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Near Plains, Nebraska

Yesterday, after a last minute projection revealed a curious major problem (that the Premiere CS3 editing window isn’t WISYWIG, and the projector lops off 3% on all four sides), Swimming in Nebraska was finally finished, a tape made and a courier is to come by in a few hours to deliver it to the Jeonju festival where it’s to screen May 3 and 6th in the Stranger than Cinema experimental’ish section.  Also the last week was the annoying film-making-in-reverse procedure of transcribing all the improvised and other dialog and text from the film to finally have “a script.”

Fortunately for my sanity I don’t keep clock-time on my work, so I don’t really have any idea how much time got used in making this work, but an awful lot, and much of it very technical with my having to bump along and learn how to do things along the way.  But, since I didn’t really have any clear idea when I began, it was a matter of fumbling my way forward to finding what the film really was and what it required.  Living and learning.  So whatever the hours (must be near a thousand) which were and will remain unpaid fiscally, they were a needed element to find the resulting film –  however exhausted, I am happy with it. (See this for other thoughts.)  I’ll be curious to see how audiences – certainly a specialized audience willing for other-than-commercial-cinema experiences – respond.   Don’t have long to wait for this acid test, coming up in Jeonju soon.

These screenings will make for an interesting time of reflection:  I was at the first Jeonju festival ten years ago, when it was a small start-up, though excellently organized and already with a good program, if suffering from an unnecessary sense of provincial insecurity.  Now it has flowered into a sizable festival, still excellently organized, an hewing to its programming of interesting work from around the globe: this year, among other things, they’ll have a Pedro Costa retrospective, and James Benning will be here with something, not sure what just yet.  And lots more – 300 and more films.  And they actually have good sized and engaged audiences  for these.

That first time was my first visit to Korea, and as I recall the film I showed was 6 Easy Pieces, and I think also Muri Romani. If I recall accurately in a competition called Daring Digital.  6 Easy Pieces came in second, with a comment from the jury that “it was real art,” with some vague implication that this made it more difficult, and hence the not-real-art got (as usual) the money.  First prize went to black British TV maker, John Akomfrah, for what was a slick, TV-funded autobiographical piece – I didn’t much care for its slick style, and was frankly a little pissed off that a guy with a well-paid TV job walked away with the $5,000 in prize moohla, though I liked him.  At that time I had no job and no moohla.

But as things worked out, it was a step towards where I am now, living in Seoul, with the first job of my life, one taken to belatedly stash up some savings for a life mostly without pay for making my films, without Social Security, pension or any other fall-backs for the rainy days likely to come.   And, one of the audience there in 2000, who sat all the way through Muri Romani (I expected everybody to leave, but about 1/3rd stayed) and wrote me later to ask for a DVD of it, was my student last term.  Subsequently I was invited again to Jeonju with OUI NON (2002), Homecoming (2005), La Lunga Ombra (2006), and Over Here (2008).

As it happens, Swimming in Nebraska is, at least in my mind, closely related to 6 Easy Pieces, both being essays, and both being structured with various seemingly disconnected sequences which strangely unify at the end, and both of which I would say take on a “spiritual” quality which one would likely not expect from their disparate parts.

Swimming was shot in Lincoln, Nebraska, in the year 2006-7, while on an artist’s residency, with only a vague idea as to what it was about – something in my mind about the provincialism of those not in Lincoln, but in NYC or London or LA, the supposed centers of cultural gravity where people are likely to say of Nebraska that “there’s nothing there.”  Usually from people who have seen it gliding by in 45 minutes from 35,000, or who were on I-80 going as fast as they could on the concrete ribbon headed to the Rockies or further west.  My thought was to show the “something” there.   What spun out is a small kind of portrait of a few people in Lincoln – Marjorie Mikasen, who makes “hard edge” paintings, her husband Mark Griep, who teaches organic chemistry at the University of Nebraska, and William Wehrbein who teaches elementary physics at Wesleyan University there, and sang in a local choir.  From these, and some landscapes, and myself swimming at the local YMCA, somehow was spun a hymn to creativity, to Nebraska, to science, and I am not sure what else, except that it ends up humming the song of life.  Whether others will sense this, I’ll have to wait and see.


Now it’s time to take a day to tidy up the editing room, put Swimming to bed, prepare to make DVDs of it, and turn to the next thing(s):  a new film here in Seoul, or more likely two, over the next 15 months or so, and to finish Piccoli Miracoli, a film begun in 1996 and tracing the first three and a half years of my daughter Clara’s life.  And another work shot back then as well, Imagens de uma cidade perdida (Images of a Lost City), a portrait of some older sections of Lisbon.

LISBON PRE EDIT6CWCC Imagens de uma cidade perdidaLISBON PRE EDIT5CWCCAlfama, Lisboa 1997

jon piccoli sc

From Piccoli MiracoliclarascClara Villaverde Cabral Jost, 1997

If interested in purchasing DVDs of any of the films cited here, go to for information on these and other films.

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