Written by Elke Duerr Developmentally Edited by Alexandra Hidalgo Copy Edited and Posted by Jessica…
An Artist is an Artist is an Artist
I have always needed to creatively express and explore. I feel blessed to have grown up in an era when we were able to wander off and play outside way past suppertime. We had freedom, which created fantasy and fearlessness. We fought battles in the empty ravines behind our apartment blocks, hung off high railway bridges, explored forbidden places.
As a child, I would stand in front of all my stuffed animals and dolls telling them stories or put on a costume and entertain them with a dance routine. I loved long car trips, watching the world flow by through a window. When I hear music, elaborate scenes flow through my mind. When a film idea comes, the story keeps unfolding to me in powerful images. Ideas and situations present themselves to me in dreams.
As a child of immigrants who lost everything in a war, I was raised with a strong work ethic and self-sufficiency. Self-pity, laziness, and whining were simply not allowed. I’d say our asses were kicked in a good way. My parents burying their heavy emotional legacy of suffering and loss took its toll on all of us, but their hope and gratitude for a new start balanced out the sad days.
This upbringing within two cultures and a loaded history seems to have left me with a lifelong sense of displacement. What is it that defines us, keeps our identity intact in relation to place, space, language, culture, ritual, tradition, and memory? What grounds us and gives us a sense of belonging? What does home and family mean? What is the individual’s evolving relationship to the self and identity, when everything familiar and precious that has defined one’s existence is taken away? Where does one find happiness? Where does one find hope? I live these questions daily. They are the driving force of all my creative work.
We did not have a lot of money, which naturally fostered creativity. My mother could sew the most beautiful dresses from kitchen curtains, knit winter coats, barter her black currant liquor for a fresh smoked salmon. My father built a greenhouse in our backyard. The DIY upbringing taught me many practical skills that helped me years later, most certainly on a film set. We did not watch television. We read books, listened to music. I studied piano, ballet, and languages. My father built us a one-room cottage so we could enjoy nature.
My artistic aspirations were supported as hobbies, as my parents wanted me to be a dentist or doctor, to have a solid, financially secure career. I chose my own path and consequently have walked it pretty much alone. I believe that this is what has given me the spiritual constitution to persevere despite any obstacles, be they indifference, criticism, and sometimes very difficult financial circumstances—to keep forging my life in the spirit of what I believe to be the truth of my own being, honoring as best as I can the necessity to express creatively.
I am a filmmaker with a passion for photography, a history and theatre graduate of the University of Toronto, and a New Media (Film & Photography) graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design. I worked extensively as a performance/installation artist before devoting myself to film, an industry I have worked in for over twenty-five years primarily as a production designer, producer, and director. Over the last eight years I have made a living evaluating projects for a corporation that finances films and television programs.
The struggle to maintain meaningful creativity while finding a way to make a living in this society frequently remains a challenge for me. The amount of my own money that I have put into my creative projects over my lifetime is equivalent to a mortgage on a small house. I am immensely grateful for every grant and funding support that I have received, which has given me the opportunity to devote fully to a creative project. I flourish in great joy during those periods.
So much has changed in the last fifteen years. Feature films are being made on the iPhone. People are creating their own series on YouTube, amassing huge viewership and daily fans on Twitter, crowd-funding projects. In this global village saturated with stories and images and words, where everyone wants their fifteen minutes, how does one’s voice get heard?
To get a film made, especially an independent, is a miracle. Against all odds, I persevere, thankful that I am a patient person.
The Love Affair
My defiant spirit, ability to dream, and relentless creativity coupled with curiosity and a need and appreciation for beauty have always helped me overcome the more unpleasant experiences that life has presented me with. I am seduced by life every day, be it sunlight hitting a wall, the girl on the bus with a red bow in her hair, the homeless young man on the park bench, sleeping, face of a fallen angel. All of that is something wondrous, a mysterious story.
The seduction began with Antonioni, Fellini, Bunuel, ’50s American classics, Fassbinder, Tarkovsky, Kurosawa, then Agnès Varda, Ulrike Ottinger, Margaret von Trotta Jim Jarmusch, Derek Jarman, John Cassavettes, Clair Denis, Jane Campion, lately Andrea Arnold, John Hillcoat, Kim Ki Duk, Andrey Zvyagintsev. I am an avid cinephile always exploring new films, including mainstream work, because all of that provides a rich and diverse cultural and social context.
As a process of creative expression, film, for me, is extraordinary as one can work with light, motion, and sound to explore the experience of reality, play with notions of time, moving fluidly between reality and dream. In this respect, I find that film provides the richest of mediums for narrative, telling stories, especially now with the ability to combine it with new emerging platforms.
I feel whole and comfortable working within this medium—it is my communion with the world—meaningful dialogue. It is where I find solace, truth, and beauty. Telling stories through film helps me feel less lonely in the world. It is the place I have arrived at, in a natural evolution of my creative process.
I developed a passion for photography in high school, where I first had access to a darkroom. I cultivate this passion still now. My inspiration came from Deborah Turbeville, Diane Arbus, Lisette Model, Richard Avedon’s “In the American West,” and Nan Goldin. I explored modern dance and experimental theatre while going to University. I was intrigued by the multi-dimensionality of expression with performance art in the 1980s, inspired by such artists as La La La Human Steps, Laurie Anderson, Vito Acconci, Marina Abramovic, Nina Hagen, Sex Pistols, Blondie, Richard Hell.