Moderne Day Filmmaker
72 FILM FESTIVALS, 48 FLIGHTS, & 14 MONTHS: THE TIMES & TRAVELS OF
By Roxana Vosough
Image Credit: Ryan Gleeson
72 film festival premiers, 48 flights, and 14 months later, filmmaker Xan Aranda [zan uh-ron-dah], successfully premiered her first directorial debut, the feature-length concert documentary, Andrew Bird: Fever Year, around the globe. Aranda, an accomplished producer, ventured down the unbeaten path of directing, when her long-time friend and talented musician, Andrew Bird, persuaded her to make the film.
Andrew Bird: Fever Year OFFICIAL Trailer
Roxana Vosough is the Founder and Publisher of
“When Andrew first asked me, I said ‘no’”, says Aranda, “I had known him for 10 years, and had an opinion on how a film like that should be made”. This notion was precisely why Bird emphasized Aranda direct the film. “I don’t really feel comfortable with anyone else”, said Bird. Thus, the project began.
The film, commissioned by Bird and his recording company Wegaman Music, was on a limited budget, which Aranda took to her advantage. “I knew that I wanted to spend the budget on great shooters”. The concert documentary takes the audience up-close into Bird’s concert at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, as well as a calming preview of his inspirational process on Bird’s farm. Aranda, who claims to have “been to hundreds of his shows”, had a clear vision for how she wanted to represent Bird. Aranda claims,
“He knew I would take him to the edge”.
Hiring acclaimed concert and documentary cinematographer, Peter Gilbert, to lead the film’s shooting guided Aranda in the unfamiliar field. “His vast experience on shooting concerts”, says Aranda, “mentored me through the process”. Together, there were four cinematographers capturing the live concerts, all with 10-20 years of experience in the field. This enabled Aranda to get the precise angles she felt would contribute to the overall visual and musical experience. The result, (as exemplified by the trailer, above) is a compilation of rich colors, beautiful transitions, clean framing and lines, with physical shots you can feel. “It’s about mood, tone, color”, says Aranda. “The more you scale it up, the more at risk you are” says Aranda, who claims,“all my projects are about being on the frontier”.
The film initially made it’s world premiere in Lincoln Center, at the esteemed New York Film Festival. “They are tastemakers”, says Aranda, referring to the programmers who select the films, “New York knows who [Andrew Bird and his band] are”, and the New York Film Festival was the ideal platform to launch the film into a fury of festival invitations.
The film not only premiered all throughout festivals in the United States, but also made it’s way to film festivals across the world such as Dubai, Mexico City, New Zealand, Australia, Finland, Taiwan, Portugal, Denmark and Canada.
“In Europe [films] are mostly funded by art funding, [whereas] here, in the US, you are supporting struggling non-profits”, says Aranda, as we speak about the differences among film festivals around the world. Currently, there is a debate amidst film festivals in the United States regarding whether filmmakers should be getting paid when their films are screened. In many parts of the world, “an honorary fee to screen the films is often expected”, says Aranda, and that “money goes back into grants”, which funds those films.
Inevitably, in Europe and in other parts of the world,
“art is more a part of people’s days and lives”,
people are simply more “accustomed to paying for it”, says Aranda. In the US, we are still catching up on this notion, as “some people feel that they are not able to express themselves” as readily, claims Aranda.
Aranda, an avid festival programmer and panelist herself, understood precisely the many implications when applying to film festivals. “You want to see what they screened before…who was their winner last year.” Also, Aranda remarks, that it helps “if people know what to do with the film”, referring to a specified genre, which documentary films often lack. As a result, Aranda claims, it was “easier taking rejection, because of my experience with the festival circuit”.
For Aranda, attending the festivals is “a joyful part of the job, but it’s like work for me”. Regardless, “it’s incredibly gratifying”, says Aranda, emphasizing that it enables her to plan for future projects.
“Sitting with audiences, it’s interesting to see how it fits,” says Aranda about premiering the film numerous times, “I usually go in for the last 20 minutes”. When abroad, in cities such as Copenhagen and Mexico City, she says “it is interesting to see the film in a new language, and see if people laugh in different parts”.
However, not all films are fit for the festival circuit. Other projects Aranda has worked on, such as Prisinor of Her Past, (directed by Gordon Quinn) a film shot about the Holocaust, was an “all encompassing experience, not a big festival presence” but was very successful in the educational circuit and at conferences. Other films are often picked up by distributors at festivals, such as Milking the Rhino, produced by Aranda and directed by Sundance award winning director, David E. Simpson, went to select theaters.
Fever Year, however, will only be shown at film festivals, under strict instructions by it’s owner, Andrew Bird. The film will not be released on DVD nor will its soundtrack. This was “definitely not the choice of the director or crew”, says Aranda. The film will continue to premiere in California throughout the next several months. "The lemonade of it is that we put so much quality in it, it should envelop you”, which only the big screen can do.
Aranda, also passionate about her upcoming film, entitled Mormon Movie, which features Aranda and her family, depicts her personal story of leaving the Mormon Church and the results of that decision. Aranda, who lives to be behind the camera, claims, “now I am in front of it, and when I’m in front of the camera, I’m not at my best”.
Image Courtesy of Xan Aranda
Film still, from Fever Year, Bird is seen testing new equipment for his concerts (Image Courtesy of Xan Aranda)
“I didn’t really know how to make this movie”
claims Aranda, however it felt necessary to Aranda, as she explains, “all doc film makers have one personal film”. The story is complex and intricate as Aranda explores several different layers based upon films her mother was featured in at Brigham Young University.
“Our film is not just religious”, says Aranda, it is also about “when you leave a community, what you can have with you. It’s a lot of intensity”. Aranda is certainly brave to explore this sensitive subject, but this project embodies her motto of being “on the frontier”.
The project, set to release in the latter half of 2014, was supported by a great deal of people via Kickstarter, the popular fundraising platform. “People really wanted to be a part of the next piece at any level” says Aranda gracefully.
Aranda, clearly creative but also highly intelligent, concludes that
“every independent film should be run as a small business – prepared to make it big, but ready to remain strong and small”.
“People are distracted on how to get their foot in the door” says Aranda, who inevitably claims that “you’re the door”, and essentially you are free, hence placing the burden upon yourself. More importantly says Aranda, you must always “know how to activate plan B, plan small and strong”.
A 10 minute First Look at Mormon Movie, currently in production, with plans to release in 2014
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