UNCG Dept of Media Studies News

The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Archive for November 2012

MFA alum Monique Velasquez documents ‘Accidental Mummies’

Monique Velasquez, a 1995 graduate of UNCG’s MFA program in Film & Video Production, took full advantage of an amazing opportunity three years ago, and it’s still paying dividends.

Martina Guzmán, a journalist and filmmaker, recruited Velasquez to help her produce a documentary as part of a museum exhibit entitled, “The Accidental Mummies of Guanajuato.”

Valesquez’s company, Valesquez Media, was in a unique position to participate in the project because of Monique’s bilingual skills as well as the fact the company had produced a documentary in the Mexican state of Guanajuato in 2006.

Velasquez said she and Guzmán —an award-winning journalist — had previously worked together on a documentary and had a solid working relationship. When Velasquez got the call in the summer of 2009, Guzmán was facing a time crunch.

“She was in a hurry and they were trying to get the exhibit together,” Velasquez said. “We went down [to Guanajuato] in July and spent about three weeks out there. We didn’t have a real plan but we knew the mummies would be on exhibit and the [exhibit] focused on the science of mummification.”

Velasquez landed in Guanajuato and she and Guzmán went to work. They conducted interviews with local cultural and history experts and captured the rich life of the town. They spoke with the curator of Guanajuato’s Museo de las Momias, or the Mummies Museum, when inspiration struck. 

“What we were thinking about doing was looking at the culture of death in that particular state,” Velasquez said. “We then thought of  [famous Mexican] portrait photographer Romualdo García, who did a lot of portraits of doctors and miners in Guanajuato. We used his book as a jumping off point.”

Some of García’s portraits of babies who had died prematurely captured Valesquez and Guzmán’s imagination.

“So you would see these photographs of babies with flowers — it was a fascinating cultural phenomenon about death,” Velasquez said. “It tied directly to the mummies [exhibit]. [The museum] claims they have the smallest mummy in the world.”

Velasquez and Guzmán set up their camera in one of García’s favorite backdrops in Guanajuato and asked people to dress in the style of García’s portrait subjects of the early 20th century. 

Velasquez and Guzmán then approached people on the street and asked them to participate in the documentary.  

“We [interviewed] young and old people, families with children, couples of different ages — we put that in as a tie-in to life and death in the city,” Velasquez said. “We sort of juxtaposed the people to these old photographs and to the new photographs we got when we were there.”

“Martina and I captured the history of death and what was happening at that time that the mummies were dated to,” Velasquez continued. “We kind of had a plotted out story arc that we were shooting for.”

After Velasquez and Guzmán captured their footage, they flew back to Detroit and the editing process began. A few months later, the 60-minute documentary film was broadcast on public television in Detroit. The “Accidental Mummy” exhibit has toured the country and is currently on display at the Natural Science Center of Greensboro. The exhibit runs through Dec. 30.

The Natural Science Center’s website notes that only one in 100 bodies buried in Guanajuato’s cemetery ever experience the process of mummification. Accidental mummies form in rare climates and conditions. The identity of the Guanajuato mummies has always been a mystery, but state-of-the-art diagnostic tools have given a reconstructed face and story to these amazing human relics that are more than 100 years old, according to the center’s website.

Velasquez said she remembers her time at UNCG fondly and credits her experiences in the MFA program with her success in her field of endeavor.

“One of the biggest and most advantageous exercises during my time at UNCG was to craft and develop story — how to do it visually, how to do it with sound, how to think about story,” Velasquez said. “That has been invaluable to me in my business. I’m really glad I went to UNCG. I feel like a got a big boost in my career because I learned how to tell a compelling story.”



Written by uncgmst

November 2, 2012 at 6:59 pm

Posted in News & Events

Cucalorus 2012 features strong UNCG presence

The 2012 Cucalorus Film Festival, which runs Nov. 8-11 in Wilmington, NC, will feature a strong UNCG presence. Third-year MFA student Mariah Dunn will screen her short film, “Weekend Groove,” MFA alumnus Rick Dillwood will screen his documentary feature,  Between Friends and Family and MFA professor Brett Ingram will screen his short film, “Armor of God,” which he co-directed with Durham filmmaker Jim Haverkamp. In addition, UNCG MFA alumnus Kenneth Price will screen his short film, “Halo, the Dark Knight.”  

This year represents Dillwood’s first Cucalorus experience, Dunn’s second Cucalorus experience and Ingram’s fifth time screening at Cucalorus, the longest running independent film festival in the southeastern U.S. Ingram said it’s only fitting that UNCG is making an impressive showing at Cucalorus 2012. 

“Cucalorus was actually founded by UNCG alumni who were undergrads in our department when I was an MFA student,” Ingram said. “They were in their mid-20s I think when they started the festival and it’s stayed true to its roots. It’s gotten large, but it still feels homegrown.”

Dunn said the unparalleled support Cucalorus enjoys is what impressed her most at last year’s festival.  

“I felt like the whole city was excited about the festival,” Dunn said. “Cucalorus has a very welcoming feel and I really enjoyed that.” 

Dunn said her vision in creating “Weekend Groove” was to give the viewer a sense of immediacy and a “you are there” feeling. Dunn spent a weekend with the band, Perpetual Groove, during their tour last winter. The documentary offers the viewer a sneak peek behind the scenes of a touring band. The film is part concert and part intimate visits to band members’ homes in Athens, GA.  

Dillwood said he’s looking forward to screening Between Friends and Family at Cucalorus 2012. The genesis of the film goes back four years to the moment Dillwood’s neighbors, Mel and Carey, asked him to be a donor for both of their pregnancies. He agreed and began documenting their evolving relationship, a project that became a very personal documentary that explores the boundaries and gray areas of relationships.  

“I suppose it’s possible to buy a camera, find an interesting subject, and make a film, but grad school taught me how to make informed, intentional choices,” Dillwood said. “It was a place where I could try things out and make mistakes, and having the opportunity to experiment is what brought me to personal filmmaking.” 

Dillwood screened the film last year at Frameline Film Festival in San Francisco. He said he’s learned a lot about the film festival submission process over the past 12 months. 

“It’s still mostly a waiting game,” he said. “You have to be willing to spend some money on submissions, accept that a rejection doesn’t necessarily mean your film is terrible, and make the best of each screening opportunity. You never know who might be watching.” 

Ingram said he’s always been impressed by how Cucalorus rolls out the red carpet for filmmakers. His film, “Armor of God,” is a 13-minute portrait of Scotty Irving, a self-described improvisational noise sculptor and born again Christian performance artist who calls his one man act, The Clang Quartet. The “quartet” is actually Scotty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  

“I met Scotty when I directed a music video for the Greensboro band, Geezer Lake, in the mid-90s,” Ingram said. “Scotty was the drummer. A few years later, I saw Scotty do a Clang Quartet show. I was dumbfounded. You really have to see it to believe it. What I quickly noticed was that audiences at the rock clubs where he performed took the religious component of his act for pure camp.”  

“At the same time, Scotty’s church wouldn’t let him perform there because his sound is like instrumental Metallica squeezed though a broken blender,” Ingram continued. “So, the upshot is that his whole message, which was completely sincere, was falling through the cracks. No one got it. ‘Armor of God,’ which I co-directed with [Haverkamp], was an attempt to mediate Scotty’s art and message to the rest of the world.” 

Ingram said he’s proud of his UNCG roots and wouldn’t trade his MFA experience for the world. 

“When I was an MFA student at UNCG, the program was small and we had almost no professional grade equipment,” he said. “But the faculty were great and the student cohort was strong and mutually supportive. It was a great atmosphere of interesting students who were experimenting with all forms and genres of filmmaking.” 

“We had a few beat up Super 8, 16mm, and analog video cameras and that was about it,” Ingram continued. “But, I’m a firm believer that technical limitations are catalysts for creative growth. There wasn’t a lot of conformity. Everyone was doing their own thing. The program appealed to me because it offered so much freedom to explore. I took advantage of that opportunity and made animated films, documentaries, narratives, and even one video installation during those three years. Combined with a formal education in cinema history and theory, those experiences were formative in my development as a filmmaker.” 

Dunn echoed Ingram’s sentiments. 

“Over the past two years in the MFA program, I have been challenged and pushed myself to try new things,” she said. “While I may not have enjoyed the challenge at the time, I look back and am thankful for the experience. I feel that the past two years have allowed me to really discover what interests me and has given me a basis to defend my work and to be proud of it.” 

Dunn said her fondest film festivals memories center on networking with other artists. Dunn said she encourages emerging filmmakers to take that leap of faith and submit their work to as many film festivals as possible. The reward is in the act of sharing your vision with the world, she said. 

“I’ve made lifelong friends by spending a weekend with like-minded people and sharing our work with each other,” she said. “Most of them are virtually unknown filmmakers who do it for the love of the work. To me, that’s what really matters — making friends and staying true to your own ideas.”

Written by uncgmst

November 1, 2012 at 11:56 pm

Posted in News & Events

One-on-one with UNCG MFA alumna Christi Farina

by Inëz Chambers

Gamer geeks. Most people have interacted with, seen, or at least heard of them. Their notoriety in society was earned by long hours spent lurking in front of tabletop game stores, wearing their thumbs out on GameBoys, and donning peculiar costumes or t-shirts with obscure anime references. They’re the people the jocks gave swirlies to in grade school, the kind of people your parents tell you to avoid in the mall or on the street because they’re ‘weird’, ‘freaky’, or worse yet, ‘lacking in ambition’. More often than not, however, the less-than-pretty picture people have painted of this fringe culture movement is not accurate to the portrayal of gamers in society. I would know; I am one.


So when I heard that an alumnus from Greensboro’s MFA program had just won the Downbeach Film Festival with a documentary focusing on the gaming community and our convention-going, role-playing lifestyle, I was curious but wary. After all, it doesn’t seem to take much to make gamers look bad in the eyes of judging viewers. Upon interviewing Professor Christi Farina, however, I quickly realized that her take on the gaming community in her award-winning documentary, Gamers, was far less harsh than expected:


Inëz Chambers (IC): Congratulations on winning the Downbeach Film Festival!


Professor Christi Farina (CF): Thank you very much!


IC: What kind of exposure had you had to the gaming and cosplaying world prior to this work on your documentary? How did you feel about the culture as a whole and did your opinions change after this documentary?


CF: That’s very interesting because when I began the film, I arrogantly thought I would make a film about Dungeons and Dragons. It wasn’t until I began working on it that I discovered this multi-layered, dynamic Otherworld. I am fascinated by all of it and as best I can remain involved in events such as (most lately) the Steampunk movement. 


IC: What did you intend to be the purpose or message of Gamers as a doc?


CF: When I began making Gamers, I had been struggling with another film about the prom. I saw an article in a local newspaper on October 2, 2006 about a gaming store and it was love at first sight.   I dropped the other film and embarked on this adventure. 


As a kid, I was always a nerd and as I got older, I dated a lot of tabletop players. The pageantry, the hint of the erotic, the imagination… all of these things attracted me to this topic. What I wanted to do was to make a film about this culture from a sympathetic point of view. As I began watching films like Darkkon and Monster Camp, I became acutely aware of my own drive to refrain from presenting “the freaks in the zoo” to the audience. I wanted this to be a story about a world, an enormous world, of people who live a secret gaming life for fear of public ridicule. I don’t entirely understand why gaming is considered so fringe and laughable, but as far as I can ascertain it has something to do with “growing up” and a lack of imagination in the minds of those who do.


IC: I see that you have a lot of characters in your documentary and that you have casting videos on your YouTube channel. How did you find your characters? What appeals to you in a documentary character?


CF: I began small, with one student whose brother owned a gaming shop in North Jersey. His brother let me come interview people and from there, I just kept meeting people and going on interviews. Eventually, about seven characters emerged from the chaos and they became the voice of the film. Then, I went guerilla-style out into the World: gaming conventions, LARPs, Pennsic – I just went with my camera and, socially inept myself, walked up to socially inept strangers and interviewed them.  For the most part everyone was very accessible and friendly, and the out-in-the-field interviews provide nice color to the commentary of the entire film and round the picture out very nicely. One of the best remarks I hear regarding the film is when a gamer tells me I really managed to give an accurate, sensitive, and fair portrayal of the World. It’s particularly gratifying to me because gamers are notoriously rule-based and hypercritical. Pulling off an accurate portrayal means a lot.


Several times during the shoots I got kicked out of conventions or stores. Not pleasant, but certainly worth it in the long run.


IC: As someone who has now successfully entered and won a film festival, what would you suggest to MFA and undergrad film students at UNCG? What do you wish you had known prior to pursuing documentary filmmaking?


CF: What comes to mind is that there is a mythology out there that a degree in film, especially an MFA, is a worthless investment. Do not buy that line! Studying film formally opens doors to many of us who would have no entrée otherwise. But more importantly, studying in the liberal arts tradition teaches us how to think. You can’t make art if you don’t have anything valuable to say.  


Best advice: Always have a goal. Without a direction, you will flounder, and an artist can’t afford to stagnate.


Christi Farina, who graduated from Greensboro’s MFA program in 1998, is currently an associate professor at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. Her passions lie both in experimental filmmaking and documentary and she is currently in pre-production on her next experimental film about consciousness. To learn more about Farina’s award-winning documentary, Gamers, visit www.gamersthemovie.biz.


Written by uncgmst

November 1, 2012 at 10:55 pm

Posted in News & Events