Pamela Cohn wears so many hats… She is a maker, producer, educator, arts journalist, curator and festival programmer. And an author… Her book Lucid Dreaming which is a collection of long form interviews with 29 filmmakers is recently out from a beloved American independent publisher, OR Books. Originally from Los Angeles, California, she is now based in Berlin. We met at an online voice call and talked about the book, how the epidemic affected the film industry, independent filmmakers and cinemas as well as the film scene in Berlin.
A Moment In Time
S: First of all I want to thank you. You have written about how your first interview with Barbara Hammer was. That you were a no name bloggerand you were happy that she accepted to give an interview to you. That is what I kind of feel at the moment.
P: Well, I am nowhere near the caliber of person Barbara Hammer was!
S. To be honest before reading your book I didn’t know a single one of the 29 filmmakers. Can one see the book as a guide for experimental filmmaking?
P: I’m not sure if I can say it’s a guide to experimental filmmaking as you suggested, but it is a chance to glimpse the processes involved and the emotional and psychological investments these artists use to make their work in order to express very specific experiences. That can have much to do with autobiography, or a specific cultural point of view, finding a way to reveal particular passions through their work, oftentimes in a very non-linear ways.
For all those reasons, the work transcends towards a universal language of thought and emotion, a description of what it means to be living on this planet right now for all of us. All the conversations are a kind of work in progress actually, a kind of moment in time.
S: I really enjoyed how the single voices stand alone but the interviews are giving a bigger picture. Also it is an ongoing conversation when the reader also comes in.
P: That’s my hope. What I was also hoping for was, yes, the communality of experience, as well as the diversity of each voice. There is a unified force in talking about similar topics in diverse ways.
Here and Now
S: These are all nonfiction directors. How do you define nonfiction film?
P: “Nonfiction” is a really expansive term. But in this context the nonfiction label grounds it in the here and now, in the human experience. The works do not shy away from that kind of exposure nor do they try to pretend that it’s a made up story. Much fictional work is based on reality, as we know. But it is the integrity and transparency that can make a spectator feel there is an original voice there trying to figure out how to say something profound or something not easily expressible using only image and sound. The nonfiction label also helps to imbue that work with more emotional resonance perhaps than it might if presented as a fiction.
Free Content Bombardment
S: I want to bring the topic to this time we live in now. Our daily lives are changed at the moment due to the epidemic. Now that we can watch a lot of content online especially like documentary festivals opening archives, we are just bombarded with content on social media platforms. Do you think that the singular voices can be heard better, or is it a bit confusing?
P: I do not think that there is confusion. It is two sides of a coin at the moment. We can think about the positive outcome in the fact that there are, of course (at least in theory) way more eyeballs on someone’s work where the spectator can experience a sense of constant discovery, which is really exciting.
The flip side of that is that for the artists – and any of us that work in the creative sector – it is always a precarious existence.
In the circumstances in which we find ourselves now, or any other time, it’s miraculous that people just keep going using so few resources. But I can say that there really is a beautiful object lesson for knowing that such beautiful pieces of work can be created this way. As well, there is this perpetual debate around the psychic discomfort of putting up one’s work for free. Someone like Sky Hopinka for example, a Native American maker, and one of the voices in the book, has opened up his Vimeo page Everything he’s ever made is there and available and he has announced that on social media. But I know that other artists feel differently about it and don’t want to “give away” their work for no remuneration no matter what the circumstances.
Now More than Ever, a Need for Discerning Curators
S: The habits we have changed dramatically in the recent ten years if you think of streaming services. Then again going to a festival is something social, watching work on a big screen.
P: Even artists content to work in obscurity hunger for larger audiences. They make work in order to be heard and to be seen after all. That’s why there is, now more than ever, a need for discerning curators. What a curator does is act as a guide. I would love to see the kind of work represented in my book on Netflix or Amazon or some other large aggregator of content that pays for content. I know a lot of people currently developing platforms specifically for this kind of work and that’s very exciting. And a producer in London and I Lucid Dreaming are now working on a Lucid Dreaming podcast to further expand the conversation around all these very topics you and I have been discussing.
Probably the Most Artist-Friendly in Europe
S: I’d love to hear it. One last question. You are from California but living in Berlin. How do you find the film scene in Berlin?
P: It’s a mixed bag. Most cinemas still show films dubbed in German – in other words, not the author’s voice. There are a lot of great small kinos that are independently owned that promote more experimental, independent work. I would say this is not a great city for documentary filmmaking; in my opinion, the form and content of the documentary industry here is behind the times. But there are vibrant artistic moving image resources here such as The Julia Stoschek Collection, the Arsenal and other curators at gallery spaces where one can see really interesting, fresh work. I had an itinerant screening series here for many years called Kino Satellite and it was just wonderful to see how Berlin audiences would come without necessarily knowing what they might see. There is adventurousness here if you hit the right crowd and it’s a city that is probably the most artist-friendly in Europe.
S: I was surprised to see the small cinemas in Berlin, in Istanbul we do not have that.
P: Well, like here or anywhere, someone has to start them. Like making art, running a small kino or any small exhibition space is a tremendous amount of work that is not properly remunerated. So curating for this kind of space is a labour of love too. I think it contributes to the constant creative stream, feeding people imaginative fare, exposing them to things they might otherwise not know about or have a chance to see.
S: Thank you.