work low-wage construction.

III. Wendy Stabs Peter Pan

I always struggled with the desire to create and the desire to do something noble and worthwhile. I thought I would end up being a nurse, social worker, or teacher. I met a southern photojournalist (http://www.flickr.com/photos/alymae/) and after a short, tumultuous romance I was left feeling incredibly rotten, but also inspired to pursue photography as a means of storytelling/connecting. Rather than exploring empty spaces I would explore the humanity in Philadelphia.

IV. CommuniTEA – Pass the Tea around

Two friends living from an intentional community called the Bruderhof introduced me to Sister Margaret and the good people of New Jerusalem Now (http://newjerusalemnow.org), a community of recovering addicts, and found my first story. Portions of this interaction can be found at Whispers in the Storm (http://whispersinthestorm.com). Magically, photography became of means to connect and to build relationships with people I previously wouldn’t relate to. From there I began teaching photo classes to recovering addicts and feeling like my two passions (aesthetics & social justice) were finally coming together.

V. Sell Out Versus Drop Out

So, while I was doing all of this fun stuff I was also balancing being employed and being unemployed. I’d make a chunk of money then quit and try to live as long as possible on what I had made while pursuing projects that I was excited about. Then I started to make good money at a job I actually liked and I felt like I was beginning to lose my passion for documentary storytelling, so I had to decide whether to try and keep the job and balance it with everything else or just quit. I decided to quit. Then I had to decide should I just be unemployed and do projects, or go back to school and do the same kind of work in an atmosphere where I will be challenged and exposed to things I wouldn’t be exposed to on my own. So, I went back to Temple’s film school for my MFA and started shooting video and film to coincide with my stills. That’s where I am at today. The Scrapper was a product of my first year of grad school.

2. There’s the film school route and countless other routes. Which have you pursued and how would you describe the experience?

See above. School is fun. I like my classmates. I like getting access to equipment that I don’t have to buy myself. I like teaching undergrads…but it’s a tool and it is working for me right now. By no means is it a prerequisite for good work.

3. What most immediately struck you about making a film about a scrapper subject and how does your film about a scrapper differ from the countless other documentary shorts that have been made about homeless individuals?

I’ve always been interested in scrapping and the guys with the carts. My Grandpap scrapped all of kinds of things for me when I was a kid in Pittsburgh. That’s how I got my first Night Rider big wheel. Me and my friends used to scrap every Tuesday night to get things to break and set on fire for the movies we made in high school.

For me, it’s all about exploring. The Scrapper actually came about as I was doing an observation assignment for a screenwriting class. I was sitting in this wild beer store in my neighborhood taking notes on everything that I was observing. Joe (the scrapper) came in and sat next to me and we talked about hockey for the next hour and he bought me a $1.25 24oz Bud Ice. It wasn’t until later that I found out the he scrapped. Later I saw him with his cart and told him I always wanted to do a project on a scrapper. I asked him if I could do a project on him and he was happy to have the company.

How does my project differ? It is my project. My experience. Joe is a quirky, unique guy, but there are tons of documentaries about quirky individuals and their daily activities. He isn’t homeless actually. I guess that question shouldn’t be: why is it different?, but why does it matter? I think portraits of the lives of unseen populations are incredibly important as long as they are done collaboratively with the subject and with sensitivity. I believe that greater understanding leads to greater empathy. I would hope that this would develop into some sort of practical, beneficial change for these populations, but I am struggling with this concept right now. After passively consuming a story about someone different from you, do you treat people in similar social conditions any differently? Or, is it just another form of reality TV entertainment? …but ethics gets boring. These days I go with my gut, not my head.

4. How would you describe your guiding set of film making principles?

Explore, listen, have fun, participate, respect, collaborate, learn, share.

5. The Scrapper screened at the 2008 Chicago Underground Film Festival. Did you attend the the festival? What’s your short-list of favorite films you watched?

My wife gave birth to our baby boy, Caleb Lee, just three weeks before the Chicago Underground Festival, so I didn’t make it out.

6. Reconsidering your previous festival experiences and submission processes, what have you learned not to do, what to do, and how do you intend to improve your future submission processes? Name three festivals you have particular regard for.

I’m new to the festival thing…I think it’s a little bit weird. I’d say start your own festival. Screen your own stuff. Create community actively. Don’t just pay $35 a pop through withoutabox and hope someone likes your work. If you feel good about your work, promote it yourself. I get rejected mostly, so I have a biased opinion.

7. Your top five documentaries are:

Top five docs:
· Julien Donkey-Boy 😉

· Panola

· Radek

· Dark Days

· Children Underground.

The Scrapper(2008) will screen with Heavy Metal Jr. (2005) on Tuesday, March 15th at 5:15pm. The event is free and will be held in 1104 S. Wabash Ave. in the Michael Rabiger Center for Documentary Film. For more visit Jon’s website http://thescrapper.org

In Order Not to Be Here (2002)

Deborah Stratmans \
In Order Not to Be Here is the inspired, award-winning vision from Chicago-based experimental filmmaker and artist Deborah Stratman. Rife with creepiness, In Order feels like a bad-dream—or a leaked surveillance video from a lurking shadow government—it’s a dreamy, objectively-haunting, quasi-surveillance video. It’s also a film that poses many questions, one being the inevitable query of categorization: docudrama or experimental narrative?

In Order opens with an aerial, infrared intelligence video of a k9-team, who is in the midst of a hunt; following radio command from a offscreen surveyor, the dog-team slogs through darkness to capture an unknown figure.

A more subdued middle-passage succeeds this gripping opening, shifting focus to an indexing of familiar suburban imagery (e.g. fast-food, fences, street-lights); alas, we confront the bleak reality of our consumer-driven milieu—and, yes, it’s also a reminder that we know the characteristics of a McDonald’s building far too well (!).

A memorable chase scene book-ends this and, again, Stratman experiments with the aerial point of view camera. In fact, Deborah employs a handful of experimental film techniques throughout, including modified usage of the Kuleshov Effect, which proves to be sharply effective in a small number of instances, the most notable being audio from a news report (or quasi-news report) detailing a fire, which plays over this concluding chase, and, in turn, bestowing new meaning upon the image—altering a unknown runner into a fleeing arsonist, adding a sense of suspense and story.

Subversive and soigne, subterraneous and shadowy, In Order Not to Be Here is trenchant proof that Deborah Stratman is a trail-blazer clearing her way to the forefront of contemporary experimental film.

Deborah will screen and discuss her newest work, an 55 minute experimental doc, O’er the Land (2008), on 4/15/09, part of Viva Documentary’s Winter Film Series. Deborah’s doc, The BLVD (’99), examines Chicago’s the subterranean street-racing culture, and will screen at viva doc on 4/7/09).

Deborah Stratman’s website, Pythagoras Film

Feb-May 2009 Film Screenings

Deborah Stratman\'s \"O\'er the Land\" (2008)
A wise man once said, “Let us all cool our jets. Let us all take the time out of our busy schedules to watch great documentary films. That is when we find our peace.”

For 2009, Viva Doc has put forth extra effort to curate a film schedule built both of the essentials and the obscure. And, to buy you some time, we have tried our best to assemble a schedule with documentaries more on the short side.

We kicked off the festivities this past Tuesday, with a screening of Christo’s Valley Curtain and, we must say, the attendance was phenomenal. We hope you all enjoyed the film.

On April 15th, filmmaker Deborah Stratman, a fellow Chicagoan and film professor at UIC, will make an appearance with her latest experimental documentary, O’er the Land(2008), which recently played at the Sundance 2009 film festival, and is also scheduled to play at the True/False film fest. We’ll also be playing Deborah’s documentary, The BLVD (1999), a documentary about Chicago’s elusive car racing gangs and street dudes. Do not miss this event, or else you will find yourself having reoccurring nightmares that, at the very least, will fill you with endless regret and a longing for time travel.

Visit Deborah’s website, Pythagorasfilm

View the Viva Doc flyer

2/17…Christo’s Valley Curtain, a film by Albert and David Maysles, 28 mins, (1973)

2/24…The Case of the Grinning Cat, a film by Chris Marker, 58 mins, (2003)

3/03…Cane Toads: An Unnatural History, a film by Mark Lewis, 58 mins, (1993)


3/17…Heavy Metal Jr., a film by Chris Waitt, 24 mins, (2003)

3/17…The Scrapper, a film by Jonathan Olsheski, 32 mins, (2008)


3/31…Digital Directions in Documentary Distribution, A discourse w/ filmmaker Tami Yeager of Tribeca and IFP Chicago

4/07…The BLVD, a film by Deborah Stratman, 63 mins, (1999)

4/14…20 Years of the Michael Rabiger Center for Documentary Film! A celebratory, fundraising, film screening event. Join us!

4/15…O’er the Land , filmmaker Deborah Stratman in person!, 52 mins, (2008)

4/15…Three Cheers for the Whale , a film by Chris Marker, 17 mins, (1972)

4/21…Up the Yangtze, a film by Yung Chung, 93 mins, (2008)

4/21…Bullfight in Okinawa, a film by Chris Marker, 4 mins, (1994)

4/28…Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind , a film by John Gianvito, 58 mins, (2008)
5/05…San Soleil, a film by Chris Marker, 103 mins, (1983)


Film synopses will be posted very soon. Stay tuned.

Bullfight in Okinawa

Chris Marker’s Bullfight in Okinawa is a bizarre, 4 min documentary that introduces viewers to Japan’s subterranean past time of bullfighting. Part of Markers five-film “Bestiary” series, Bullfight employs observational documentary techniques and, in particular, Marker’s camerawork is impressive — tight framed shots, free-hand pans, and quick zooms all contribute to the film’s urgent sense of tension — and, if it weren’t for the suspense inducing music, this short-gem would be damn close to pure objective documentary cinema.

Be sure not to miss this short, hidden-gem — it’s only four minutes long, and is quite the bizarre spectacle — witness the primal rage of two seemingly bull-trainers as they shout at fighting bulls.

This film is part of the Viva Documentary 2009 film series.

Playing with Yung Chang’s Up the Yangtze (2008).

Tuesday, April 21st

5:15pm @ the Michael Rabiger Center for Documentary Film.

1104 S. Wabash RM 407, Chicago, IL

Shifting Focus: Doc Distribution in a Digital Age

The times they are a changin’.

As the the proliferation of high speed broadband connections increases and the expense of theatrical distribution continues to stay the same, the internet is looking more and more like a viable medium for documentaries. Conscious of this shift, The Tribeca Film Institute has started a program called Reframe, aimed at providing an outlet for both new and old content that otherwise might not find an audience.

Tami Yeager (IMDB), the producer behind the award-winning 2008 PBS Independent Lens documentary “A Dream in Doubt” is working with Reframe to make it an innovative doc distribution solution for both media makers and watchers. Viva Doc’s Andrew Rosinski asked Yeager about this groundbreaking initiative and the future of documentary distribution in general in December 2008.

Viva Doc: How is Reframe different from DVD distribution?

Yeager: Reframe is an exciting project to describe because it serves a lot of different needs at once. Rather than acting as a traditional DVD distributor, Reframe’s central mission is to help individual filmmakers, distributors, public media organizations, archives, libraries and other media owners digitize, market and sell their work using the Internet. Reframe’s initial non-exclusive platform partnership is with CreateSpace, a subsidiary of Amazon.com. When content holders sign up with Reframe, their analog tape formats and DVDs are digitized for free and enjoy the better royalty returns negotiated by Reframe. The content owner sets the prices and provides the artwork – Reframe showcases the content owners’ brand and profile. All content is marketed on Reframe’s robust, searchable website and is sold and fulfilled through Amazon.com in DVD and/or digital Video on Demand formats, per the content holders’ choosing.

One of the perennial challenges facing filmmakers and distributors alike is connecting with a film’s target audience. The new media landscape presents as many opportunities as hurdles. The Reframe website is designed to address those hurdles and take advantage of those opportunities by becoming a destination where scholars, artists, teachers and film enthusiasts can easily discover, recommend and purchase media. Building community and providing a voice for trusted sources from various fields of expertise are important tools for supporting the community of work gathered on the Reframe site. Reframe’s functionality will increase over time beginning with guest curators, blogs, and thematic lists adding tagging and discussion forums and embracing networking and many other applications later.

Viva Doc:What is Reframe’s submission process?

Yeager: The first step is to send an email to partners@reframecollection.org and tell us about the film/s you would like to submit. If possible, include any relevant links to websites, reviews, film festivals, etc. so we can learn more about the work. Someone from the partnerships team will contact you to share information about the contract, terms, and deliverables. If a film is a mutual fit for Reframe, then you will send in the contract, relevant details about the film, signature still image, filmmaker photo and bio, cover DVD artwork, and source material (tape, DVD, or digital file on a hard drive) for digitization.

Viva Doc:In most cases, festivals look for short films that are under 12 minutes in length. Will online distribution open a market for films that are 20 – 50 minutes in length?

Yeager: Festivals are constrained by the clock and the schedule. Shorts either have to be very short to play before a feature to fit into the conventional two-hour blocks or to be around ten to twelve minutes to create a program comfortably comparable in length to a feature presentation. When the consumer is the programmer, things change. For the user at home at her computer, a work is captivating or it isn’t. There are no constraints of theater turnover or conventions for time-length. For the institutional consumer, shorts work well in classrooms and civic settings as they can convey the emotion or information of a feature length work while leaving ample time for the assembled group to engage in active discussions. Cynthia Wade has said on panels that she purposefully decided to keep her film FREEHELD within the Academy’s short film limits as much to make a film that was a more useful advocacy and teaching tool as to compete in the short category. Digital projection eliminates the costs and time constraints of dealing with physical media, and the time-shifting technologies of DVRs and Internet services will allow consumers to connect with subjects that compel them, captivate them and entertain them without regard to time and physical constraints of the past. Interestingly enough, two of the first three sales of Reframe titles were shorts, one a thirty-minute film and the other an eight-minute film.

Viva Doc:What direction do you see documentary distribution headed in?

Yeager: The fascinating thing about the Internet is that it has allowed documentary filmmakers to reach out directly to their target audiences. The ability to sell your DVDs from a website and/or stream clips or a whole film is completely revolutionary, and, in my opinion, empowering for our community. For the short term, it appears that DVD sales will continue to be the cash cow for films in general, while creative Internet marketing techniques allow filmmakers to raise critical awareness about the work. As we know, online distribution is still sorting itself out as different companies compete to perfect the technologies and to reach new audiences. I do believe that we will eventually access much, if not all, of our content via the web, especially once we can connect it adequately to the television.

For these reasons, I am a believer that there will be new opportunities for documentary distribution. By opening up the marketplace in a way that allows smaller, but specific audiences to find the content they are seeking, documentaries will reach their greatest potential. Certainly, creative marketing will be required to get heard through the noise.

Another very important area for documentaries that is often overlooked when discussing digital distribution is institutional and educational sales. For documentaries, this is typically the most lucrative marketplace for your work. Educational institutions are still buying DVDs in large numbers, but they are starting to look toward a future of digital distribution. The field is wide open at this point. Since reaching the educational market is important to Reframe, much attention is currently focused on DVD sales. This will likely change as the distribution ecology further evolves.

Viva Doc:Do you find yourself watching more films on the computer screen, the TV screen, or the big screen?

Yeager: I watch all three pretty equally. I recently bought my first LCD TV in order to bring the Internet connection to the tube. Still, I hope the big screen stays around for a long time, for both the cinematic experience and for hosting community screenings.

Viva Doc:How has working on the distribution-side helped you as a filmmaker?

Yeager: I have learned so much about the creative ways one can reach audiences. Conversely, I work in digital distribution because I want to represent the perspective of content makers. I believe that we should be very involved in the development of this burgeoning marketplace, as it will have a dramatic effect on our creative opportunities as well as our incomes.

Viva Doc:Any words of wisdom for students looking to submit to Tribeca Film Festival?

Yeager: Programmers at the Tribeca Film Festival say it is most important to make the strongest film possible and resist sending a premature cut of that film for consideration. You get one chance to make a first impression and, at the very least, this first impression needs to elicit a champion for your film so that it will get a second look.

Viva Doc: List your top five documentary films.

Yeager: For a cross-section of documentary styles, here are some personal favorites:

Who Killed Vincent Chin?

To Be and To Have

Latcho Drom



Christo’s Valley Curtain (1974)

Christo’s Valley Curtain (1974)
A Film by Albert Maysles, David Maysles and Ellen Hovde, 16mm, color, 28 mins

Two years ago, a Christmas gift introduced me to a photograph of a giant, orange curtain:  The curtain spoke to me with its warm aura and summery temper, seducing me, raising questions, generating fantasies, and leaving me wanting more.  This was more than just an ordinary curtain — it was the valley curtain, a grand idea turned community-art-project from Bulgarian-born New York artist Christo, whose bold vision verified the positive effects art has on community, society, and the human spirit.  

Hanging a big curtain has a big impact.  

Bridging the quarter-mile valley of Rifle Gap, Colorado, Christo’s self-funded Valley Curtain project, put a small community to work by providing paying wages to the jobless.  Cristo’s project was quite ambitious, considering the project cost $775,000 and the curtain was only to hang for a mere 24 hours.

Nevertheless, it’s safe to say the Valley Curtain project was worth every penny.  In a cooperative effort to drape nine tons of orange, nylon-polymide fabric from four steel cables, suspended at 365 feet, completion was met with glowing achievement. 

Nominated for an Academy Award, Valley Curtain is a compelling twenty-eight minute documentary from renowned documentarians Albert and David Maysles, whom authentically capture the enthusiasm of all individuals involved with the curtain.  Shot on 16mm film, Valley Curtain is composed of warm imagery; sunlight floods through and illuminates the orange fabric as it flaps in the wind against a vibrant, blue-sky backdrop, successfully preserving the timeless beauty of the valley curtain, and, accurately archiving the sunny moral of the artist and his workers during a generally cheerful experience.

Inherent pacing prevents the film from ever lagging and allows Valley Curtain to move along briskly.  Truly a visual story, the Maysles Brothers allow the story to unfold by way of Christo’s enthusiasm, and, through the candid behavior of the participants, who experience significant changes stemming from being part of creating art.  Accompanied by strong, blossoming imagery, Valley Curtain is a flawless portrait of an artist that is not to be missed.

—Andrew Rosinski

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