Art’s Weiss Reflects on 25 Years of Indie Filmmaking

As curator and artistic director for the Dallas Video Festival, Bart Weiss has watched a lot of movies — some good, most bad.

But even the worst independent films that have been submitted for VideoFest over the past 25 years have benefitted from advances in technology. And the technological evolution of filmmaking over the past 30 years is a crucial element to the festival’s work.

“The ratio of good to bad is always the same,” said Weiss, an associate professor in the Department of Art & Art History. “When you have more people making media, there’s more good stuff. But there’s exponentially more bad stuff. It means you have to weed through the material. It’s my job as curator to not just identify that these filmmakers are using new technology, but to see how they’re using it in a new kind of way.”

One of the new ways the festival is utilizing new technology when it opens Sept. 26 is by creating a video mural on the Omni Hotel’s exterior LED screen in downtown Dallas. Fourteen artists will be “giving language” to the structure by adding animation and original content on the 19-story screen, Weiss said.

The 2012 festival runs Sept. 26-30 at the Dallas Museum of Art. Patrons will be able to purchase day passes to view the dozens of international and local films submitted.

Weiss, an award-winning film and video producer, director and editor, said the festival began in the late 1980s as a way to showcase the new and innovative ways artists and filmmakers were using video cameras.

“There was a dream that you could shoot for very little money and create very interesting work,” he said. “In the early days of video there was this guerrilla work, low-end camcorders that were technically difficult. But artists from different genres could pick up this half-inch reel-to-reel and create some interesting work. One of the reasons we did the festival is because there wasn’t a place to see that kind of work.”

Over the years, the festival has seen the advent of Super VHS, BetaCam, digital video (DV), digital editing software and iPhones. Filmmakers are able to capture high-definition footage on their cell phones and edit it quickly on their laptops. A new generation of artists is no longer hampered by limitations in technology and costs.

“Every change in technology brings a change in the art. It’s the natural order of things,” Weiss said. “But when it comes to filmmaking, the core element is storytelling. A good script transcends any kind of genre there is. … But if the film doesn’t have a strong beginning, middle and end, if there aren’t clear conflicts, if there isn’t a story that we can connect to on a deep level, then none of it makes sense.”

Weiss said he often utilizes his experience and knowledge from VideoFest in his teaching at UT Arlington. The festival enables him to stay on top of technological changes, to stay at the forefront of filmmaking.

“Not only is it about learning new things, but every one of these things I talk about in class,” he said. “There’s a new model of teachers learning, adapting and doing new things and we’re not doing the same things we did 20 years ago just because that’s the way we’ve always done them. I think that’s very important.”

It’s a philosophy shared by many faculty in the Film, Video and Screenwriting program. Assistant Professor Ya’Ke Smith has leveraged DV equipment and Internet communities to create and promote his award-winning original films. Senior Lecture Mark Clive has helped his students hone their graphic design skills into interactive special effects and 3-D animation.

“Aside from what we’re teaching, we’re also serving as creative role models,” Weiss said. “We’re out there on the edge of new media, creating things and being seen. Everything we do is reflected in our work … and the classroom.”

At the festival, Weiss will no doubt take a few extra moments for himself to soak in the films, the crowd, and the joy people find attending VideoFest year after year. He’s the first to admit he never fully intended to do a second festival, let alone 24 more. But in that time, he’s surrounded himself with filmmakers and cinephiles that will likely keep the festival going for another 25 years.

In the end, though, Weiss said it’s humbling to think back over the thousands of films he’s screened and hundreds of filmmakers he’s become friends with.

“It’s amazing where we’ve come over the years,” he said.

Get schedule information and tickets for the 25th annual Dallas Video Festival at videofest.org.

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