Like many before me, I was first drawn to film through the subjective emotional connections I made with the characters I saw on the screen. The most common filmgoing experience we all share involves finding a diversion from our daily lives—a simple entertainment for a Friday night that holds our interest for the evening. Our post-movie ritual of pie and coffee always involved a discussion of the film, but it took a while for me to realize I might be having a different sort of experience than my friends. I lacked the vocabulary and training to properly analyze what I had seen—I was merely seeking a common thread of meaning that would validate my own experience. The typical response from my friends at the time was “you think too much.”

Despite this admonition, I couldn’t stop thinking about film and wanting to take it apart. As an Art major introduced to theory for the first time, I began to apply what I was learning about art criticism to film. Armed with ideas drawn from feminism, cultural studies, and semiotics, I could finally explain what I was seeing in the films I watched. Suddenly everything was much larger than myself. Popular narrative film exists as a product of contemporary values, a reflection of cultural standards, and most importantly, a reinforcement of dominant ideology. I was young, but these particular revelations caused a shift in my thinking and a renewed sense of purpose toward my own work. Out of the many different approaches to film theory that I have encountered during graduate study and beyond, I still find the contextual and cultural analysis of film to be the most relevant.

As a filmmaker, it is the ability to create new meaning and potentially influence culture that I find most exciting. When I think about my own measure of success, I have always equated working in Hollywood as no better than ending up selling insurance. Anyone can figure out how to make a copy of what they have already seen. Expressing a unique voice is a challenge of a higher order.

No one person controls the dominant ideology—it is not Us or Them. The kind of popular narrative film we all experience when we go to the cineplex self-replicates in its current form because films are expensive and the people with the money want a guaranteed return on their investment. With the invention of digital technology, we are now at a point in history where films made outside of the Industry can gain a foothold.

I enjoy film in all of its forms, and I am just as carried away by identification with the characters in popular narrative as the next person sitting in a darkened theater. But knowing that these films represent only a small cross-section of potential subject matter drives me to seek out the independent work that exists on the margins.

For all of these reasons, my research tends toward short-form, independent, artistic, and experimental filmmaking. This is also the kind of work I do when I make my own films. Not only is it important for me to be aware of the current work in my field, I find strength, hope, and inspiration every time I see films that make a statement against dominant ideology in some way. I am watching someone else’s voice made manifest on the screen. One voice can easily be lost on the wind; many voices together blow a wind of change that cannot be ignored.

Often when I express these ideas out loud, I find that many people have a limited definition of film and video, equating it either with the cineplex or commercial broadcasting, i.e., things the layperson would consider practical. When I toss out words like art and experimental, they throw up their hands as if these are esoteric categories they could not possibly understand. No doubt this is a reflection of broader cultural attitudes about art existing only for the elite. In terms of moving images, nothing could be farther from the case. Digital technology and the Internet have made it possible to view all manner of film and video at the click of a mouse.

On the other hand, perhaps the sheer volume of video on the Internet is too daunting, and unless you know what you are looking for most people never get beyond feeling guilty about spending too much time on YouTube looking at cat videos.

My current research is an effort to break down the myth of esoteric art films by creating a website that will (1) guide the viewer to representative examples, (2) provide context and critique for these films through the application of film theory, and (3) highlight the importance of media literacy. What I hope to convey is that the standard narrative formula we have come to know and love is NOT the only end product. There is no reason the average person should not be able to understand and enjoy this type of film without giving up a love of standard narrative fare. Ideally the forms should coexist and strengthen one another.

My experience with film festivals—participating, attending, and running a festival of my own—along with over ten years evaluating student work, provides context. Over the next several years I will offer my services as a judge to review films submitted for established festivals both nationally and internationally. My goal is to become an expert in short film, especially those films considered to be artistic or experimental, and ultimately I plan to publish a book on the subject.