Anna Kipervaser – Experimental Filmmaker – Friday Focus
by Christopher Osborne
Experimental filmmaker Anna Kipervaser is the subject of this week’s Friday Focus
It turns out that one has to be a special kind of person to be in the group that are refered to as “Experimental Filmmakers.” There needs to be a blend of heady enthusiasm, original thought, intellectualism, a desire to see the world from a different perspective, radical opinion, artistic prowess, communication skills and paradoxically a desire to work either alone or in small groups.
I have a feeling that people don’t set out to attain this label. It just seems to happen through circumstance and opportunity. That certainly seems to be the case with Anna Kipervaser.
Anna was born in Ukraine, and in 1989 her family made their way from the then Soviet Union through Austria and Italy to a new life in the United States. Ironically, soon after they arrived in the United States, the Berlin Wall fell, Soviet communism was a thing of the past, and Ukraine once again became its own country.
From an early age, Anna knew that she wanted to be an artist. She avoided family encouragement to join the world of commerce and went to art school for college, and then joined an arts residency in New York in her third year. She woke on the first morning to witness people falling from the World Trade Center Towers. It was September 11th 2001.
While the post 9/11 period caused a time of introspection for many Americans, Anna found that it had stirred a desire to seek the other side of the story. This was the catalyst for change in both her life and career path.
During her undergraduate studies, Anna started a mobile art space called Manual Productions. She organized a series of group exhibitions in abandoned or otherwise unoccupied spaces across the United States, and then later in Europe.
After graduating, Anna received the Wilder Traveling Scholarship and used the funds to retrace the route of her immigration.
In 2007, Anna and fellow artist Alina Tenser made their first visit to the Middle East. They had been together on 9/11. This first trip spawned ideas for a multitude of projects, including a multimedia installation documenting the muezzins of Cairo. The concept evolved into a feature documentary film, and Anna’s entrance into cinema began with gathering other filmmakers to help realize the project. Cairo in One Breath was completed in 2015 and premiered at Full Frame Documentary Film Festival (and is now available on Amazon, iTunes, and Kanopy).
Anna’s love for travel continued. In 2011 she wove her way across the United States starting in Hawaii, then moving through Alaska, New Orleans, Los Angeles. While she was in Paducah, Kentucky on an arts residency, she learned that she was a recipient of the Darmasiswa Scholarship to Indonesia to study Ethnomusicology. It turned out that this course of study wasn’t available at Institut Seni Indonesia Yogyakarta and instead she spent seven months in the printmaking program. She also learned and then taught tango.
She studied experimental and documentary arts with a focus on documentary film and interactive documentary for her MFA. She met David Gatten while at Duke University and he introduced her to the world of experimental filmmaking, and opened her eyes to the possibility of making art through the moving image. And her desire to touch 16mm film was part of this realization.
I ask her why she makes experimental films and why she didn’t go down more of a Hollywood route. “Independent filmmaking doesn’t require collaboration, it is an option but not a given. In Hollywood teams and hierarchies are part and parcel to the work itself. Painters and sculptors work on their own. I prefer to have the option.” She points out that she lived her early years under communism, then she started a new life in the US, and that she has neither known nor relied upon stability.
So, why does she work in 16mm film? Like many experimental filmmakers, Anna works in both analogue and digital media. While it may be true that Anna preaches the right tool for the job, however, I detect a slightly nerdy retro technology streak deep in Anna’s psyche.
We skirt around the experimental films that she has made. It is clear that Anna strongly feels that these works should be watched and that the viewer should not be visually or emotionally led. “I make stuff.” Anna does concede that while making experimental films does get her out of bed in the morning, she sometimes undertakes commercial work to help pay the bills.
I ask her what her most successful work is. How a Sprig of Fir Would Replace a Feather is her chosen piece. “This is a silent film I made almost a year ago, and no matter how many times I watch it, it still moves me. The colors are incredible, the focus is incredible. The objects, the movement, the pacing, I got them all right even if it wasn’t intended before the fact. The piece works”.
She goes on to explain that her films are like her babies. “I give birth to them and then they no longer belong to me”.
These days Anna’s passion for film is also expressed through teaching. Just over a year ago Anna left her teaching role at Duke University and began her one-year visiting Assistant Professorship at the American University of Sharjah. I am left with no doubt that her infectious enthusiasm has inspired many students.
During Lockdown in 2020, I witnessed this first hand. Anna Kipervaser teamed up with friend and colleague Alex Cunningham (from Duke University) and ran the “Transcontinental Experimental Filmmaking Course” over Zoom. These strictly one-hour Zoom presentations were scheduled every Sunday and provide a free university like experience in experimental filmmaking. Many attendees were in the Americas, some were from Europe and there were even regulars from Dubai. Links to interesting films and writings are provided and discussed, poetry was read, and works were sometimes shown by those attending who are experienced filmmakers, all in a very well managed schedule. The audience grew each week, a reflection on both the quality of the course material and the infectious enthusiasm of both Alex and Anna.
You can view and read more about the experimental and documentary work of Anna Kipervaser at annakipervaser.com
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