Dec 30, 2019

Helen Hill Awards 2020: Martha Colburn and Jaap Pieters

• Wishing you a good 2020 ahead. 
• And sharing this good news about two talented filmmakers. 
• Coming soon: news about the rest of the Orphans 2020 program.  

For the 12th Orphan Film Symposium, NYU Cinema Studies and the University of South Carolina Film and Media Studies Program present the 2020 Helen Hill Award to Martha Colburn and Jaap Pieters. Each biennial symposium presents the award to independent filmmakers whose work embodies the creative spirit, passion, and activism of the late animator, filmmaker, and educator, a Columbia, South Carolina-born artist and citizen of the world who inspired many.

Colburn and Pieters will each present selections from their own work to an international audience of archivists, scholars, curators, and artists at the NYU Orphan Film Symposium, hosted by Eye Filmmuseum in Amsterdam, May 23-26, 2020. Registration is open.

Eye in fact collaborates with both artists. Eye's curator of experimental film Simona Monizza and curator Marius Hrdy have together with Colburn generated a program of new film prints to debut at the 2020 Ann Arbor Film Festival, including two Filmmuseum restorations. From the Pieters material in its collection, Eye is making 35mm blow-ups of some Super 8 films. Monizza says Colburn and Pieters are “a great match for this award.” Their presence is “both peripheral and global at the same time. Both are uncompromising in their work and lives.”

The prolific Martha Colburn has created more than 60 films, as well as music videos, performances, and installations. After receiving a BFA in painting from the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, she took to filmmaking in 1994, using Super 8 and 16mm film to make short, kinetic animations. In 2002 she received an MFA equivalent degree from the Rijksakademie van beeldende kunst (Dutch National Academy of Fine Arts) and lived in Amsterdam five years before moving to New York and most recently Los Angeles. Recent Anthology Film Archives program notes describe Colburn as “the queen of punk-inflected, high-decibel animation using paper cut-outs, hand-painting, scratching, and sometimes found footage to create deliriously energetic freak-outs.” Among her innovative, hand-made, and often subversive creations she also deploys collage, stop-motion cinematography, puppetry, superimpositions, fragments from abandoned ephemeral films, historical images from art and popular culture, and objects applied to clear leader. (She discusses her technique in the 2011 short Martha Colburn Cuts the Boring Parts Out.)

Colburn’s output also includes several pieces directly relevant to the 2020 symposium’s focus on Water, Climate, and Migration, some of which she posts at Don’t Kill the Weatherman! (2007) reanimates a 15th-century illuminated manuscript’s apocalyptic imagery in response to the contemporary climate change crisis. Anti-Fracking Film (2011) warns of the threat to New York’s water. Stand with Standing Rock (2016) advocates for the Sioux protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline’s threat to ancestral land and water.

Jaap Pieters is called “the eye of Amsterdam.” A long-time resident, he has been documenting daily life in the city built on water for more than 30 years, filming almost exclusively on Super 8 stock. Each roll of exposed film -- silent, running 3 minutes and 20 seconds -- constitutes a whole work, capturing a single subject. Most depict idiosyncratic moments with unidentified people who pass through his neighborhood. Pieters projects his Super 8 reels to audiences, assembling programs as he goes. Eye Filmmuseum houses some of these works, blown up to 35mm for preservation and screening, ten of which are distributed by Light Cone. Meanwhile, thousands of negatives, prints, and unprocessed rolls remain at home in his “amateur archive.” His film-packed apartment has been the site of the documentaries The Universe of Jaap Pieters (2015) and Jaap Pieters Portrait (2005).

In one degree of separation from the origins of the Helen Hill Award, Chris Kennedy’s book 8 Affinities: Jaap Pieters & John Porter (2015) features a dialogue with the Toronto Super 8 specialist who dedicated his Phil’s Film Farm (2002) to his friend Helen Hill.

Unbeknownst to symposium organizers until after these awardees were confirmed, Jaap Pieters appears on-screen in Martha Colburn’s newest work, animations for Richard Ayres' opera The Garden (2018).  

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Established in 2008, the Helen Hill Award recognizes exceptional independent filmmakers whose work befits Hill’s legacy, celebrating creativity, animation, collaboration, and things made by hand. The previous recipients were Naomi Uman and Jimmy Kinder (2008), Jodie Mack and Danielle Ash (2010), Jeanne Liotta and Jo Dery (2012), Werner Nekes (2014), Sasha Waters Freyer (2016), and Nazlı Dinçel (2018).

P.S.  Please chip in.
The Helen Hill Award Fund has allowed these 11 deserving awardees to attend the Orphan Film Symposium. Help bring independent media artists to screen their work at this biennial forum. All funds go only to support travel and accommodations for award recipients. Give at this web page for the Helen Hill Award Fund. 

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The 12th Orphan Film Symposium is a co-presentation of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts Department of Cinema Studies, the Eye International Conference, and the University of Amsterdam. Some 50 speakers from across the world will present rare and rediscovered orphan films throughout three days and four nights of screenings and talks. Registration is open to all.

Martha Colburn puts Jaap Pieters in The Garden.

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