The Michigan Daily-Sunday; Feb
Page 4-Sunday, February 26, 1978-The Michigan Daily
Photo by Steve Kagan
By Ann Marie Lipinski
F THERE WAS ever a night when Frederick Wiseman
would wish to have a camera with him it would have to be
tonight. There he is, eating their artichoke hearts, drinking
their punch, and telling them all what a sham they are.
"No, I never went to a film school," he insists. "They're a
waste of time.
His cocktail audience-a nervous mix of film students, film
professors, video instructors-nod their heads and smile. "Uh-
huh," they all-murmur.
He baits again: "I mean, they don't teach you how to do
anything new," Wiseman barks. "They only show you how to do
what's already been done."
That's interesting, they all agree, arms akimbo, brows
thoughtfully furrowed, heads still nodding.
"They socialize you," Wiseman digs for the last time. "I
As unbelievable as it seems you remember you've seen
scenes like this before: in High School and Welfare and Basic
Training and in every other film produced by Frederick
Wiseman, and all of a sudden you imagine the lights, in the old
Architecture\and Design auditorium dimming while up on the
screen the familiar white-on-black lettering announces,
"Cocktail Party, produced by Frederick Wiseman."
You sense the devilish filmmaker imagines it too, for'this is
the stuff of which Wiseman documentaries have been made:
barfality, irony, hopeless human intercourse. Since 1967 when
Wiseman first filmed Titicut Follies, the brutally startling por-
trait of a Massachusetts hospital for the criminally insane, he
has been haunting film goers by holding a mirror to their public
institutions-a high school, a hospital, a police department, a
juvenile court, a primate research center-and exposing them
for the feeble, often brutal places they are. Yet, although his
films have been about places, the proprietors, and not the in-
stitutions, are often the villains of Wiseman's documentaries.
F ee WISEMAN, Page8 } ',3 #. ¢.#,;..
p RHAPS THE truest thing that
can be said about film in Ann
Arbor is that there is a lot of
it. There are film groups-true,
there used to be more-there are on the
order of three different departments and
schools that offer film classes, both theory
and technique, and there are hundreds of
people who are involved with it, enjoy it,
run it, view it, study it and ultimately
"It's a hot medium right now," says
Prof. Alfredo Montalvo. Montalvo is a
professor of industrial design at the School
of Art, and slowly but surely has found
himself in charge of whatever film studies
are offered there. He teaches two courses,
Art 223 and 224, or as they are known to
their students, Super 8 and 16 millimeter.
Beyond that, there are independent
studies offered by Montalvo, but only to his
most qualified students, the ones who show
promise and initiative and commitment.
And, due to his busy schedule, sometimes
ones who require not much more than
In the School of Art there are some 43
students actively involved in making film.
Many of these will soon be graduating,
many have already gone. And quite a few
of them seem to know each other.
Paul Tasse, a graduating senior, is
currently working on some animation
projects, one of which is entitled, "Blind
Wolf No. 265." Mary Cybulski, who works
in tandem (usually) with her friend John
Tintori, is in the finishing stages of a film
called "Birthday" which she has submit-
ted to next month's Ann Arbor Film
Festival. Other students include John
Robertson, Kevin Smith, and Rob Ziebell.
All of them work on each other's projects
and appear in each other's films.
Robertson considers himself primarily a
maker of experimental films. He has made
three in particular which were memorable
to him-"Assimilations" and "Streets"
which he calls purely experimental, and
"Modulation," a black-and-white attempt
HE OTHERS, while concentrat-
ing on animation, are also attuned
to experimental styles. Cybulski
and Tintori's "Birthday" uses a
technique involving Xerox copies. "There
are black-and-white images superimposed
on color, so that both are always present,"
The students who work on film do so
because they love it; most are not out for
commercial recognition. Some are even
openly contemptuous of the kind of film-
making they dub "commercial," the kind
that is done in Hollywood."
So how does a maker of "art" films
achieve recognition? Where aoes the
money come from to continue? And how
does a student or any other "art" film-
maker gain exposure?
"Festivals," says Robertson. "The Ann
Arbor Film Festival, Sinking Creek
Festival-I've even entered one in
"Grants," says Cybulski; "Often you go
to a festival and you see at the end, 'Made
in part with a grant from, say, the Ford
Jeffrey Selbst is a former Daily
Foundation' or some others. That's where
the money comes from."
She outlined the process as follows: first,
you make films, enter a festival. Then,
maybe you place or your film does very
well and it gets noticed by fellow film-
makers from across the country. "You
always see the same films and the same
names wherever you go," Cybulski adds.
After your name gets around, you apply
for grants. If you have a portfolio of
established work, and your name gets
some recognition, you can get money.
Then, who knows? A teaching job.
Anyway, how do other artists stay alive?
"I made, maybe, three times as much
when I was making films on my own as I
do now," says Montalvo. "I worked all
over the country-all over the world. In-
dustrial films, other kinds of films."
Grant-granting groups in Michigan in-
clude private foundations and the
Michigan State Council for the Arts. The
National Endowment for the Arts is
another regular source of money for
This all helps to explain the importance
of an event like the Ann Arbor Film
Festival. To many filmmakers, it's mecca.
Films from all over the country are sub-
mitted, and even from as far away as
Australia. The same films are seen at
other festivals, of course. But to pass
muster at this festival is to go a long way
toward achieving that recognition of which
But for all of this, there is one point on
which Montalvo, Tasse, Robertson, and
Cybulski all agree: if you want to study
film, the place to go is anywhere but Ann
Arbor. "The Art Institute of Chicago," of-
fers Cybulski, "or even San Francisco, for
the kind of films I want to make. The
schools in California, all over-and NYU
(New York University) for a more com-
mercial kind of filmmaking."
B UT WHY not Ann Arbor? Surely,
with all the interest in film here
and all the people involved in
one facet or another, this ought
to be a hotbed of celluloid, as it were?
Montalvo knows the interest is here, but
not the cash. And, once again, cash is what
it all boils down to. The budgets for the
-film courses in the Art School are ex-
ceedingly low. Montalvo says it's enough
to repair equipment and set up a few work
A new department was created a couple
of years ago, in fact, called "Film and
Video Studies." Montalvo is currently
chairing this committee. The chairman-
ship rotates every year. Diane Kirkpatrick
had it last year. The department is on a
three-year probation, and is scheduled to
be reviewed again at the end of the Winter
Term, 1979. Its budget, too, is exceedingly
"The University is cutting back every-
where," says Montalvo. "The School of Art
can't justify extra spending for film when
it has so many needs in other departments.
To add courses beyond the two we have
now would mean hiring another faculty
member. And that's expensive. People can
make too much money working in film to
want to come and teach it."
And the actual costs of making a film are
nearly prohibitive. Each student has to
foot the bills for film and lab work in the
courses he or she takes. Robertson said
that "Modulation," a 30-minute drama
shot in black-and-white, ran $800. Cybulski
says "Birthday" cost $500 just to the point
where the "work print" was made. (This
doesn't include work done after that point,
or the cost of the final prints, which is
about $75 per print.)
"Film is made from polyvinyls," shrugs
Montalvo. "Petro-chemicals have
skyrocketed. And equipment-a camera
that would have cost me $5000 five years
ago would now run me $12,500."
HE FILM and Video Studies
T Department has an interesting
history. It began from some-
thing called the "Film Resources
Committee," which began in 1973 with
virtually everyone in the University com-
munity who had some interest in film ser-
ving on it. Membership ran the gamut
from Zsuzsa Molnar, a former film student
of Montalvo's who runs the Media Center,
to Music School professors who are in-
terested in the relationship between music
and image (composing for film), to
professors who teach courses specifically
in either film history or appreciation or
technology. This last includes Montalvo
and speech Prof. Frank Beaver, as well as
Prof. Hugh Cohen, of Engineering
The picture for prospective film artists
in Ann Arbor doesn't seem a very happy
one. Studying must be done by the trial-
and-error method, and one little error may
cost a fortune. ("A student," remarked
Montalvo thoughtfully, "can forget to
calibrate a light meter against a known
light source and blow four hundred feet of
film. Do you know what that costs?")
On top of that, exposures are few and far
between. The competition for entering a
festival is fierce. The committee members
who select films for next month's Ann Ar-
bor Film Festival are working every night
for a month screening entries. Mary
Cybulski is one of them.
"We watch the films, write down what
we think of them, evaluate them, and then,
at the end of the month, we take a vote,",
she said. And the films that' don't get in,
the artists that are not represented? They
simply have to wait for the next one. It can
be a very frustrating process.
Yet, the making of film is an exciting
process to these people. The first im-
pression one gets of Paul Tasse is that of a
laconic smart-aleck.aBut'he, eems to
become serious and excited when
By Jeffrey Selbst
discussing his work. Robertson, who
seems at first to be so laid-back that he's
nearly asleep, nonetheless talked at great
length about his work. Cybulski (described
by Tasse as a "great talent") became
similarly animated when talking about her
new film, "Birthday." And Montalvo
positively flies off his seat in interview
(though others say that he's like that
almost all the time).
FO ALL that Chicago or New
York or San Francisco or L.A.
may be as major centers of film,
there is a small but thriving
community of workers right here, and
ones who plan for the most part to finish
their studies here.
"Of course, everyone is leaving town
next year," said Tasse. "Some are going to
the West, some to New York-so maybe
it's a good thing this piece is being written
And maybe Ann Arbor's budding film-
makers will be the names on everyone's
lips tomorrow. Cybulski says that isn't the
kind of recognition the filmmakers in town
are looking for, or expect.
What is likely is that the scene will con-
tinue much as it does now. The University
has no plans to lay out cash to improve the
facilities (described by some as 'adequate,
barely') or hire the staff. Montalvo will
continue to take independent students
("more than I can realistically handle")
and students will crank away at the
In the Art School's editing room, budding Fellinis and Truffaul
fully scrutinize evlry frame.
With the School of Art's student lounge serving as the back jrop , tudent filmmakers John Robertson, on the -
camera at Laurie Dresner and a masked Traver Woodward. .